Perhaps he sensed it as a child, spending the first nine years of his life in a Congregational church (in Genesee Depot, WI), then moving easily to a Lutheran church in a different community (Erskine, MN). But it became increasingly evident to Ronald C. Nelson ’62 that keeping one’s mind and faith open to the bigger ecumenical picture was an important choice, even an asset. Anyone reflecting on his service in Lutheran ministry would have to agree.
In January, Luther Seminary honored Pastor Nelson with a 2014 Faithfulness in Ministry Cross Award, which recognizes alumni who have demonstrated exemplary ministries as a symbol of the multitudes of Luther graduates who serve faithfully through the years wherever they are called.
Having served in Canadian parishes for his entire career, Nelson was called out of retirement in 1999 to serve part-time at Trinity Lutheran, a Winnipeg congregation established in the 1800s by and for German immigrants, facing challenges in dwindling membership. On his arrival, he found a congregation of about 30 members, already engaged in the community (hosting a monthly food bank and community lunch, and lending space to a refugee organization), but struggling financially and anticipating closure. Under Nelson’s leadership, the congregation began to ask themselves, “How might God be at work in our midst?” In the years that followed, they found ways to share their facility with various other faith groups in the community, requiring more than a little negotiation to arrange facility usage for all. They eventually decided to rename the church “Good Shepherd Place.” And inevitably, in 2013, Trinity handed over the church’s deed to one of its tenants, a Mennonite church, just months after Trinity had celebrated its 125th anniversary. The synod office stated, “We’re losing a congregation, but we’re proud of the legacy they leave.”
Reflecting on his student days at Augsburg, Nelson credits friend Orval Moren ‘57 for good advice on choosing a small faith-based college in the inner city, even though several other options would have been more convenient. On his first day at Augsburg, he met Lewis Sundquist ‘62 and many others like Orval and Lew who were older than him, and many of whom had served in the military/war efforts, often emerging with a renewed appreciation for God and Church “in this crazy world.” Nelson says he is glad that Augsburg has stayed in the inner city, continuing to teach people to serve wherever and however they are called to serve people. He is grateful for the professors who gave him a sense that they cared about him, and for the service requirements in the community that continue to this day. He says, “God works in many and varied ways through ordinary people, even the likes of me. Yes, it takes a village.”