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Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II, stated clerk of the PCUSA General Assembly.

Presbyterian Church USA scales back General Assembly over finances

Mainline Protestant denominations continue to face tough decisions because of dwindling membership and financial contributions. The Presbyterian Church USA recently announced that it might have to limit or even end its tradition of holding a biennial General Assembly as a mass gathering.

The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II, stated clerk of the PCUSA General Assembly, says future general assemblies likely will not resemble past ones in terms of scale. In a video posted on the PCUSA’s website, Nelson said the denomination cannot continue to hold what he called “the big-tent General Assembly” in which “we have people from all over coming in and spending six, seven, eight days at a general assembly and utilizing that in a big arena.”

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The national office for the mainline denomination Presbyterian Church (USA), located in Louisville, Kentucky. | (Photo: Courtesy of PCUSA)

Nelson attributed the reduction in future General Assembly events to financial woes tied to a membership decline over the past several years.

“That is happening, basically, because we are at a place financially with the drying up of per capita as it is, and the whole system is strained with regard to the fallout in the denomination with membership loss which actually came from people leaving,” he said. “Dealing with the issue that we are not a denomination right now… that can afford the kinds of things that we have been doing.”

Nelson clarified that “this does not necessarily mean we stop doing anything” but added that “we have to find new ways of adjusting to” the current situation for PCUSA.”

“And I think that’s a good thing for the denomination, because it helps us to be more creative,” he continued. “It helps us to look at what it really means to be a church. And as far as the General Assembly is concerned, it helps to remind us that, quite frankly, we are way ahead of the game in terms of the issues of policy and the ability to go out and make a difference in the life of the world.”

The PCUSA has seen a dramatic loss in both members and member congregations, partly over many leaving the denomination over its theological positions.

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice