The Reverend Mary Louise Curd Nelson died on Sunday, January 11, 2009. She was 82. Rev. Nelson was born on April 17, 1926, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Walter D. and Frances B. Curd. She graduated from the University of Kansas in 1948 with a BA in English.
Rev. Nelson joined her local Unitarian church, the Oak Ridge (Tennessee) Unitarian Universalist Church in 1956 seeking a new church home for herself and her family. She soon became deeply involved in church activities especially those relating to religious education. After ten years of increasing involvement, she was asked to become the church school director. Within six months in that position, Rev. Nelson felt that she had received her call. During her years as Director of Religious Education, Rev. Nelson continued her own education through attendance at numerous Meadville summer institutes, religious education workshops, and college courses. In 1972, Rev. Nelson received accreditation from the UUA as a Director of Religious Education.
She moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1975 and served the children, youth, and adults of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church in Knoxville as their religious education director for many years. Rev. Nelson participated in an independent study program to prepare herself to become a Minister of Religious Education. She achieved her goal in 1980 when she was ordained by the Tennessee Valley UU Church and fellowshipped as Minister of Religious Education by the UUA. Later, Rev. Nelson served on the Independent Study Committee and mentored others through that program and informally in many other ways.
Upon her retirement in 1988, the Tennessee Valley Unitarian congregation named her Minister Emerita. As Rev. Chris Buice recalled, Rev. Nelson was "a spiritual pioneer, believing in, living, and carrying forward the inspiration and work of Sophia Fahs and Angus MacLean.” "Dean Mary,” as Eunice Benton affectionately called her, served as a teacher and mentor, providing inspiration, encouragement, and guidance to many religious education directors and lay leaders in the Thomas Jefferson District.
Rev. Nelson was also involved in social action efforts particularly in the area of civil rights, peace, and women's rights. She was active in the Thomas Jefferson District providing religious education workshops, training teachers for the About Your Sexuality Course, and serving as a Ministerial Settlement Representative. Her community involvement included serving on the League of Woman Voters, as President of the Friends of the Oak Ridge Library, and organizing the first Junior Great Books program which was adopted by the local school system. Rev. Nelson also led several groups of young readers in that program. She said "I felt pride in getting it organized but more pleasure in the work with the children.”
Rev. Nelson is survived by her children and their partners, Murfi and Jon Pedersen; Martin Nelson and Wendy Lipscomb; Linda Nelson and Richard Schmorleitz; four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Rev. Nelson’s husband, Dr. Bill Nelson, died in 2008.
A memorial service was held on Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009 at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. Please send notes of condolence in care of Linda Nelson, 22560 Jeffrey Mark Court, Unit 4, Chatsworth, CA 91311-0145.