J. Herbert Nelson Biography

Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, serves as Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness (OPW) in Washington, DC. The Office of Public Witness is a prophetic office of the denomination and implements the social justice agenda of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) through advocacy with the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. The OPW also engages in a broad range of activities with Presbyterian congregations and structures, providing constituency education materials and arranging briefings and conferences. The Office will celebrate 65 years of “speaking truth to power” in 2011. Nelson believes that grassroots organizing within the denomination is a major key to impacting the prophetic witness and political sphere in today’s globalized culture.

Dr. Nelson is married to the Reverend Gail Porter Nelson and the father of an 18 year old daughter, Alycia Yvette Nelson. He is a third generation Presbyterian Pastor, who, before coming to Washington, served as Founder/Pastor of Liberation Community Presbyterian Church (LCC) in Memphis, Tennessee. LCC was chartered on April 11, 1999 and was the first African-American Church developed in the Presbytery of Memphis in forty-six years. The ministry received the prestigious Walton Grant, which is awarded by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for outstanding work in New Church Development. Liberation Community is an African-centered congregation committed to evangelizing the poor to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

As an extension to his community-based ministry, Dr. Nelson served as Associate Director of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis. As a consultant, he provided staff development training for Teacher Specialists, Curriculum Specialists and Principal Leaders who provide assistance for low-performing schools.

Before going to Liberation Community Church, Dr. Nelson served as Pastor of St. James Presbyterian Church, a redeveloping congregation located in a thriving, middle-class area in Greensboro, North Carolina, ultimately leaving there to go to Memphis to be more actively involved in social justice work. During his eleven year tenure as Pastor of St. James Presbyterian Church, Nelson began the Doctor of Ministry Program at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. His dissertation, “A Community Based Model of An African American New Church Development in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” focused on the educational needs of poor African American children. He graduated with distinction in May 2002.
A third generation graduate of Johnson C. Smith University (Presbyterian University founded in 1865), Dr. Nelson earlier earned a B.A. in Political Science/Urban Studies in 1981. In 1985, he earned the Master of Divinity degree from Johnson C. Smith Seminary (third generation graduate) at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia. He received his Doctor of Ministry from Louisville Seminary in 2002.

J. Herbert, as he is commonly known, serves as preacher, workshop leader, consultant and writer. He is a featured conference preacher at Montreat, Mo Ranch, Highlands-Colorado, and Massanetta Springs Conference Centers in the Presbyterian Church. His writings have appeared in Presbyterians Today and The Outlook. He is a member of several boards and professional organizations. Nelson has traveled to South Africa (1983), Geneva, Switzerland (1992), Montego Bay, Jamaica (1993, 2007), and Havana, Cuba (1999 and 2000) on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and is now devoting considerable time to meeting with congregations and presbyteries throughout the United States.