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Title: Frank H. Nelson of Cincinnati
Author: Herrick, Warren Crocker, 1898-
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  _Writing is the offspring of thought, the lamp of
  remembrance, the tongue of him that is far-off, and
  the life of him whose age has been blotted out._



  _Frank H Nelson


  _a sometime Assistant_

  _With A Foreword
  by Charles P. Taft_



  The Cloister Press

  _All rights reserved. No part of this
  book may be reproduced without the
  written permission of The Cloister Press._

  [Illustration: _The Cloister Press_


  _To My Wife_


  1. "Arise, and go into the city"                2

  2. Reclaiming A Church to Meet A New Age       14

  3. The Shepherd Among His Flock                30

  4. The Spokesman of The City's Conscience      42

  5. They Came to Be in His Presence             62

  6. Beyond Cincinnati                           76

  7. The Mystery of Personality                  88

  8. Last Years                                 102

  9. The Afterglow                              110


This book is made possible only through the interest and contributions
of the many friends of Frank H. Nelson. Space does not permit my
mentioning by name all who have furnished me with material, but I do
wish to record my gratitude to them. In addition to the years 1925-1928
as Mr. Nelson's assistant I spent two weeks in the autumn of 1943
interviewing a cross-section of Cincinnati and Christ Church. Many
business men gladly gave of their time because they enjoyed recounting
memories of one whom they loved, and often detained me when I felt I had
imposed myself long enough. I noticed also that Mr. Nelson's photograph
occupied a place of honor in more than one office as well as in many

There are others far better qualified than I to write this story, and I
accepted the task, though with a keen sense of my inadequacy, first,
because Mrs. Nelson honored me with the request, and second because I
have the strong conviction that it should be done for the sake of those
who knew Mr. Nelson, and also for those of a succeeding generation who
ought to know how one minister more than met the requirements of an
exacting profession. Furthermore, I have written as one who owes an
incalculable debt, and, therefore, cannot be wholly objective. While I
have endeavored not to make this biography a eulogy, it is frankly his
life as I saw it, and depicts one whom I loved, admired, and have tried
to follow.

For innumerable suggestions and for valuable material I am particularly
grateful to Mrs. Frank H. Nelson, to Mr. Nelson's sisters, Miss
Margaret[1] and Miss Dorothea Nelson, and to Mr. Howard N. Bacon, who
have helped me more than perhaps they know. Then there is the pleasant
duty of expressing my thanks to Mr. Charles P. Taft, the Junior Warden
of Christ Church, Cincinnati, for writing the foreword; to the Vestry of
Trinity Church, Melrose, Massachusetts for gladly granting me a leave of
absence in 1943, and to Mrs. E. Howard Favor, my secretary, for the
typing cheerfully undertaken. In the labor of preparing the final draft
for the publishers I shall ever remember with gratitude the careful
thought and skillful phrasing of Miss Mary Putnam of the English
Department of the Melrose High School whose corrections and amendments
were nothing less than creative. Finally, I wish to let stand my
heartfelt thanks to the Right Reverend Henry Knox Sherrill, Bishop of
Massachusetts, without whose encouragement and advice this little book
could not have been written.


  _Trinity Church_,
  _Melrose, Massachusetts_;


[1] Deceased, July 6, 1945.


How does one life affect another?

I have tried to remember what Frank Nelson directly asked me to do. He
asked me to teach in the Sunday School, and I did it. Gradually I found
myself studying out an intellectual foundation for faith in God. He
never said anything to me about that, except from the pulpit. He wrote
me asking that I act as captain in the Nation-wide Campaign, and I
answered that I could not. But the next thing I remember was being a
visitor in the Nation-wide Campaign, and I was always in it after that.
He asked me to serve on the Vestry, and somehow made me feel that
nothing except being really sick was an excuse for not being there.

Certainly he never exhorted people to be civic patriots or reformers,
and save the city. He just gave you such a human picture of the teeming
life of a great city that it made a tear come to your eye to think of
what the city could be at its best, and it made you love it and the
people in it. Your own actions in civic affairs just naturally followed.

He wasn't an exhorter of virtue, but he made of clean living and noble
service such a fascinating objective that people went to work on their
own problems with fresh faith.

The only time I recall he was really annoyed with me was when I had an
emergency operation for appendicitis in the middle of the night, and
didn't let him know until the next day. He was my minister, and that
meant _minister_. After that, when I had a major choice to make, I felt
I was risking his disappointment unless I went down to talk to him about

He didn't want me to go to a great school as headmaster. "The city is
the place that needs service and talents," said he. To that he had given
his life, in the personal contact with his parish. His life stands as a
symbol of the way a true love of home and community is tied to a love of
all God's children everywhere.


  _Arise, And Go
  Into The City_

  "_Arise, And Go Into The City_"

  --_Acts 9:6_


"Tell the rector of Christ Church that if he doesn't call off the
Woman's Club, I'll bring the women of the streets to the polls." And he
added, "He knows I can do it." The boss of old Ward Eight, in which
Christ Episcopal Church in downtown Cincinnati is located, had become
alarmed by a serious threat to his power. Although this incident took
place long before the coming of universal suffrage, Reverend Frank H.
Nelson, the young rector, had discovered that women had a legal right to
vote in public school matters. Following his leadership, the Woman's
Club of Christ Church was actively supporting as a candidate for the
Board of Education John R. Schindel, a fearless young lawyer in the
Ward. This independent action was an open challenge to the dominance of
the boss of Ward Eight, Mike Mullen. Though the courageous lawyer was
defeated, and without the aid of the women of the streets, the affair
was one of many which presaged the uprising that eventually wrenched the
control of Cincinnati from the hands of one of the most notorious
political gangs in American democracy.

