Nelson, who was 95, died June 9 in Austin and is survived by his wife of 70 years, Nancy Gribble Nelson. He published his last book, Growing Up Christian, at age 92.
Through his career, Nelson worked at nearly all levels of life in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – as an author, pastor, professor, denominational leader and seminary president. He served as president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary from 1974 to 1981 and as interim president of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1984 and 1985.
As an author, a key emphasis of Nelson’s work was on Christian education, and his works include the books Where Faith Begins; How Faith Matures; Don’t Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide; and Helping Teenagers Grow Morally. He also helped shape the denomination’s “Covenant Life” curriculum and served as director of youth work for the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education.
Some of his deepest influence has been felt in theological education. Nelson played a central role in creating the Theological Educational Fund (1 % Plan), for financial support of theological education in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). And he helped develop the “Entry into Ministry” program of the Lilly Endowment
Nelson was born in Texas, one of four children born to Carl and Elizabeth Nelson, both of Swedish heritage and at that time Lutherans. Originally he studied engineering and physics, later turning to the ministry and then to Christian education. He earned a master of divinity degree from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary; a master of arts in educational psychology and sociology from the University of Texas; and a doctorate from Columbia University. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1940 and the next year married Nancy Gribble, whose father, Robert, was an Old Testament professor at Austin seminary.
Nelson himself joined the Austin seminary faculty in the 1940s, teaching Christian education, and later moving to Union Theological Seminary in New York.
In 1987, the Presbyterian Outlook Foundation gave Nelson the E. T. Thompson Distinguished Service Award.
In addition to his wife, Nancy, Nelson is survived by his son, his son, Ellis Stark Nelson, daughter-in-law, Veronica, and grandson, Brian; daughter, Karin, and her husband, John McAnlis, and grandchildren, Nancy, Ian, and Carolyn; and by his sister, Selma. Ellis and Nancy Nelson’s daughter, Joy Elizabeth, preceded him in death.
A memorial service will be held on June 17 at 1:00 p.m., in Shelton Chapel at Austin seminary, 100 East 27th St., with seminary president Theodore J. Wardlaw presiding. At the request of the family, memorial contributions may be made to the Nelson Chair in Christian Education at Austin Seminary.
. Upon Dr. Nelson’s request to have his ashes interred at Louisville seminary, he also will be memorialized at a later date in the Louisville Seminary Memorial Garden, located on the seminary’s campus.
Michael Jinkins, the current president of Louisville seminary and formerly a professor and dean at Austin seminary, has written this tribute to his long-time colleague.