J. Herbert Nelson will step down as stated clerk of the General Assembly, effective June 30

“This was not an easy decision, but I feel it is the right one to make for my family and the church in this time of change.”

PC(USA) Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson at GA 2022. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

J. Herbert Nelson, II announced Tuesday, April 25, 2023, that he will be stepping down from the role of stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) effective June 30. This follows his announcement last Thursday that he will not be seeking a third term as the chief ecclesial officer of the PC(USA), which he shared with the Committee on the Office of General Assembly (COGA) at their spring meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, on April 20, 2023.

“I have sought God’s will my entire life, following in the footsteps of my father and grandfather to preach the gospel in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) I believe that God calls us into new seasons in our life of discipleship. Following many conversations with my wife and daughter, I believe I have entered into this new season,” Nelson said in a PC(USA) news release. “This was not an easy decision, but I feel it is the right one to make for my family and the church in this time of change.”

The stated clerk is elected to four-year terms at every other biannual gathering of the General Assembly. According to the Office of General Assembly website, the duties of the stated clerk include “interpreting assembly actions, representing the church on various denominational and ecumenical councils, witnessing on behalf of the church to social justice issues, and making statements as directed by an assembly.”

Nelson was first elected at the 2016 General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, and was re-elected at the 2020 General Assembly, which was held virtually because of the COVID pandemic. Two assemblies during his tenure were during the pandemic. 

“We’ve had long days trying to figure out how to do a General Assembly and we’ve been a conduit to other denominations and have helped them get through their assembly meetings,” Nelson said to COGA on Thursday. “We’ve dealt with some hard things, but we’ve been able to do what was necessary. For myself, I feel there is some completion. It’s a time for other individuals to step up and deal with the issue of where we go next. It needs to happen.”

Nelson’s term expires in 2024. The 2022 General Assembly elected a Stated Clerk Nominating Committee to bring recommendations to the 2024 assembly.

“From my first day on this job, I have said that the PC(USA) is not dying but is reforming. In the next few years, the national church will undergo major reform to better meet the needs of our presbyteries and churches. I pledge my continued support for this initiative and pray for the Unification Commission, as well as the leaders and staff of each agency and entity,” he said in today’s press release. “I urge each and every one of you to join hands during this time and look for solutions that go beyond our work and to envision a church outside the walls of any office building, institution, or sanctuary.”

Per the Standing Rules of the General Assembly, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) will be designating an acting stated clerk by June 30 (see Standing Rules of the General Assembly H.2.c.).  The acting stated clerk will be in place until the General Assembly elects a new stated clerk at the 226th General Assembly in July of 2024.

“There comes a time where you have to declare that you’ve done what you think you’ve needed to do,” Nelson said to COGA last week. “There is no bitterness. I thank God for the best job I’ve ever had with some of the best people I’ve ever worked with.”