A second "passage of arms" between the rector and Boss Mullen had its
origin in the work of Christ Church among boys, and ultimately involved
the boss of the entire city and his powerful machine. The privilege of
running gambling games throughout Cincinnati had been alloted to one of
the higher-ups in the organization. Within a block of the Parish House
of Christ Church was a flourishing candy store, so-called, but the chief
"confection" was a crap game run for the boys of the neighborhood under
the direction of a member of the City Council, and with the knowledge
and acquiescence of the police department. It was inevitable that some
members of Christ Church Boys' Clubs should lose their earnings, and
whatever of character the church was building up was thus broken down.
To meet this danger, Mr. Nelson organized a good citizenship club among
his parishioners. The members made a survey of the gambling places which
were catering especially to boys, and found nearly one hundred
throughout the city. The publication of their findings was one of many
"shots heard 'round the ward."[2] When in later years Frank Nelson spoke
for the City Charter or Reform Party, he knew from first-hand experience
the moral and spiritual influence of good government in the lives of
boys and young men. Behind the youthful clergyman's deep concern for
decent government was a vital religious faith, without which he was
convinced social service and reform work can never attain the best

Frank H. Nelson was Rector of Christ Church, Cincinnati, Ohio, from 1900
to 1939, having been the assistant minister in the year 1899. These
forty years in the one parish constitute a career seldom paralleled for
breadth of vision and devoted service. He became one of the first
citizens of a great city, a crusader for honest municipal government,
and the foremost Protestant clergyman. For the understanding of his
ministry and of his religious convictions, one must know something of
his early life and family, and the preparatory years.

Frank Howard Nelson was born in Hartford, Connecticut on September 6,
1869. His father, Henry Wells Nelson, the nephew of the Reverend E. M.
P. Wells, a pioneer in early Christian social service in Boston, was the
Rector of the Church of The Good Shepherd in Hartford. Before Frank was
ten years old, his father accepted a call to Trinity Church, Geneva, New
York, and there exercised a distinguished ministry for twenty-five
years. Geneva, an attractive college town situated on lovely Seneca
Lake, was an ideal place in which to bring up a family. There were five
children: Margaret, George, Frank, Mary, and Dorothea. George now lives
in Brookline, Massachusetts, and Mary, who married Edward L. Pierce,
lives in Princeton, New Jersey. After the father's retirement, Margaret
and Dorothea lived with their parents in the family home at North
Marshfield, Massachusetts where they still reside. Frank was not a
strong child, but in the freedom and simplicity of the life which a
small town affords, he gained strength rapidly. A sister relates that
he was unusually venturesome, and sometimes horrified timid ladies in
the parish by walking on stilts on open rafters, and by frequenting the
canal, where once he fell in and was pulled out by a bargee. As all boys
do, he roamed the environs of his home with his chums, occasionally
pilfering fruit and getting into all kinds of mischief; but though other
boys might go unpunished because of doting parents, he was always firmly
chastised for his pranks.

The influence of both father and mother upon these strong-minded
children was vital and enduring. The father possessed that happy
combination of gaiety and goodness that commends religion. As he was
deeply and naturally spiritual himself, the expression of religion in
his home and parish was unusually beautiful and appealing. The last
twenty-five years of his life were spent in blindness, but his courage
and his deepened understanding of the ways of God because of this
affliction led him to a thankful acceptance of his limitation; and his
continuing interest in people "made the latter years of his ministry,"
to quote Bishop Lawrence, "as fruitful as the more active ones." His
devoted wife, who was Hortense Chew Lewis of New London, Connecticut,
guided the children through their formative years with skill and
understanding. She was an intelligent mother, discriminating in taste
and judgment. Because of her abounding love of good literature, the
family passed many delightful evenings in listening to her readings from
Scott, Milton, Shakespeare and many other great writers. Her fine gifts
of interpretation made the masterpieces of English prose and poetry come
alive. In later years, Christ Church people were to love Frank Nelson's
readings at Christmas parties in the parish house and in his own home.
The older he grew the deeper became his appreciation of the character of
his parents. An intimate friend once said to him, "You are a fortunate
and a blessed man to have had such a father and mother."

The family was privileged in possessing means beyond a minister's
salary, and Frank, at the age of thirteen, was sent to aristocratic St.
Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. The headmaster, Dr. Henry A.
Coit, an austere and exacting teacher of the old New England type,
stimulated the natural student, and under his influence Nelson achieved
a scholastic standing among the first five in his class. He was not
particularly skillful in athletics, and had even then a cough which
persisted throughout his life. The lad was not noticeably popular, and
had more than the average measure of shyness peculiar to adolescence. He
was extremely sensitive, somewhat unhappy, and in many accomplishments
and activities was overshadowed by his older brother who was in the same

In the fall of 1886, upon graduation from St. Paul's School, Frank
returned to Geneva and entered Hobart College, a small church college of
considerable standing. There he began to find himself, and became one of
the popular men in his class and in the Sigma Phi Fraternity. Although
in college he took more active interest in athletics and participated in
rowing, tennis, and track, he never excelled in sports. At his
graduation in 1890 he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts, _Magna
Cum Laude_, being valedictorian and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Throughout his life he maintained relationships with his Alma Mater,
coming to know the successive presidents, and in 1907 was instrumental
in securing a large gift for a new gymnasium. Still later he refused the
presidency of the college. In 1906 Hobart bestowed upon him the honorary
degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology.

In the course of his undergraduate days at Hobart, Frank Nelson had
seriously considered the profession of the ministry, but graduation
found him still undecided. As it turned out, the summer following the
close of his college years was one of critical importance to his entire
life. He accompanied a surveying expedition to the state of Washington.
The party put up for a while in Merrysville, a rough-mannered,
tough-living town of the old West. Into this place there came one day a
circuit rider who fearlessly preached the Gospel in the face of
opposition and outright hostility. This Methodist minister was utterly
sincere, and Nelson saw what could be done by the sheer power of the
spirit against the forces of evil. It surged over him that a man can
hold the mastery over wrong, an inner conviction which at the same time
was set aflame by a Communion Service held for the surveyors in the
out-of-doors. The circumstances and surroundings were strikingly
different from those associated in his mind with such a service.
Possibly for the first time in his life he was intensely conscious of
the presence of God. As in all such experiences the vision illumined and
deepened his thinking and living. It has been said that in all great
Christian leaders and reformers are found two elements: "The imperious
commission from above, and the tumultuous experience within." Both these
elements were present in the experiences of that eventful summer, and
all Frank Nelson's doubts and waverings concerning the ministry were
resolved. He returned East aware of being called to preach the Gospel.
In the light of this happening one is not surprised that later when a
professor dogmatically stated that there could be no true Sacrament
without the Apostolic Succession, Nelson walked out of the classroom
saying to himself, "It is a lie." To those who knew him through his
forty years' ministry in Christ Church, this experience in the far West
sheds light upon his burning sense of mission, for in those hours of
inward tumult he had come close to God in the breaking of bread and in
the society of his fellows, conditions which he preached throughout his
life as being always the essence of fellowship with God.

