The largest Presbyterian denomination in the U.S. has elected its first African-American top executive.

The Rev. Herbert Nelson won an overwhelming majority of votes Friday during the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Portland, Oregon.

Nelson succeeds the Rev. Gradye Parsons, who served two terms in the position and declined to seek re-election.

Nelson previously directed the church's public policy office in Washington. He's a graduate of Johnson C. Smith University and holds a doctorate from the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He and his wife have one daughter.

Like other denominations, the Louisville, Kentucky-based Presbyterian church has been shrinking. It now has 1.6 million members and is overwhelmingly white.

Nelson urged Presbyterians to look beyond preserving the church toward reaching out more broadly and diversifying their membership.