After 32 years of service in the church — 18 of which he spent as pastor of First English Lutheran Church — the Rev. Steven Nelson has decided to retire.
Describing his work as “challenging and fun,” Nelson said his goal working as pastor was to help people connect with faith. Through the years, he has tried to meet this challenge in ways that made sense to the community.
“He’s a very passionate person,” church Council President Brian VanMeter said. “He teaches about compassion.”
VanMeter said the pastor is in tune with the needs of the community.
“He leads by example,” VanMeter said. “People say, ‘I want to live like Pastor Nelson.’”
Nelson said it is important for him to express his faith within the church and outside, where he can reach a greater span of people.
“God is everywhere in the community and world,” Nelson said. “Being active in the community is how I act on my faith.”
Nelson said that changing times has been a challenge for him as pastor and he has had to adapt to a new society.
“Peoples’ attitudes toward the church is different than when I grew up,” Nelson said, describing how the church was the “cross roads of the community.”
Nelson said that, years ago, there was better attendance in the church and people connected more to those in the community. Due to busier lifestyles, Nelson said the church has had to adjust.
“It is a challenge for every pastor in every church,” Nelson said about the challenge to change with each generation. “We are to be of service to do God’s work.”
Nelson is known for his activism in the community. He often can be found playing with the Wapakoneta High School basketball pep band.
Nelson said his role in the band came after a tragedy overcame the school 12 years ago when a young man took his own life.
“He was so well-liked,” Nelson said. “No one saw it coming.”
The teenager had an interest in music, and that was what gave Nelson inspiration.
“I tried to say, ‘What can we do to prevent this and to better support the kids,’ ” Nelson said.
He said his way of responding was entering the pep band and playing the baritone horn.
“It was fun,” Nelson said. “I loved to play.”
Nelson is also known for his work as board member of the Auglaize County Crisis Center in Wapakoneta, which he said he has been a part of nearly his entire time as pastor.
Nelson said his job was to make sure the staff was supported and had enough funding to do their work.
“They do a wonderful job in the community,” Nelson said.
Nelson has also served two terms on the Tri-County Mental Health Board, where he helped facilitate and fund the three counties in order to meet mental health concerns.
One of Nelson’s most valued community role has been his work in the Wapakoneta Area Ministerial Association (WAMA), he said.
“It has always been important to me to invest my time in the association and work with other pastors,” Nelson said.
His most recent example of his work with WAMA is the upcoming “Servant’s Day” in September where volunteers come annually to repair homes in the area.
Nelson said he and his church have a strong relationship with the community.
“I think the community sees our church as willing to serve,” Nelson said.
VanMeter described Nelson’s relationship with the congregation as understanding.
“He would share his family problems and ask the congregation to pray,” VanMeter said.
This kind of openness with the congregation allowed the members of the church to see Nelson as a human being, not just as a leader.
VanMeter said this sends a message to people that it is not just them that have problems, but everyone.
VanMeter said Nelson is well-liked by everyone, which was evident by the retirement party the church hosted.
“People came who hadn’t been there in over a year,” VanMeter said. “Pastors from other congregations came to the party.”
He said the congregation appreciates the work Nelson has done, and hopes he can relax in his retirement.
“Everybody loves Pastor Steve,” VanMeter said. “There will definitely be a corner stone missing when he leaves. The next pastor will have big shoes to fill.”