Kirk minister hails bold American church appointment

A Kirk minister has welcomed an “historic” decision to elect the first African American to lead the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America.

Rev Dr Derek Browning
Rev Dr Derek Browning, minister of Morningside Parish Church in Edinburgh, convener of the Kirk's General Assembly Business Committee.

The Rev Derek Browning described the appointment of the Rev Dr J Herbert Nelson as the General Assembly's Stated Clerk, the highest ecclesial office in the 1.5-million-member denomination, as a “bold” move.

The minister of Morningside Parish Church in Edinburgh, convener of the Kirk's General Assembly Business Committee, attended the American denomination’s gathering in Portland, Oregon.

Dr Browning addressed delegates and brought greetings from the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland the Right Rev Dr Russell Barr.

Bold and historic step

“We congratulate your new Stated Clerk and celebrate his election," said the Edinburgh minister.

"What a bold and historic step for the Presbyterian Church USA.”

The Presbyterian Church of the United States of America chose three new leaders during its 222nd Assembly.

By tradition the Church held an election for its leadership roles and instead of one Moderator, the 594 delegates elected a team of two co-Moderators – the Rev Denise Anderson and the Rev Jan Edmiston.

Dr Nelson, 57, was appointed to serve a four-year term but can stand for re-election.

He said the Presbyterian Church in the USA faces several challenges, including loss of confidence in the face of declining numbers but insisted the denomination was “not dying”.

Rev Dr J Herbert Nelson
Rev Dr J Herbert Nelson, 57, was appointed to serve a four-year term but can stand for re-election.

Dr Nelson said: “We have 1.5 million members and we're continuing to see vibrant congregations growing.

“There are many churches that don't occupy big steeples downtown that need to be acknowledged for the work that they are doing and in small towns.

“They have been faithful for years and continue to be faithful.

"The world has changed, people in the world have changed.

“We are beginning to see a new generation of young people that are not trapped as my generation was and generations before that with levels of segregation and separation.

“So we are in a period of change in the world and the Church has to change its own dynamic to figure out how to accommodate that and also how to lead it.”

Redeeming society

Dr Nelson said the Church was reforming and “trying to figure out new ways in this very different society what it means to be the Church".

He hailed the adoption of the Belhar Confession which calls the Church to seek reconciliation and unity, calling hatred, enmity and separation among peoples a sin.

Dr Nelson said: "I believe one of the most significant part of this assembly has been the adoption of the Belhar Confession that was formulated in South Africa post-apartheid with the view that the church has been complicit in many of the ills of society.

“It calls the church to be more faithful in the redemption process for those who have been left behind as well as the internal correction of the church to be engaged in the justice movements and other parts of redeeming society."