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Wayne Nelson

January 2014


Wayne’s Memorial Service


Wayne tells the Boomerang Story (2 min)



Jo’s Obituary and Tribute


Wayne would be surprised and pleased to know that all of you are here (whether physically or in spirit), and to read what you have written about his impact. Many profound thanks you to you all.


Wayne was born on a farm in South Dakota, and went to school in the very small town of Gary, South Dakota. He was active in the Methodist youth group. He was one of only a few in his class who went to university, at Dakota Wesleyan University. He majored in Sociology and Religion.


In university, he encountered Joe Slicker in a course, which changed his life. After some experiments in anti-racism and social action in Rockford, Illinois, he joined the Ecumenical Institute in Chicago in 1970. His assignments began with property management in 5th City, walking children to school and being a camp staff in New Orleans one summer. Then he was assigned to the leadership team in St. Louis, Missouri in the fall of 1972.


In September of 1972, we saw each other across a crowded room at a celebration in the Green Bean Room at the ICA in Chicago, and both of us knew immediately that this was the one. What I appreciated from the moment I met him was his quiet depth. It made me slow down and think. I think our styles complemented each other, and we were a team at work and as a family. When we first decided to marry, we did a journey wall of our lives, the first 20 years to get to know a bit about each other, and the next 60 together. The universe decided to change that plan, but we had more than 40 rich and adventurous years together around the planet. The title of the journey wall was “Passionate Steadfastness in Service”. We joked that Wayne brought the steadfastness, and I brought the passionate part.


We married in March of 1973. From St. Louis we went to Peoria, Illinois where Aaron was born, then Bayad, Beni Suef, Egypt, then Ijede, Lagos State, Nigeria, then Asherton, Texas where Tim was born, Houston for a few months, Murrin Bridge, Australia, Sydney and then Chicago for a few months, Woburn Lawn, Jamaica, and finally Toronto for the last 27 years.


Wayne’s practical skills were very useful in village development. He taught himself woodworking in various projects, especially Murrin Bridge. He found real joy in facilitating with First Nations communities, particularly Mohawk and Inuit. More recently in Toronto he worked on all of our IT needs, creating an early online facilitation tool, creating and maintaining the website, and doing tech roles in online training. And several years ago he began working on a research project to pull together the underlying philosophy behind ICA methods to ensure that the depth of them was preserved and that they could grow and be passed along to the next generation.


At home, besides co-parenting, cleaning, cooking, baking, and renovating, he put his artistic and creative spirit to work making furniture, woodcarvings, stained glass, and things made of leather. He died in his workshop, working on a beautiful artistic table top made out of a piece of pine rescued from a dumpster.


I want to tell you two stories that illustrate different sides of the Wayne I knew.


One year he went back to Egypt to visit his close friend and Egyptian brother, Mahmoud, in Minya. On the train on the way back to Cairo, he was in 3rd class with other rural Egyptian men including an imam, sitting on the floor in the space between train cars. His beard and mustache made him look very Egyptian, and foreigners never ride 3rd class. They were speaking Arabic about religion, and he was listening. Suddenly they turned to him and asked (in Arabic), “Are you Christian or Muslim?” He thought for a second and responded, “There is only one God” in Arabic. They were astonished for a moment and then included him in their conversation about profound meaning, which promptly expanded.


The second story: One year we went together to an IAF conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. The day after the conference, we went to Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s western home. Every single thing in Taliesin is designed with focused intention. His eyes widened, he got very silent, and I could see that he was in ecstasy as he walked around. He turned to me and said, “I have just realized that every minute of my life I am designing something! Sometimes I draw them, and sometimes I don’t, but my head is always full of designs!” As he made the furniture and other objects in our house, I could see the careful thinking through of design.


I am grateful to the universe for Wayne’s life and the 40 years we had together.

          ~~  Jo Nelson



Joe and I give deep and heartfelt thanks that Wayne invested his life with us in so many places on planet earth.  For me it was Bayad and Jamaica – in both spots I witnessed and partnered with the Nelson family as a missional force I recognized was “for good”. In Jamaica, Wayne drove me and others from Kingston up to the Blue Mountains in a jeep, around serpentine roads, introduced me to people who were related to the project, and  narrated the “life experiences” of these amazing folk who decided to become the HDP in Jamaica. On the way back I knew I had a return flight I needed to catch.  Wayne was driving the white jeep down the winding, one-way roads, and there was an accident (not his cause). Dealing with such a “confrontation” in translation took a lot of time.  Wayne was wonderful.  He resolved it all with respect to the “offender” and got us to the airport right on time.  (My Hero!)

The last time Joe Crocker and I spent time with Wayne and Jo was at Stan and Miriam’s home in Toronto, on the occasion of celebrating Brian Stanfield’s completed life.  I loved “hanging out” in Stan and Miriam’s kitchen with the Nelsons, who were so energized about what they were doing in so many different sectors. Joe and I will forever remember Wayne and Jo in that moment.  We returned to the States after that wonderful weekend energized.

May you, Wayne, continue to “mount up on eagles wings,” and we will watch for you!

          ~~  Marilyn and Joe Crocker




Architecture and ritual are important parts of spiritual community on this plane. So are story telling, laughter and the tears many of us are shedding as we read on another’s remembrances of Wayne. I’m grateful to everyone who is sharing on this string. Loved Gordon’s questions and Sarah’s poem.

Wayne, Catherine Whitney and I served as the Emerging Generation staff with Alice Baumbach as our able prior in 5th City in 1972, two 30-somethings and two lively 20-something “kids”. For the community Easter celebration Wayne and Catherine wrote a pageant and coached the children to act it out in the Great Hall, with all the saints as witness. At the end, JWM gave it high praise. As I recall, he said, “This is real art and served our community as art is supposed to do.” We and all our children glowed at that, as you can imagine.

The song for the last supper scene has sustained me for 42 years. We buried my mother’s ashes in Floydada, Texas, on July 1, 2012, her 100th birthay. It was a Sunday, and our family shared the Lord’s Supper at the graveside, during which I sang Wayne and Catherine’s song, to the tune of “Blowing in the Wind.”

This is my body, I give unto you.

It’s broken, that’s the way that life is real.

And this is my blood that is spilled out for you.

It’s given, that’s the way that life is real.

Eat this bread and drink this cup,

And you shall have eternal life.

For brokenness is givenness, and givenness is good,

And it’s a joy to know the truth about your life.

Wayne’s whole life was a work of real art and served the world as art is supposed to do. Love and blessings,

          ~~  Jann McGuire



The tributes to Wayne that have come in catalogue many of his multiple and admirable qualities.  He was a gifted facilitator, an extraordinary community developer, an artistic woodworker, a consummate story-teller, a skilled outdoorsman, and a talented IT guru. That barely scratches the surface, but it’s difficult at the completion of a life to formulate an appropriate tribute to one of such diverse abilities.

There’s one, however, that needs additional mention: Wayne was also a philosopher of considerable prowess. The question which he pursued with passion and intensity was: What are the philosophical roots of the ToP® (Technology of Participation) methods? And he didn’t mean Bultmann, Niebuhr, Tillich, and Bonhoeffer. He meant their ancestors. He meant Heidegger and Husserl, Kierkegaard and Sartre, Bergson, and Hume and many others. And he was working to document how their insights influenced and shaped what became our methods and how these foundations might guide us in the future.

The aim of his research was to prevent the ToP methods from becoming perfunctory or shallow and reflecting only superficial pop-psychology. As he said, “That’s not us, and I believe our approach is significantly unique and valuable enough to carry it firmly into this century.  This ontological, participatory approach to group work is totally necessary if the world is to move forward.” (2 May 2011)

Wayne has written a 35-page paper entitled “ToP Foundations: Facilitating the Consciousness of Consciousness of Consciousness.” That title clearly indicates Wayne’s passion for getting to the substance of what we’re all about. As he put it, “Where have these ideas come from? What do we have now? Where can they take us?” Those pages are the Introduction and first chapter of a book that now he will not complete. It would be a fitting tribute to this great colleague to have them published for the ToP Network.

We will greatly miss this man of passion and depth.

—  Ann and John Epps















We hold all of us in our prayers and contemplations as we live facing more or less clearly the endings of our own particular lives. Wayne has honed and chiseled heart and rationality into some of our best models in facilitation, design, and community development. He has led much of the band width in our common technical knowledge and ability to work on line even before the new software emerged. He has been a sustaining support of the archives of ICA Associates from which we have all been resourced. He and Jo enabled the HDP in South Texas survive its many challenges. He lived his creativity whether in front facilitating or
teaching the group, or more often from the back room creating the documents or designing the new product and discerning and fine tuning his human spirit. Well done dear brother,
~~  George Packard

We remember Wayne with great affection.  He often made me feel that his wisdom and life experience which he spoke of was that of  a person much older in years.   He had so many profound truths in his being. Kazantzakis still says it with so much depth of meaning. Grace is yours and peace,

          ~~  Isobel Bishop.


For Wayne, a few sentences from an old friend.  Sentences that have been going round and round in my consciousness since I heard of his death.

We come from a dark abyss, we end in a dark abyss, and we call the luminous interval life.  As soon as we are born the return begins, at once the setting forth and the coming back; we die in every moment.  Because of this many have cried out:  The goal of life is death!  But as soon as we are born we begin the struggle to create, to compose, to turn matter into life; we are born in every moment.  Because of this many have cried out:  The goal of ephemeral life is immortality!  In the temporary living organism these two streams collide:  (a) the ascent toward composition, toward life, toward immortality; (b) the descent toward decomposition, toward matter, toward death. 

