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