In memoriam: Jon W. Nelson
Former Diocesan Stewardship director Jon Nelson died recently in Estes Park where he and his wife Bev had lived for a number of years and where their son Tory owns and manages a restaurant. In his shirt pocket in the days before he died, the prayer list he kept literally at his side.
Jon was a person of no few contradictions. He was buried from an Anglican church in a liturgy very reminiscent of the 1928 Prayer Book but highlighted by music Jon had chosen from Cursillo.
Jack Ford, former priest of this Diocese, preached the homily, and in it he noted that “Jon was a teacher . . . both in the classroom and in the way he endeavored to live his life.” He also noted that Jon learned across his life to “wisely channel” his energies into “helping others and growing things”—which is also a pretty good definition of a teacher.
Often in concert with his good friend and later Stewardship Director Ken Anderson, Jon directed his teaching/helping ministry to the betterment of his former parish, St. Luke’s, Kearney, and the Diocese of Nebraska. For the parish, this included founding Kearney’s Jubilee Center, first operating out of St. Luke’s basement and, as it outgrew that, becoming today’s flourishing center for assistance with food and clothing, a ministry in which the parish is still a strong partner. For the Diocese, this included making the Sower Fund not only a hallmark of Diocesan stewardship but also a builder of our Diocesan fellowship.
Ken Anderson recalls being Senior Warden and receiving from Jon an envelope containing the Sower $2.00. He had no idea what to do with it, so he stuck it in his billfold until he could ask around for ideas. The $2 remained forgotten until well after that year’s projects…but it still grew in a way—it grew in Ken’s conviction when he found it that we should all be “sowing”—he has been ever since and thinks somewhere he still has that two-dollar “reminder.”
Together Jon and Ken were stewardship directors for about 3 decades, and often offered weekend Stewardship Seminars in parishes. One early function was to dream—dream of what you would like to see in your parish. Then participants were to put a dollar figure on each dream. They soon saw that most of their dreams didn’t so much require dollars as commitment, so the upshot was not only better stewardship but better ministry.
Fr. Ford also noted that Jon could on occasion be opinionated. This may be evident in an “editor’s note” in the May 1991 Nebraska Churchman (former name of the Nebraska Episcopalian): “We regret that composition errors mangled Jon’s column last month. Herewith we reprint it in it’s [sic] entirety.” Wouldn’t it be great if someone had kept the letter that prompted that apology! We wonder if “mangled” was the editor’s word or Jon’s. In any event, the column went from a small corner of the April issue to a whole half page for May!
What Jon was insisting on in that article illustrates both Jon’s teaching and his caring. He wrote,
If we remember what is really important about the Church we can begin to develop some new principles of stewardship in relationship to our church building . . . We are not being very good stewards of our church buildings when we allow access only at certain times (and in some cases seemingly only to certain persons) . . . I am a realist . . . but . . . there has to be some solution . . . available.
The solution at St. Luke’s, where Jon had no little influence, was an entryway open 24/7 from which the interior of the church was visible but inaccessible, an entry where anyone could enter and pray and transients could find a place of rest. In the history of that entry, no one ever used it to break into the church and it was only once used as a toilet.
“Just who are we trying to keep out?” Jon challenged. “Sinners? But isn’t that who a church is for? . . . Would God object if a shivering transient slept in your church building . . . or would He rejoice?”
Jon’s legacy might be well-summed up in one Sower story…a parish received its two-dollar bill and someone found a basket with a handle at a garage sale selling for $2.00. They bought it, went home, and filled the basket with cookies. The cookie-filled basket was delivered to someone with a note asking them to repeat the process, so the $2.00 grew each time and a new basket of cookies circulated as it did. A good story of what goes around, comes around!
Jon’s affiliation may have changed but it remains a fact that one of his principal legacies was to the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska and its congregations. We suspect that legacy was simply the work of one sinner beloved by God and many of us and with whom God now rejoices.
Fr. Chuck Peek and Ken Anderson