J. Herbert Nelson challenges Big Tent attendees: Who will we serve?

ST. LOUIS – Opening worship began with a rousing spiritual at Big Tent 2017, where approximately 600 Presbyterians came together under the theme of “Race, Reconciliation, Reformation.” Tom Hay, the director of operations for the Office of General Assembly and the Big Tent co-director, brought greetings, and worship continued with readings and songs in multiple languages.

J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), preaching at Big Tent 2017 opening worship. (Photo by Jodi Craiglow).

Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) preached a sermon with the title “When Our Backs are Against the Wall,” using as his texts Joshua 24:14-18 and Luke 9:47-62. He encouraged conference goers to see the PC(USA)’s current struggles as a result of standing steadfast with the Lord.

Nelson, having just returned from attending the World Communion of Reformed Churches meeting in Germany, noted the decline of Protestant churches in the very places the reformation began. He shared a story of attending worship in a cathedral built to house 1,500 with a congregation of just 35 that particular Sunday morning. Nelson asked the pastor there, “What happened to these great Reformed churches?” To which the pastor replied, “We need another reformation.”

Nelson proclaimed, “We are in a precious moment in time crying for another reformation.”

Recognizing the real loss and pain in local churches, Nelson asked worshippers to reframe their understanding of the current challenges, reminding them that, “There is a cost to faithfulness in Jesus,” saying that standing against injustice and for inclusion has had real costs in the PC(USA).

(Photo by Jodi Craiglow)

He encouraged Presbyterians to “put our minds on the kingdom, and take it off the church.”

“When our backs are against the wall,” Nelson preached, “the question for us Presbyterians is who will we serve?”

In the midst of all of the struggles, he went on, “I have heard the faithful say, ‘As for me and my house, I ain’t going nowhere. I am going stand right here in this place where God put me.’”

Nelson’s sermon culminated with a challenge “to begin to see the power and possibilities we possess” and “put our eyes on the Kingdom and take them off of the church. … Stop bellyaching about what we don’t have and start rejoicing in what the Lord has done. … We aren’t done. We are reforming.”

At that the crowd rose to their feet in applause.

The Big Tent Community Choir (Photo by Leslie Scanlon)