On September 18, 1890, he matriculated at the General Theological
Seminary in New York City. The General Seminary is directly under the
government of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and while
it has always been characterized by a conservative type of
churchmanship, all shades of opinion were and are to be found within its
faculty and student body. At this time the respectability of the
Episcopal Church was considered an asset and not a liability, and the
Seminary community was in the social forefront. When an upstanding man
like Frank Nelson, whose background was well-known and whose
intellectual gifts and social graces were obvious, entered this
environment, it was inevitable that he should immediately take a leading
place in the undergraduate body. His tall, commanding figure naturally
attracted notice, and within a few days he was elected president of his
class. There was magnetism in his personality, and he was soon welcomed
among the socially distinguished in both seminary and city. His
fellow-students at General, when speculating about the future, as
students do, always considered him destined for the highest office of
the church; throughout those now remote years he clearly revealed the
qualities of the born leader. His class was a notable one, and through
the passing years gave a good account of itself, listing four bishops
and ten honorary degrees, Frank Nelson himself receiving the degree of
Doctor of Sacred Theology from the General Seminary in 1934.

As a student he excelled in Pastoral Theology, Biblical Learning and
Evidences, subjects which in their nature give some indication of his
intensely human interest in all aspects of life. Like many theological
students, he was groping and feeling his way through the multiple
problems that center upon man in the light of God. One of his classmates
says that the curriculum and the methods of instruction in that day bear
poor comparison to modern standards, but Nelson, unlike many students,
was never in a state of open or even tacit rebellion. He did his work
faithfully and well. He was graduated in 1894, but for some reason was
not present at Commencement to receive the degree of Bachelor of Sacred
Theology, which is the mark of scholastic distinction at General. On May
19, 1894, he was made a deacon in his father's church in Geneva, New
York by the Right Reverend Arthur Cleveland Coxe, the Bishop of Western
New York. During his senior year he had assumed work on the staff of St.
George's Church, New York City, and after his ordination was quickly
absorbed into the work of that great parish. Because he did not feel
ready, Frank Nelson, at his own request, was not advanced to the
priesthood until November 14, 1897, when he was so ordered in St.
George's Church by Bishop Henry Codman Potter of the Diocese of New

Another important element in Mr. Nelson's preparation for his unique
ministry in Cincinnati was this experience on the staff of St. George's
Church from 1894 to 1899 under the prophetic leadership of the Reverend
William S. Rainsford. This notable rector possessed unusual gifts and
exerted an incalculable influence upon the Episcopal Church. He gathered
about him a group of young men the like of whom has never been found
elsewhere. St. George's stands as the pioneer of what was known as the
"institutional church," and in the midst of the teeming activities of
the parish house and a heterogeneous congregation, Dr. Rainsford set
loose his young and enthusiastic assistants. They experienced a training
comparable to the clinical instruction gained by an intern in a modern
hospital. Under his tutelage these men received a course in applied
religion, and their rector set a standard of preaching, parish
administration, and pastoral care that not one of his "boys," as he
called them, failed to practice in an unusual manner. Dr. Rainsford's
impassioned preaching of the essentials of Christianity as opposed to
those aspects which are merely traditional, and his forceful efforts,
radical for those times, to democratize a conventional Episcopal parish
were significant contributions to church life throughout America.

Although Dr. Rainsford exerted a lasting influence upon all his young
assistants, he set his stamp to a marked degree upon Frank Nelson. For
the first time in his life this young man, the choicest flowering of a
cultured home, lived among the underprivileged, spending his afternoons
climbing interminable tenement stairs, and his evenings in the parish
house. He came to know poverty and squalor and the honest worth of
struggling humanity. If "The Rector," as Dr. Rainsford's "boys" called
him, bade them preach on the street corners, he himself had done the
same. His example and his personal religious faith were those of a
living St. George touched with the heart-stirring Gospel of Love. Under
him young Nelson found the services and work of the church taking on a
meaning that was like a cool, refreshing breeze. Things concerning the
Church, doctrine, and ritual, which had formerly perplexed his youthful
mind, now seemed subordinate.

Dr. Rainsford evoked a loyalty which held his young men long after they
had "graduated," and when he died in 1933 at the age of eighty-three,
many of his former assistants were in the chancel of old St. George's
for the burial service. One who was present said, "We shall not see a
service like that again, for we shall never see and know another
Rainsford." Eulogies are not customary at funerals in Episcopal
Churches, but on this occasion the tradition was fittingly broken, and
Mr. Nelson delivered a brief address from the pulpit in a breaking
voice, barely audible at times. In this very moving tribute, the speaker
reveals much of himself:

  I am not here to presume to speak of the man we loved in any
  formal way; to try to weigh the imponderable, to measure the
  immeasurable--but only to say a word out of our hearts of
  thanksgiving to God that the rector was our rector in the days
  that are passed, was The Rector always and will be always, for
  those who knew him, who loved him, to whom he gave that
  tremendous love of his.

  A book was written by a friend of his some years ago, and the
  dedication of that book was this: "To William Stephen Rainsford,
  who has seen the Christ and has shown Him to men."

  I know of no more perfect description of the rector than that.
  For twenty years and more of his rectorship in this great parish
  he showed Christ to men; showed Him in the incomparable words
  that he poured forth Sunday after Sunday and year after year from
  this pulpit--in his great concern for the men and women and
  little children; for the strong and for the weak; for the wise
  and the foolish; for the saints and the sinners; for those who
  labor and were hungry and perplexed, and were strained by the
  tasks of life. They came here week by week; they heard from him
  the words that refreshed them and sent them back with courage and
  with faith in God and in man, to the tasks that were breaking
  them, to the problems that were perplexing them.

  I suppose that to every one of us who knew him in his great days
  here and have known him in the years since, the one supreme thing
  that poured out of his life was his love of God. Not the love of
  God that theologians speak of, that men reason about, but that
  pure love that a man gives to his friend, to his loved
  ones--personal, intense, vital, real.

  We came here church people, professing the Christian faith,
  thinking we believed in God and in His son, Jesus Christ, and as
  we sat under the rector here Sunday after Sunday, we came to know
  that our profession was a form of sound words, that in him was
  the form of unsound words, but that he poured forth _reality_ for
  the thing that we _professed_ to believe in, and he helped us to
  see the real work of God, the real passionate love of God for
  men--not for the chosen few, but the weak, the broken, the
  struggling--those in sorrow and the hungry--the love of God that
  drove him to lay down his life as few men had laid down their
  lives before. He gave of himself without stint, rejoicing in the
  chance to serve his God and his fellowmen with his whole heart
  and soul, with such passionate devotion that at last broke
  through his own conventional beliefs and tore them to shreds, and
  made him the voice of the living God, to us in St. George's, to
  New York and to America.

  In the great days of his preaching, he took us who were his
  clergy--young, inexperienced and conceited--and made us over. He
  took us, to whom religion was a profession, and made of it a
  passion. He was ever patient with us, giving us his best; day
  after day walking with us around Stuyvesant Square in the
  morning, sometimes for hours, and then pouring out to us as we
  walked the best religious thought of his time, his judgment on
  the questions of the day, his interpretations of religion and the
  tremendous work of the church as a gift that God had put into the
  souls of men for service to their fellowmen.

  He told us of his thought for men and women, of the problems of
  the time, of the problems of the church--not conventional, but
  vital, not formal, but distinctly real--and then he would take us
  into his study and we would kneel there. And never have I heard a
  man pray as the rector prayed--without any of the ecclesiastical
  technique and form of prayer, without any formal discussions of
  the value of prayer, but pouring out the things that we had been
  talking of; as real to God as they were real to us, bringing into
  them God; God's companionship, God's sympathy, God's
  understanding and patience; God's ruthless will that we should
  love our fellowmen and serve our fellowmen--without name, without
  a distinction.

  That is the vivid life, a little of it, that we lived with, which
  made God real to New York and to us here at St. George's, and to
  his clergy. God has taken him home, and we meet here, every one
  of us, because the rector--broken though he was in these later
  years--because the rector, whose great and lovely smile we had
  loved to see, as we had loved just to touch his hand to gain
  strength, courage, faith and joy--because we cannot do that any
  more. His work is done and God gives him a safe lodging and he
  shall rest in peace to the last. Thank God who gave him to us, to
  know and to love, that we might be lifted by him to find God and
  Jesus through him.

  He wrote a little prayer, and in closing I am going to read it
  and ask you to join with me in making it our own. Let us pray:

  Heavenly Father, I am trying to do right and be right and help
  others to be right. Give me my daily bread. I am Thy child; Thy
  little, weak child. Give me Thy strength; Thy patience; Thy
  wisdom; Thy love--that with confidence and with joy I may do the
  work Thou hast given me to do in my home and among men. Amen.[3]

The charter of Frank Nelson's future is set forth in the impression he
made at the General Theological Seminary, and in the zest and
enlargement of vision which characterized his five years under Dr.
Rainsford at St. George's. When the opportunity presented itself to
create in Christ Church, Cincinnati, Ohio a work similar to that of St.
George's, he displayed a characteristically wise judgment in making his
decision. Henceforth he was to live "in the upper story" of that
decision, conceiving of his work as a mission to the city, and pursuing
it with a fidelity and a diligence that ranked him as an unusual servant
of God.


[2] For these stories I am indebted to the Rev. J. Howard Melish, D.D.
whose forthright denunciations of political corruption in Cincinnati
were further "shots heard 'round" the city.

[3] _The Churchman_, January 1st, 1934.

  _Reclaiming A Church
  To Meet A New Age_

  "_By the grace of God, and the loyalty of the
  members of Christ Church I was enabled to
  carry on the work when Alexis Stein had to
  give it up._"

  --_Frank H. Nelson_


The surging currents of city life had left old Christ Church in a back
eddy, and certain leaders including the senior warden advocated selling
the property or turning it over to the Diocese for a mission. The
population, as in many another American city, was shifting from the
downtown district, and many believed that the parish had seen its best
days. In those late nineties, parishioners of wealth and prominence were
moving to the suburbs; the older, conservative members still attended
the morning service, but the young people either attached themselves to
churches nearer their residences or were drifting away from church
affiliations altogether.

Christ Church was established in 1817 when Cincinnati was a small river
town of nine thousand inhabitants; looking at the present church
building which seats over one thousand people and is flanked by an
enormous and ever busy parish house, one finds it difficult to picture
Bishop Philander Chase meeting in that year with a group of men in the
home of Dr. Daniel Drake to lay the foundations of what was to become
one of the largest parishes in the Middle West. The first services were
held in a cotton factory, and the church slowly developed into a strong
parish, small in numbers but served by several very able rectors, one of
whom later became the Bishop of Virginia. As the first Episcopal Church
to be founded in Cincinnati, it was the parent of a number of other
parishes; but at the close of the nineteenth century it appeared that
the "mother-church" was about finished. Churches of other communions
located in the downtown district were going through the same transition.
The slump in finances by reason of removals created something akin to
panic in the fearful and timid vestrymen, but because of some loyal and
far-sighted women Christ Church was not disbanded. They wanted it to
mean to their children what it meant to them, and they gave assurance of
support in substantial ways.

These ardent supporters had a definite vision and plan. In 1897 Dr.
William S. Rainsford had come on from New York City and had packed old
Pike's Opera House for a week in Lent, and thrilled his hearers with the
recital of his efforts to anchor St. George's Church in the heart of
that great metropolis, and make it free to serve the community. When
Bishop Vincent of Southern Ohio wrote him about the difficulties of
Christ Church, he replied with this momentous letter:

  I am going to give you the greatest proof I can of my love and
  deep interest in Cincinnati. I have a plan for Christ Church.
  Here it is. Take two of my men--let them work and live together;
  they could take a mighty strong hold, and do a really good work.
  I feel sure that in the future many a position of great
  difficulty can be much better occupied by two men, pulling
  together, than by one alone. There are two magnificent
  fellows--dear, dear boys after my own heart--who have been here
  with me for years; and I shall be lost without them, if you call
  them. Stein (Alexis) is the ablest preacher of his age (28) in
  our Church in these United States today. Nelson (Frank) is a
  strong, capable man, full of energy and charm and a first-class
  organizer. This is a big idea, my friend; but I believe God may
  be in it. It is like offering to cut off both my hands for you.

Thus the Reverend Alexis Stein became Rector of Christ Church in
December, 1898, and within a few weeks of his arrival the people of
Cincinnati awoke to the mighty fact that a prophet was in their midst;
the doors of all churches were flung open to him, and everywhere he
spoke, new interest and hope in the Church were born. Stein has been
called a modern Savonarola, but, unlike the great reformer, he was
burned within by the fire of his own consuming message. "He was a
preacher of most unusual power with a message he burned to give; and a
vision of truth that made him a leader of men. He loved God and showed
Him to men; he loved men and led them to God."[4] Before Stein left New
York, he had asked his friend, Frank Nelson, to join him in the new
venture, but it was not until May 21, 1899 that he was free to come.

  We came out to Cincinnati because Dr. Rainsford sent us; he told
  us that we ought to come--not that we wanted to come. Stein and I
  both had always lived in the East. It was the America that we
  knew, and it seemed a desirable place to live, just as those of
  you who have been born here think that Cincinnati is the most
  desirable place to live, because it is your home. But he, with a
  larger vision of America, and a larger vision of the calling of
  God to a man in the ministry, sent us here to do what we

In February, 1900, the doctor ordered Alexis Stein out West, a victim of
tuberculosis. He lived a short twelve years, but was never well enough
to do more than a little incidental work. This tragedy was a deep,
personal loss to his young associate, for all through their St. George's
days they had been the closest of friends. They complemented one another
and made an ideal team.

Invariably on Good Friday in the course of his address on the Sixth Word
from The Cross, Frank Nelson spoke of Stein's influence upon him and
upon Christ Church: "The work he began is witnessed to by you who are
here. You wouldn't have been here forty years ago or the likes of you
would not have been here, but he opened the door of life and the spirit
to the people of this city, as to the members of this church. His work
goes on. The thing that God wanted him to do he did, and it was
finished." He expressed himself in more intimate fashion to his friend
Bishop Touret: "The heart of all its worth (Nelson's own forty years'
ministry) has been that I was carrying on for Alexis. I've first been
his assistant in my own mind always, and that has made it possible for
me to dare to undertake it." If Stein's work was finished, and a prophet
needs no great length of time, then it was brought to fruition through
the resolute efforts of this devoted servant who with great humility and
genuine searchings of heart took up the reins so tragically

Frank H. Nelson was elected Rector of Christ Church on May 5, 1900. In
the light of subsequent events his letter of acceptance is of interest:

  May 16, 1900


  In a letter from your Secretary, I have been informed of your
  action of last Saturday, in electing me to succeed the Rev.
  Alexis Stein, as Rector of Christ Church. That I appreciate very
  deeply the honor that you have conferred upon me, I do not need
  to say. I have considered the subject very carefully, and painful
  to us all though the circumstances are that have led to this, I
  feel strangely that it is God's work we have undertaken, and that
  He has led us in it all. I therefore accept the call you have
  given me, and I believe that working together we can, with God's
  help, do a real work for Him in this city. For the success of the
  work I regard two things as essential: the first that the Church
  shall remain absolutely free, and the second that the lines of
  work represented by the Parish House shall be continued. I ask
  your cooperation and support in them both. I am writing the Rev.
  J. H. Melish to ask him to be my associate. I hope to have him
  begin his work with us in June. I feel deeply the burden of
  responsibility, and the great opportunity that your call
  involves. I can but say that I shall do all in my power to be
  faithful to both.

Frank Nelson distrusted his own ability. Stein's preaching had packed
the church, and the numbers drastically declined when his eloquent voice
was stilled. The Bishop, conscious of the difficult problem confronting
a downtown church, advised Rev. Mr. Melish not to become associated,
saying "Stein could have solved it, but Frank Nelson never will." The
Bishop, however, had not sufficient evidence to gauge the young rector's
talents, nor could he foresee the capacity of the parish to respond to
the man's magnetic appeal.

There was at this time not only a break in the center of population in
the city, but also a shifting of the center of gravity in religion.
There was dawning a unity of the spirit which led men to break away from
the orthodox emphasis on creeds, and which strove to express itself in
many forms; such as parish houses, Christian associations, reforms, and
educational and missionary movements. Mr. Nelson's mind, being busy with
the stars, was concerned with the moral and spiritual movement which
outlasts the stars. He said, "To some of us it seems that Jesus was not
so much interested in establishing an institution as in revealing a new
quality of life." Likewise, Frank Nelson was not so much interested in
being the rector of a large, prosperous parish as in making the church
an agency for leavening the city's life with the spirit of Jesus Christ.
He caught the imagination of his people when he pointed to the
possibility of a church becoming the community center for multitudes in
the downtown district. In the near neighborhood of Christ Church were
new offices, factories, and boarding houses, and at the distance of one
block began the tenement houses where lived the poor and
underprivileged. He said:

  We owe to them the gift of Christian friendship, of spiritual
  influence irrespective of religious affiliations. The church
  should provide not only a place to pray, but to play; a place not
  only for worship, but for friendship. There are no places for
  leisure except the streets, saloons, burlesque houses,
  pool-rooms, public dance halls, or other commercial places of
  entertainment. The Church is not here for its own sake. It is
  here to bear witness, and to spread a spirit. It should be the
  center from which radiate the forces of righteousness and the
  spirit of brotherhood and every human activity and interest in
  the community. Therefore, it must speak not to the individual
  only, but to the business, social, and political problems,
  dealing with them not from the viewpoint of the economist or
  political theorist, but from that of the preacher of
  righteousness. If Christ Church can be a force for righteousness
  in the city, it matters but little whether it gain in numbers.[6]

"Distinction," it has been said, "is the emphasis put upon qualities by
circumstances." There were two circumstances which enabled this young
rector to create in Christ Church, Cincinnati a far-famed chapter in the
history of American churches and cities. One was his conception of the
place and function of the modern church in the new age, as just
outlined. It has been the reproach of the Protestant Churches that they
have too largely attracted only the well-to-do and middle classes. Frank
Nelson made Christ Church a place where rich and poor met on equal
footing. Drawn by his personality, both responded to his vision. There
was something about working in his parish that gave people a peculiar
zest and joy in living. There was, for instance, a Jewish lad in the
Sunday School, (Mr. Nelson never liked the term Church School) who after
his marriage came every Christmas to Christ Church with his wife and two
children. He proudly introduced them to Mr. Nelson, saying, "Though I am
a Jew, this is my church!"

On the other hand, Mr. Nelson's special gifts as a rector were developed
and brought into full flower in Christ Church because of the many
remarkable people who formed the backbone of his parish. In point of
numbers and in ability, they were an unusual group, a group
characterized by breadth of vision, and by a faith sufficient for them
to carry through the bold projects outlined by their leader. Many were
blessed with abundant means, and, above all, were filled with a
consummate loyalty and affection for their church. In this happy
partnership of pastor and parish, each inspired the other to great
accomplishment. The older members who were in the parish at the
beginning of Mr. Nelson's rectorship were vigorous, strong-minded people
accustomed to having their own way. They hewed to the old lines,
suspicious of change. With his deep sense of loyalty, Mr. Nelson felt
bound to maintain the sort of practices and low-church ceremony which
prevailed when he took over, but such was his adroitness, skill and tact
in leading them that he won their complete confidence and trust, and
they gave him an unreserved support as well as a free hand in many
things. This unbounded support of his early work he never forgot; nor
did he let his appreciation diminish with the success of later years. In
the course of the observances that marked his forty years as rector, he
said of them:

  We found here, as the days went on, a group of people that I
  think have never been equaled. Not a very large group of people,
  but a group of people who gave us freedom--freedom to speak the
  thing that was in our minds: to do the things that we believed
  the Church ought to do and to stand for in the heart of a great

A new parish house had been erected as Alexis Stein's rectorship closed,
and Mr. Nelson's organizing abilities made it hum. With the assistance
of the Rev. J. Howard Melish, the most competent of all his clerical
assistants, a Men's Club was organized, and became a mecca for the young
men of the city. For those of small means, it was the only sort of club
available, and was thrown open to every race and creed. In 1901 the
yearly attendance was 7,000, and by 1903 it had grown to 16,973. In line
with the policy of a community center, the Club included members of all
faiths, Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic. The Roman priest was always
notified of Catholics joining the club and informed that no proselyting
was intended, but rather that it was hoped these young men would become
better members of their own church. Athletic grounds were secured
together with a field-house, and Christ Church teams won an enviable
reputation for high standards of sportsmanship. Their spirit may be
judged by the story of a football player who waxed into colorful
profanity in the heat of a game and was bawled out by a Roman Catholic
teammate in terse words: "Don't you know who you represent?" During an
interim when another parish house was being built, Christ Church
basketball teams used the Holy Cross Monastery Hall for an entire year,
with the full approval of the Roman authorities and the gratitude of Mr.
Nelson. At that time, the captain of the Christ Church team, John M.
Cronin, was a prefect of the St. Xavier Sodality and also the secretary
of the Christ Church Men's Club. By 1911 it was necessary to limit the
Club's membership to six hundred, and there was always a long waiting
list. The social atmosphere, the entertainments, the athletic record,
the camp established by the church on the Miami River made this club one
of the most popular in the city. Mr. Nelson and Mr. Melish spent untold
hours in the work and gained an intimate knowledge of the individual
members and their views, particularly on labor questions. The men
expressed themselves freely, and at the close of an evening's discussion
Mr. Nelson would gather up the points of argument into a clear and
effective summary easily understood and remembered. It was in this club
that a small group once earnestly discussed how they might best help a
member when he should be released from a prison term which he was
serving. Nothing gratified the rector more than this sort of human
comradeship because it is the very essence of the Christian fellowship
which he was striving to implant.

As time went on, an increasing number of girls and young women entering
the business world created a social problem which weighed heavily on the
rector's mind and heart. Knowing the special conditions which these
young women must meet in a large city, he applied grave thought and much
energy to the study of their needs and to the opportunity which Christ
Church had in meeting them. Finding nothing for them socially in the
city except the Y.W.C.A., some distance away, he sent invitations to
department stores for a meeting at the parish house. At this meeting he
proposed to establish a branch of the Girls' Friendly Society which is
found throughout the Episcopal Church and which exists for social and
educational purposes. Mr. Nelson gave himself particularly to this
organization. He gathered a set of workers in the parish, women of
character and cultural background, who became the leaders and friends of
the various groups. He was a frequent visitor at meetings and often
conducted a question box. He encouraged the members to make it one of
their prime objectives to work for the city's interest. The rapid growth
of the Society enabled it to support a bed in the Children's Hospital,
to finance the Vacation House on the Ohio River, and to promote other
civic projects. The Christ Church organization became one of the largest
and most active branches in the national society, and had a succession
of remarkable directors, such as Deaconess Lloyd and Miss Alice Simrall.
Mr. Nelson's faith and incomparable friendship as well as his careful
planning made the Girls' Friendly a strong and useful force in
Cincinnati and an influence in the national body.

In those days the public schools provided nothing in the way of training
in the practical arts, and a large work along these lines was carried on
among the boys and girls who lived in the districts adjacent to Christ
Church. The Sewing School, for instance, grew in membership in three
years from twenty-four to over two hundred under unfavorable conditions
in the already cramped parish house. When the College Settlement on
Third Street closed, the church took over its kindergarten equipment and
its list of members, and every morning gathered in the children of
pre-school age.

When some people said it was a mistake to make a parish house a
community center, because in their minds it was being used only for
social purposes, Mr. Nelson's scorn was beautiful to hear. He asserted,
"The Church claims to be the Body of Christ, doesn't it? How did our
Lord regard His body? He used it freely with no thought of preserving
it, even to the final extent of hanging it upon a Cross. This is the
only way, His Way, that the Church will have eternal life."

Not many years passed before it became apparent that the parish house,
though not an old building, was literally worn out and was entirely
inadequate for such an extensive work. In 1907 Mr. Nelson announced the
gift of a new parish house from Mrs. Thomas J. Emery, a devoted member
of the church. So munificent a gift had rarely been equaled anywhere.
The six-story building, complete in every detail, was not finished until
1909. In it are club rooms, a large auditorium, a gymnasium, locker
rooms, and bowling alleys. At the corner next to the church rises a
beautiful clock tower which before the day of skyscrapers could be seen
from distant parts of the city, and which has been sketched by many
artists. Under the impetus of this gift the parish took on increased
vigor and extended the work into new fields. A Baby Clinic set up by the
Visiting Nurses' Association provided one more opportunity for service;
in 1910 the problem of crowded conditions in the nearby Guilford School
was solved by the use of Christ Church parish house for Kindergarten
and Domestic Science classes. It was a long list of services which gave
Christ Church and Mr. Nelson a far reaching reputation for efficient and
intelligent social service.

