Adam Nelson will be based at Church of the Holy Communion and work at Emmanuel Center.
Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.
School(s)/degree(s): B.A., public policy, University of Chicago
Previous professional life: Youth pastor at St. George’s Episcopal Church; music teacher at Music For Aardvarks
How did you find out about Episcopal Service Corps?
I was recruited by the Reverend Hester Mathes of Holy Communion. I’m so glad she encouraged me to apply!
What compelled you to apply and to decide to spend a year with ESC?
My activity in the church has grown over the past few years, in response to gracious invitation from several individuals, and that presence has led me in various ways to more blessings than I could have expected. Though I can’t say how it works, I’m learning that God calls with human voices, and that when he asks you to do something, he’s got good reasons. When Hester asked me to apply, it had that feel, like I’d be a fool not to. I’m here because I want to find out what will I happen if I trust God just a little bit more.
What do you see in Memphis? Why did the City of Soul project appeal to, or resonate with you?
I’ve always felt attached to Memphis because of friends and family, but in the past year or so I’ve discovered how much I love the town itself. I’m excited about our investment in public spaces like the Green Line or Overton Square, our adoption of pilot programs like the Universal Parenting Places, our commitment to historic places like the renovated Civil Rights museum. Memphis faces real challenges, but every year, Memphians seem to face them with even more ingenuity and guts than the year before. City of Soul (another pilot program!) is a chance for me to join that mighty river with focus and with the support of hundreds of people.
Why is ministry important to you, and how have you been involved in ministry in your life?
I shudder to think how I’d have turned out if I’d had to grow up all by myself. I’d be, at best, useless, but lucky for me (and you) I had many caring people to guide me, nurture me, rebuke and befriend me. That’s the type of ministry I have most needed (and still need, in my 30th year of growing up). It happens to be the type of ministry I have the most experience practicing, under the name “youth ministry.” Like all ministry, the essence of it is meeting a meetable need. I know from my own experience how consequential help can be; gratitude compels me to give as much help as I can.
The Church of the Holy Communion’s youth program (at the invitation of Matthew Arehart) has been my main place of ministry for going on four years now. Generally, I try to serve by listening, teaching, and encouraging others to play and sing. I look forward to discovering opportunities for many types of ministry at Emmanuel Center!
Who has inspired you the most and why?
I am only one of countless individuals in our diocese who’ve been inspired by the wit, wisdom and warmth of local youth minister extraordinaire Trip Gintz. When I met him as a teenager, I was trying (struggling) to become funny in order to make people like me – to build myself up. Over the years, I watched Trip use humor (and friendliness and honesty and insight and music and all of his many gifts) to build up others, including me. He helped so many to find peace in the love of God. The power of Trip’s ministry motivates me to remember his maxim, “We’re here to build up!”
If you could name one moment in your life that changed it completely and most significantly, what would that moment be?
At age 15, I attended a church youth retreat called Happening. At the time, I was steeped in adolescent feelings of alienation, anxious that at this retreat, as in other environments, I would be appraised and rejected for being too weird or unattractive or whatever. I was stunned to be welcomed, not just by adults, but by my peers, the instant that I walked in. And I felt like an insider for the rest of the weekend. That’s what brought me back to more retreats, which led to recognition of the divine presence in that unconditional acceptance and set the charter of my whole life. Through all my ups and downs since, I’ve had that Star of Bethlehem to steer by, because some teenagers took Jesus seriously and welcomed an outsider.
What’s the most recent book you’ve read?
In an effort to prepare myself for the coming year, I read The Concrete Killing Fields by Pat Morgan. Morgan started as a volunteer in Calvary Episcopal Church’s Street Ministry in Memphis, ran it for 20 years, and helped shape national homelessness policy. She writes about shedding her naïveté, dealing with personal attachment to those she served, and turning her experience in the field into lasting change – all lessons I’d like to learn.
Tell us a little about your family, immediate and/or extended.
My parents found the Episcopal Church through the priest who married them, a professor to them both at the University of Texas, San Antonio. These days, my mom, Susan Nelson, is a doctor at the Church Health Center and leads twice-annual mission trips to Haiti; my dad David teaches and researches genetics at UT Memphis and keeps a blog about trees; my younger brother Stephen is director of communications at St. John’s Episcopal Church and just got engaged (!); and my younger sister Sienna is gallivanting about France and soon to enroll in UT Memphis’ medical school.
What are your hobbies, interests, pursuits outside of work?
I assist Matthew Arehart in building up the youth of Holy Communion. I run, in hopes of completing, my second marathon this December in honor of St. Jude patient Adam Cruthirds. I have a lot of nonfiction reading built up because I’m trying to prepare for my internship, but I try to fit in some fiction as well (most recently Slaughterhouse Five). I play card games and tabletop games with friends. I watch good TV with my brother and dad (what we think is good, anyway). I fantasize about making time to write my own fiction. And I talk more than most people care for about philosophy, politics and religion. Fellow interns, I apologize in advance.
What are your goals five years, 10 years from now?
One of the exciting things about this program is how many new options it may create for me. As I said above, I love the work I do teaching early childhood music. I could do it full time and be so happy. That day might come; it would take a few years to build my program to that size. In the meantime, who knows what opportunities may come from a year with Episcopal Service Corps? If I find that I excel at my work, and I meet others who agree, I’m open to a career in community development, non-profit organization or even public policy (my degree subject). I’ve spent the last few years thinking I might not go the professional route or use my college training. This internship is a chance to reconsider.