A candidate has emerged to challenge the nomination of J. Herbert Nelson to be the next stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
David M. Baker, stated clerk of the Presbytery of Tampa Bay and its director of communications, has announced that he will challenge Nelson’s nomination. Baker was one of 13 people who formally applied for the nomination – so that makes him eligible to be a challenger.
Baker also met the deadline of informing the Stated Clerk Nomination Committee of his intention to stand for the office by May 4 – which is 45 days before the 2016 General Assembly convenes in Portland on June 18.
Baker, 39, is a teaching elder who earned a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and an undergraduate degree in psychology as a Monroe Scholar at the College of William and Mary. He is also the founder of a firm called Internet Outreach Experts, which helps churches create websites and an online presence.
From 2013 to 2015, Baker served as stated supply pastor for Woodlawn Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg, Florida, and from 2008 to 2013 as associate pastor of Hyde Park Presbyterian Church in Tampa, Florida. From 2005 to 2007, he was the organizing pastor of Living Peace Church, a new church development in Ladysmith, Virginia.
On April 19, the committee had announced that it would nominate Nelson, director of the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness, to succeed Gradye Parsons. Parsons, 63, announced last fall that he would not seek seen a third four-year term as stated clerk.
The stated clerk is the PC(USA)’s top ecclesiastical officer, responsible for serving as the ecumenical leader of the denomination, with 1.66 million members; organizing meetings of the General Assembly; and interpreting the Book of Order, the church’s constitution.
In the world of PC(USA) stated clerk elections, having a challenger is nothing new. When Parsons was nominated for a second term in 2012, he was the first uncontested candidate for stated clerk since the northern and southern branches of the Presbyterian church reunited in 1983.
Here’s how the election process will work at the assembly.
The committee will place Nelson’s name in nomination on Sunday, June 19, during a plenary session of the assembly. A commissioner whom Baker will choose will place his name into nomination as well at that time.
The election will be held on the morning of Friday, June 24.
In an interview May 9, Baker said he decided to challenge Nelson’s nomination because of an enduring sense of call. “I really, to be honest, had some trepidation about the decision,” he said. “I felt very firmly, however, that the Lord wanted me to proceed.”
Baker said he sees the PC(USA) as being “in a state of crisis,” with the denomination having lost more than 690,000 members since 2005 and with the membership losses expected to continue. “The mid councils also are in tremendous flux, facing tremendous turmoil,” he said. “They’re undergoing a huge crisis as well, and need support.”
If elected, for example, he would like to use his technical and mid council experience to design webinars and other training opportunities for stated clerks.
Baker said he did not decide to challenge Nelson’s nomination out of any strong theological or political objection to Nelson – “I think he would be a very capable advocate for justice as stated clerk,” he said of Nelson – but because he thought he could provide expertise that mid councils and congregations would find valuable.
Theologically, Baker described himself as an “open-minded moderate,” and said “I would conduct myself in a completely apolitical way” if elected. “I have friends of every persuasion.”
Baker and his wife, Cathy, have a daughter, and regularly host in their home college students from around the world who have come to the United States to learn English.