In Memoriam - Rev. Dr. Marvin Paul Nelson (Class of 1969)

The Rev. Dr. Marvin Paul Nelson loved and served God and God’s people. He was born Nov. 11, 1951, in the Presbyterian Mission Hospital in Miraj, India. He died Jan. 20, 2020, at his home in Woodstock, having had the joy of preaching and serving as senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Woodstock, for 19 years. He retired in January 2019 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Paul grew up in India, where his parents, Marvin and Elsie Nelson, were Presbyterian missionaries. The family returned to the U.S. for yearlong furloughs when he was 2, 8, and 14. Those growing-up years living in India, visiting villages with his father, and feeling the needs of others were formative. His dad died when Paul was 14. 

His formal education started at the age of 7 when he joined other mission children at the international boarding school in Kodaikanal, India, 500 miles from his family. He was very scholarly and loved learning. He went on to earn an undergraduate degree in psychology with a minor in chemistry from Whitworth College, Spokane, Wash., a Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif., and a Doctorate of Ministry from the University of Dubuque Seminary, Iowa.

Paul met Sally Anne Thomas at Whitworth in 1969. Both were freshmen. They married Dec. 28, 1971, in Redwood City, Calif. In 1973, Paul took Sally to India for three months on the $1,000 his mother gave them for graduation.

Paul was adventurous. Mountains were for hiking and skiing. The ocean was for scuba diving. The world was to be visited. Information was to be gained. Jobs were to be tried. Paul relished on-the-job training. Lack of experience never deterred him from trying something new. He was a golf and running enthusiast. He played and taught golf when he could and ran for enjoyment and competed in many marathons.

By the time he went to seminary, the Nelson family numbered four – sons Tim and Jamie were part of the fold. To finance seminary, Sally worked and Paul started a painting business. It was said he had the most theologically trained painting staff anywhere. In fact, several of his painters, who also needed money for seminary, eventually became professors and presidents of seminaries.

Before ordination, Paul worked at Bethel Presbyterian Church in Seattle and First Presbyterian Church in Lawton, Okla. After ordination and before coming to Woodstock, Paul served at two California churches – First Presbyterian, Richmond, and Village Community Presbyterian, Rancho Santa Fe.

Daughter Annie, was 8 when Paul accepted the call to Woodstock. Paul introduced and endeared himself to the new congregation at a prayer service the day following 9/11. He guided the congregation through the building of its new church on North Route 47 and leaving the historical church building on West Calhoun Street. He fostered a permission-giving spirit of involvement, service, and programming at the church, and he fulfilled his calling to preach and teach. He skillfully used his multitude of life experiences as sermon illustrations. He was held in high esteem by other clergy and served on numerous Presbytery committees.

Having grown up without ice cream in India, it was his favorite dessert. His grandchildren remember with love the giant scoops dipped for them by Papa Paul.

Paul had a wonderful smile, and his laughter was contagious. He loved God, his family, and life. And he was loved.

Survivors include his wife, Sally; sons Timothy Luke Nelson (Summer Hatfield Nelson) and Jamie Aaron Nelson (Sara Murphy Nelson); daughter Annie Kathleen Nelson; grandchildren Perry, Mila, and Zaria Nelson and Max and Oliver Nelson; sisters Kathleen Winet (Terry) and Martha Gady (Steve); and brother Timothy Allen Nelson (Dawn).

He was preceded in death by his parents. 

A Celebration of Life service will be held at 4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, at First Presbyterian Church, Woodstock, 2018 N. Route 47. The Rev. Cindy Carlisle, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Meyer, and the Rev. Jeff Borgerson will officiate. An ice cream social will follow the service.

Memorials can be made to the Miraj Medical Center, India, through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A. ), P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700, or at

Obituary take from the Woodstock Independent: