The Rev. Christina (Chris) M. Neilson died on July 9, 2015 at the age of 57.
Chris was born on April 8, 1958, in French Lake, MN, to Clifford and Beryl Walberg. Chris received a Bachelor of Arts from St. Cloud University in 1981; a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Samuel Merritt College of Nursing in 1988; and a Master of Divinity from Starr King School for the Ministry in 2001.
Rev. Neilson was ordained to the ministry in Berea, OH on October 20, 2002. She was subsequently called to serve as minister to the SouthWest Unitarian Universalist Church of North Royalton, OH. She served the church for ten years, and was instrumental in helping them purchase their first building in 2009. She went on to serve as Congregational Life Consultant to the Central East Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association, a position that she held from 2012 to 2015.
Rev. Neilson was committed to bettering the denomination and the world at large. She served as Chapter Leader of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association’s Ohio-Meadville UUMA Chapter (OMDUUMA) from 2008 to 2012; and as Commissioned Lay Leader Committee Chair from 2008 to 2012. She was an advocate for both social justice and LGBT rights, and was heavily involved with both causes. Additionally, she was a strong believer in economic justice and worked to eradicate poverty and homelessness within Cleveland, OH.
Chris never forgot her working class values. Her first job was in the cafeteria at her grammar school in Annandale, MN. Prior to entering the ministry, Chris worked for ten years as a hematology and oncology bone marrow transplant nurse at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, CA. She was a member of the Nurses Union, and worked to improve services and increase systemic support of patient care. She worked all her life, except for one year in Berkeley, CA, during which she prepared for her meeting with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC).
Chris enjoyed participating in theatre, and was active within Saint Cloud State University Theatre, Paul Bunyan Playhouse, and Theatre L'Homme Dieu where she did stage-managing, lights, and directing. Chris also enjoyed going to the theatre in both Cleveland and Rochester. She recently saw Pippen, and had tickets for a mid-April production of Kinky Boots.
Chris embraced adventure through sailing, flying a small plane, parachuting, snorkeling, and more recently, traveling to Hawaii. She said that going on a riverboat cruise in 2012, from Paris to the Normandy beaches, was the favorite of her travels. Chris loved cooking and entertaining. She completed a course at the culinary school at Lake Canandaigua, NY and was looking forward to taking more courses as well as traveling to Norway, Alaska, and returning to Hawaii.
Chris was devoted to her family and passionate about Unitarian Universalism. In her last reflection, recorded at 4 A.M. the day before she died, Chris said: “I feel really good about my life. I feel really good about my friends and family. I thank everyone for your help and I feel like I've had a long and successful life. My last job was working for the UUA, my hope for our future.”
She is preceded in death by her mother, Beryl Walberg; and her infant daughter, Amanda. She is survived by her wife, Sharon Hoyenga; father, Clifford Walberg; brother, Mike Walberg; sister, Terri Walberg; niece, Samantha; nephews, Cory and Chad; and many friends and colleagues.
A memorial service was held at First Unitarian Church of Rochester on Sunday, July 26th. A second memorial service will be held at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, 20401 Hilliard Blvd., Rocky River, Ohio 44116 on Sunday, August 23rd at 4:00 P.M. If you are unable to attend the memorial services, but would like to share a remembrance, please send a short memory of Chris to Sharon Hoyenga, firstname.lastname@example.org.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Wilmot Cancer Institute at Strong Memorial Hospital, 601 Elmwood Ave, Rochester, NY 14642.
Notes of condolences may be sent to Sharon Hoyenga, 64 Hidden Valley Road, Rochester, NY 14624.