Tribute to Muriel (Molly) Elizabeth Nelson

August 17, 1908 to September 6, 1999

by Phil Johnson

Molly grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota while the rich iron mine there was on its way to becoming the biggest open pit mine in the world. She graduated from the School of Nursing at the University of Minnesota. Soon thereafter, she met and married Barton Nelson. In 1930, the two of them set sail for China on the President McKinley to become Covenant medical missionaries at the Bethesda Union Hospital in Siangyang.

From the outset, Molly and Bart were ecumenical and they willingly reached out to the Lutheran missionaries across the river. It is no surprise that Molly’s sons are ecumenically distributed or that this April, at the age of 90, Molly joined St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church near her residence.

Molly and Bart were at the heart of the congregational life of Bethlehem Covenant Church. They joined Bethlehem in 1946, after returning from China and taking up residence in South Minneapolis. Together they helped to shape the congregation’s openness and social conscience. Their presence insured the freedom to discuss openly any idea, no matter how radical.

Pastor Keith Magnuson of St. Stephen’s said that Molly loved mercy and tenderness—fiercely. He had observed her at St. Stephen’s in those last days pausing to watch the children in the nursery as she came into church. She was, he said, in tune with God, the author of the love in this world.

Son, Gordon, Professor at Augsburg College, remarked that, in his course on Christian Ethics, he addresses the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said that "worldly Christianity" meant living completely in this world and abandoning attempts to make something of one’s self. Gordon said that he thinks of his mother, Molly, as an example of this commitment. He concluded, "May our mother live in Peace."

Phil Johnson is Editor Emeritus of Pietisten.

See all articles by Phil Johnson