  In the Parish House we meet each other, not as having the same
  point of view, the same opportunities, but as having a common
  humanity infinitely various in thought, in faith, in desire. Each
  may learn from each, and grow in breadth and depth, and the
  knowledge of God through his brother. It is in recognition of
  this that we have a free church and free parish house. No
  distinction of wealth may mar the worship in the one; no
  distinction of faith may hinder the service in the other.[7]

The passing years brought fresh opportunities which were seized upon
with tireless energy by this far-seeing rector. In August, 1917 came the
opportunity to establish a Red Cross unit which through day and evening
groups enlisted the woman power of the parish. At the close of the war,
Mr. Nelson envisioned the continuance of this work on a scale far
exceeding the conventional idea of church missionary work. Tactfully
overcoming certain prejudices and narrow points of view, he again
secured the enthusiastic support of the same group of women. This unit
became one of the largest and most diligent organizations in the parish,
continuing the indispensable Red Cross work, and enlisting larger
numbers in the special program of the Woman's Auxiliary as it is
conducted in Episcopal parishes throughout the country.

In 1913 and again in 1937, floods devastated the Ohio River valley. Mr.
Nelson quickly organized his parish to do its share in caring for the
refugees. Committees fed, clothed, and entertained one hundred and fifty
people on the first occasion, and two hundred on the second. Experienced
dieticians planned and supervised the meals, a trained nurse was kept on
constant duty, and doctors gave medical service and examinations. But
Christ Church did more than provide physical care; it knew the moral
and spiritual needs of the homeless, and each day, through the
cooperation of the government agencies (especially in 1937), city
organizations, and individuals, it provided two hours of entertainment
for them. Every night Mr. Nelson conducted family prayers, and won the
undying gratitude of the refugees by his friendliness and personal
interest in their present comfort and future needs. His reputation
travelled from New England to California, and checks poured in from all
over the country for this work. The atmosphere of helpfulness in Christ
Church was his creation, and many volunteers in this emergency were not
of the parish at all. One mother and daughter engaged in this relief
work found the associations so delightful that the mother remarked to
Howard Bacon, the superintendent of the parish house, "My daughter wants
to join this place; it is the swellest club in the city!" Another
instance revealing the sort of spirit which pervaded the parish house
and filled the people of Christ Church was the serving of dinners to the
American Legion during their convention because colored Legionnaires at
that time were not allowed in Cincinnati hotels.

The fact that the people in the immediate vicinity were coming to Christ
Church and using its privileges in such great measure, calling upon the
clergy for their services, and joining in the work was immensely
satisfying to Mr. Nelson, for this kind of thing was the fruitage of
many years of earnest labor, and amply justified his conception of the
function of the church and parish house as a community center. The
rector always held that the work of the parish organizations should be a
result of inspiration from worship and sermons, something first-hand and
immediate, so that the impetus of the services would not be lost. In
1912, to mention only one year, there were more than two hundred
volunteer workers. In addition, his people were serving in numerous
organizations throughout the community, such as the Juvenile Protective
Association, the Bureau of Municipal Research, the Hospital Services,
the Consumers' League, the Anti-Tuberculosis Society, the Playgrounds,
Fresh Air Society, and Tenement House Reform. Moreover, there was the
inspiring fact that the parish house had become a civic center, and by
channeling the idealism and energy of a group of young men, of whom
Henry Bentley of City Charter Committee fame was one, the Church created
comradeship and generated faith in Christian principles which led later
to far-reaching usefulness throughout the city.

No account of Mr. Nelson's work could possibly be complete without
recording the place in it of his chief assistant, Howard N. Bacon, who
has been superintendent of the parish house for thirty-eight years.
Howard Bacon came to Cincinnati at the age of twenty-two with the
purpose of pursuing a business career. Through Dr. McKinnon of Kansas
City, Mr. Nelson learned of Bacon's marked abilities in church and
social service lines. They had dinner together, and Mr. Nelson outlined
the plans for the new parish house. Though a relative had advised Bacon
"to cut-out the soul-saving business," the avenues of service under
Frank Nelson's leadership impelled him to abandon his planned career. No
agreement was made about salary until much later when Mr. Nelson said,
"We cannot give you much. Will you come for a hundred dollars a month
and live in the parish house?" At the annual meeting of the church on
Easter Monday, 1908, the rector made the announcement: "I am very glad
to be able to tell you that Mr. Howard N. Bacon has joined the staff,
giving up a very promising business future to devote his life to work
among boys and young men. He will have charge of the camp, and manage
the parish house as well as working in the Sunday School." It is not the
slightest exaggeration to say that no appointment to the staff of Christ
Church was ever more momentous and fruitful. He served Mr. Nelson
thirty-one years, though many other attractive positions were offered
him. Upon him Mr. Nelson leaned as on no other. Through the years he has
performed the larger part of a clergyman's office, and though not
ordained is often called "Reverend." He took over the multitudinous
details of a highly organized parish as did or could no other assistant
or paid parish worker; consequently, Mr. Nelson was able to devote his
time to many civic enterprises, and to play a vital role in the national
life of the Episcopal Church. To have rendered such a service means
that he is completely self-effacing and richly merited Mr. Nelson's
tribute: "I would not know how to get on without him."

The phenomenal development of the parish house as a community center
kept pace with the striking growth of the church. During Mr. Nelson's
rectorship the communicant list of the parish expanded from 599 in 1900
to 2089 in 1939; the number of contributors to the budget from 200 to
1002; the parish and missionary budgets from $15,103.00 in 1900 to
$77,493.00 in 1927, to cite a high year; the Endowment Fund from
$11,770.00 in 1900 to $531,384.00 in 1939. In a way it seemed as if Mr.
Nelson had only to walk down Fourth Street and the money met him! In any
case, in the prosperous years it flowed in steadily from a people given
to generosity. One morning he met a parishioner who had been abroad
during the past year, and the man asked Mr. Nelson to accompany him to
his bank. Taking the rector to his safety deposit box, he handed over a
thousand dollar bond saying, "I haven't done anything for Christ Church
in a long time." One Sunday morning in the course of the notices (with
him, announcements were really an art) Mr. Nelson spoke of his friend,
Dr. Paul Wakefield, who had been left stranded in China during the
Communist uprising of 1927, and from whom he had just received a letter.
The special offering that morning, together with contributions sent in
over the week, amounted to five hundred dollars.