. . .

And, later

Which of the two eternal roads shall I choose? . . . Of the two, I choose the ascending path.  Why?  . . . I choose the ascending path because my heart drives me toward it.


Seems, every time I encountered Wayne, in person, over the phone, via email, I met a man who chose the ascending path.  Blessings

          ~~ Jim Wiegel


I didn’t know Wayne as well as I feel I know Jo, and my heart goes out to her. Jo, you are in my thoughts and my prayers, and I hope you feel the sharpness of your pain somewhat cushioned in the love of this community. When George died, I found strange comfort in a book by Joan Didion called “The Year of Magical Thinking”. Nothing prepares you for the strangeness of that first year alone, but it is at least comforting to know that others have the bizarre experience of it that you quickly begin discovering. There were times I thought I was “losing it” because of the strange thoughts I would have or the dreams, etc. Perhaps you won’t experience your loss that way, but many of us do. I grieve for you; I don’t know that there is anything that can make it easier, but I hope everyone’s love is a comfort.

~~  Susan Fertig-Dykes



Wayne was a great spirit man!


Wayne & Jo followed us at Murrin Bridge HDP in 1981, after we went off to Hong Kong. During the three years they were living in that community, Wayne mentored a number of the youth, instilling in them the belief that they could do anything. One of those in particular, Craig Cromelin is now one of the pillars in the Murrin Bridge community and has represented the south-western region of NSW on the NSW Aboriginal Land Council for several years now. Then this last year he became the Chairperson of the Council. He quite often stays overnight with us on his way from Murrin Bridge to Sydney when he is going to Council meetings. He has also represented the Council at forums of the UN on ‘The Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ in both new York and Geneva. He always gives credit to Wayne for the guidance he received from him. And we know that of course it was a team effort by Wayne and Jo and other staff who were in Murrin Bridge at the time, but today we are acknowledging this legacy of Wayne’s care and passion. We are sure his spirit will live on in the lives of many whom he touched. Our love goes out to Jo and the boys and their family as they celebrate Wayne’s life. Grace & Peace

          ~~  John and Elaine Telford



It seems to me not at all easy–in fact, damnably hard–in our dispersed state, to know how best to celebrate a completed life like that of our colleague, Wayne Nelson.  For most of us, it’s sharing a story or two and a word of appreciation here on the listservs, which is a practice that I certainly appreciate.

Jo, the family and our colleagues in Canada, when the time is right, may suggest other ways in which we can all somehow participate in the celebration of this unique and remarkable life.  In the meantime, some of us just might have creative thoughts about how we could now do this for one another in the 21st century.

One experiment, launched a few years back on the death of another colleague in Canada (Brian Stanfield), is the Completions page on the Repository website.  That’s one option (but only one), as we think about how we might now celebrate–together in some fashion–these great journeys and marking points.  I don’t know–perhaps we should ask, “What would we like the rest of us to do when it’s our turn?”

          ~~  Gordon Harper



Wayne always took me back to my roots, as did the combination of Wayne and Jo.  Wayne and I participated in a weekend retreat with Slicker in 1966.  I showed up from Morningside and Wayne had arrived from Dakota Wesleyan.  We joked about this connection in places as far removed as Nigeria.  Wayne’s ability to recover the story value in events always amazed me.

We recognize a great life, greatly lived, with phenomenal impact on the whole of a huge personal particular circle and on behalf of thousands of persons who will never even know Wayne’s name that are spread across the planet.  They are richer for his expenditure on their behalf and poorer for not having had the blessing of those of us who have known you both. With love and care,

          ~~ Margaret Aiseayew



The loss of Wayne…Hard to find words. Saturday while driving home from the funeral for Paul’s father in Texas,  I read Jo and Wayne’s Christmas letter to Paul. Their lives seemed close at hand. Wayne and Jo have been lights in my life for years. The day before we left to drive to Texas, the  second week in January, Duncan Holmes was helping me find the source of a document for inclusion in one of the ICA Global Archives collections. Wayne was a part of the conversation. He mentioned he was working on a document, ToP Methods Foundation. He’d completed 17 pages and was eager to keep writing. He sent me a draft and I had been looking forward to reading the draft and eventually, his completed work. Today I printed the draft with a deep sense of loss of a  special colleague and friend.

Over the years I’ve experienced Wayne’s capacity to listen to a conversation, take it all in, and craft a wise, synthesizing response. I will miss his contributions to our ongoing collective conversations and am thankful for his long presence among us.

From our common memory… Journey On (Tune: From Elcho Island)

Journey on, Journey  on, all Humankind, future is waiting for you.

Struggling, stumbling, all the life through, future is waiting for you.

Opportunities, opportunities, all in your hand, our minds are limited to foretell.

All of your own, and nature of unseen, future is waiting for you.

Journey on, journey on, all Humankind, future is waiting for you.


          ~~  Beret Griffith