Stated Clerk Discusses the Future of the PCUSA at Big Tent

Big Tent

(By Jana Blazek, Presbyterian Outlook). J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), spoke to participants in a workshop session at Big Tent July 8 about his vision for the denomination and what he sees in its future.

J. Herbert Nelson

Referencing his response to the PCUSA 2016 denominational statistics indicating membership loss of nearly 90,000 members from 2015, Nelson said the denomination is “not dying but reforming,” and that Presbyterians need to continue believing that is true.

“What I’m seeing is change. Things shift,” Nelson said. And he enumerated three factors that he wants Presbyterians to consider:

  1. Reformation takes time. “The Reformation was a long period of time,” Nelson said. “It wasn’t just 95 theses tacked on a door,” as Martin Luther did at the church in Wittenberg, Germany, “and then everything changed.” As Christians prepare to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Nelson described the debates and internal struggles that burdened the church during that time of Reformation. He also referenced his sermon at the beginning of the Big Tent conference, in which he contended that the time is right for another reformation in the church.
  2. The past is competing with the future. Nelson said there is a tension between “the history we carry and bring with us versus the significant changes of the current age.” The church is struggling to keep up with changes in the world such as technology and globalization, he said, but the most significant changes are found in the perspective, hopes and expectations of church members’ children and grandchildren.
  3. Who is the PCUSA? “We’ve been through a lot,” Nelson said. As churches have departed for other more conservative denominations, there is a fear and anxiety among some who remain, he said, about what’s left and what’s next. As the denomination tries to regain its footing, it needs to have a sense of its core. Nelson said Quakers have peace as a major focus – but what about Presbyterians? “There’s no answer,” Nelson said. “We have snapshots of who we are all over the place, but we have no centering point about who we are and about our theology.”

In order to live into the 21st century, Nelson said, Presbyterians need to reflect on “what is our identity as Presbyterians in North American” – as a denomination that has endured a significant split over slavery, a meaningful reunification, and which now is searching for a new way forward.

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  1. REPLY
    Robert Lee Stowe says

    The PC(USA) has committed spiritual suicide. It’s over!

  2. REPLY
    Reynolds says

    Leave Rate of PCUSA

    Remaining members in the next 30 years
    1,487,500.00(current members)
    Leave rate of 5.5%

    Year Remaining
    2017 1,405,687
    2018 1,328,374
    2019 1,255,314
    2020 1,186,271
    2021 1,121,026
    2022 1,059,370
    2023 1,001,105
    2024 946,044
    2025 894,011
    2026 844,841
    2027 798,374
    2028 754,464
    2029 712,968
    2030 673,755
    2031 636,698
    2032 601,680
    2033 568,508
    2034 537,315
    2035 507,763
    2036 479,836
    2037 453,445
    2038 428,505
    2039 404,938
    2040 382,666.
    2041 361,619.
    2042 341,730.
    2043 322,935
    2044 305,174
    2045 288,389
    2046 272,528
    This is the future. Sad!

  3. REPLY
    Ron Tippens says

    What about Jesus: God with us as the PCUSA center??

  4. REPLY
    James H says

    After reading this I wonder which stated clerk is talking, this one, or the one comes out with DNC talking points almost to the letter.

  5. REPLY
    peter gregory says

    After 50 or so years of continuous decline dating back to the mid-60’s, unprecedented in American if not global religious history for any sect or denomination. Where the 2016 version of the UPC/PCUS/PCUSA amalgamation is over 75% smaller than its previous incarnations. The best and most complete commentary on their own decline into extinction within 20 years is this, “we are not dying ,we are reforming”. OK, but the follow on clause or completion to that sentence is not offered. Reforming to what exactly? And only in the PCUSA, you need 3 operational committees at the same time pondering that questions. So what exactly is the entity “reforming” too,? A post-faith, post-Christian socio-political action committee? A mobile food truck feeding the homeless? Another United Way agency that charges per capita? Again, all is in play.

    If indeed true that the Stated Clerk is provided the response that in this “reformation” process may require the death of the church, its form and functions. The death of the structures currently in place is now somehow a “God”things, or God ordained, or God directed, I could take him to a certain community in Guyana jungles in the late 1970’s that had such a world view, an “us” against the “them” type of narrative. Them being anyone who is not all on board with all things contemporary PCUSA or their social justice, identity theologies-class-race conflict they push 24/7. . I do not think that ended well.

    If that is indeed true, the PCUSA really is no more than a death cult, its Book of Order, Constitution, no more than a suicide pact. Go quietly into the night PCUSA and make sure that one out the door, turn off the lights for energy conservation witness purposes. The “Big Tent” could only scare up less than 600 in a 1.3 million denomination, if those numbers are to be believed. At least we know who the true believers really are.

    • REPLY
      James A Glasscock,HR says

      Peter Gregory, your diagnosis of the plight of the PC[USA] is humor speaking the truth. If the BlackDeath came into today’s
      church council’s the remedy would be more of the same rather than sanitation and cleaning up the house. When finally the cause of the spread of the Plague was discovered, it was a relief. When once Mainline Protestantism dies, there will be no litter bearers.

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