In the course of the great forty years of Mr. Nelson's ministry, a long
series of extraordinary gifts was made, including the parish house
already mentioned, memorial windows, an altar, an organ, and numberless
others, all indicative of the liberality of the people. These gifts were
grandly climaxed by the erection of a chapel to commemorate the
Centennial of Christ Church. It was designed to express the beauty,
mystery, and nobility of the Christian faith, and to provide for the
many services for which the large church was unsuited. The Chapel was
largely a thank-offering on the part of parishioners and many others who
had found in Christ Church a spiritual home for which they were
profoundly grateful. Another remarkable aspect of this gift was its
conception in the uncertain days of 1917.

As the years brought the ever-changing conditions of city life, and as
civic institutions, social agencies, and the public schools afforded
gymnasiums, swimming pools, playgrounds, and social centers such as were
scarcely known in the first decades of Mr. Nelson's ministry, he
continued to believe in the religious motive which Christ Church gave to
all these recreational and social activities. To the end of his days he
held that religious faith gives to social work an enthusiasm, a personal
fervor, and a genuineness without which the one thing needful is
lacking. He led his people to see in the drinking fountain outside the
parish house a symbol of the Church's undying service to the world of
men. The fact that passers-by, whether on foot or in pleasure car or
truck, stopped to quaff of its ice-cold water was to him an expression
of man's eternal need for the water of life, a need which, please God,
would always be met by a church whose gospel resides in the nether
springs of God's loving purpose for the children of men.


[4] Frank H. Nelson.

[5] Frank H. Nelson, _Centennial Address_, May 17, 1917.

[6] Frank H. Nelson, _Year Books_, 1902 and 1903.

[7] Mr. Nelson's report, _Year Book_, 1908.

  _The Shepherd
  Among His

  "_And he shall stand and feed his flock in the
  strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the
  name of the Lord his God: and they shall
  abide ... and this man shall be our peace._"

  --_Micah 5:4_


A Cincinnati taxi-cab driver said to me, "Frank Nelson was sure a real
man. If you had a million dollars, you got a fifteen minute funeral
service; if you had twenty-five cents, you got a fifteen minute service.
He was just as concerned over the family with two rooms as the one with
twenty." This man had lived all his life in the Queen City, and had
driven Mr. Nelson to innumerable services as far back as the days of
horse-cabs, and though he was not aware of the restraint and brevity of
the Prayer Book Service, he unwittingly put his finger on the very pulse
of Mr. Nelson's ministry.

In all relationships with people, Frank Nelson possessed the true
instinct of the pastor because he was moved by the zest and pity of
human life as well as by an eager willingness to spend himself. He
invariably had the right word for the occasion, and responded with a
finely balanced emotion to each individual situation. His discerning
sense of the human element in life's experiences was matchless. He spoke
humorously when lightness and gaiety were in order, and seriously when
the word of faith was needed. There is much to be learned from his
approach. Called one day to a humble dwelling on Mt. Adams where a
mother was hysterical because her boy had just undergone an emergency
operation, Mr. Nelson tore a button from his coat before entering the
room, and said in an off-hand manner, "Oh! this has just come off! Will
you sew it on?"

In a surpassingly unselfish fashion he thought of himself as the head of
the Christ Church family, and it mattered not at all to him whether
people who needed him were on the church register or were connected only
through a parish house organization. When told of someone's illness,
though the patient had membership in another church yet belonged to the
Men's Club for instance, he would say, "Oh! I must go to see him." The
agent for an Industrial Insurance Company tells of calling in a home
where the policy was about to lapse. The woman said, "I will see Mr.
Nelson. Will you come back at five o'clock?" When he returned, she had
the money.

In these tragic years of World War II we have learned that time is of
the essence, and Frank Nelson exemplified this principle in an
extraordinary manner. Through all his years of service he seemed to have
a special sense of timeliness. He acted when one should act but does not
always do so. He was what a minister should be yet is not always. He was
there when needed, not when it suited his convenience. Immediacy again
and again opened an opportunity that otherwise would have been lost and
with it the possibilities for widening his circle of usefulness. An
out-of-town friend telegraphed requesting Mr. Nelson to call on a
certain man in a hospital, a stranger to Mr. Nelson, and he went at
once. On another occasion a new member of the choir who had been in
Cincinnati only a few weeks was suddenly taken ill. The doctors at the
hospital were some time in deciding to operate, and called the girl's
roommate. Although not knowing Mr. Nelson, she phoned him of her
friend's serious condition, and he went immediately to her bedside.
Though the operation was not until midnight, he stayed with her through
the hours of waiting, joked to keep up her courage, and saw her through
the ordeal and was there when she came out of the anesthetic. It turned
out that the young lady was the daughter of a Methodist Bishop, and one
can imagine her parents' gratitude when they learned over the phone that
Mr. Nelson was with her. It was the sort of thing he loved to do, and
people could not say enough of his help during such times of stress.
There was a peculiar radiancy to his ministry which issued from this
alacrity, the special glow that surrounds all lives that are nobly
unselfish. He never spared himself, not even in his later years when
illness had laid its relentless hand upon him who had always been robust
and free of physical infirmities.

In a parish as diverse as that of Christ Church, there were unnumbered
happenings of a tragic-comic nature, and they all bespoke his special
place in the hearts of his people. Howard Bacon was once closeted in the
parish house office on a certain winter's night with a man who became
definitely and increasingly insane. Greatly alarmed, he succeeded in
locating Mr. Nelson, who arrived in evening clothes; together they got
the man into a car and drove him out to the distant suburb of College
Hill. On the way they were stalled by a flat tire, and Mr. Nelson
insisted on Mr. Bacon's staying in the car while he himself put on the
spare. In the midst of all this, the poor man's mind apparently cleared
briefly for he asked, "Do all great men come way out here to do things
like this?" In another instance a choir soloist developed melancholia
and refused to eat, and Mr. Nelson often fed her because she would eat
for him. Nothing was too trivial to be encompassed by his great heart.
Everyone, and sometimes it appeared as if everything, that was clothed
with any need was his responsibility and called out his limitless
sympathy. A friend jested that even the dog fights required his presence
and the remark seemed to carry a kernel of truth! Once he prayed with a
poor, broken-hearted woman who had lost her dearest possession, a pet
canary bird, and again he sat down and talked as one sportsman to
another with a friend who had lost a polo game. To this clergyman these
were the peculiar privileges of his position, and never duties. Parents,
with a true instinct for loving a man who was really good, wanted him to
baptize their children, for in laying his hand upon the infant he was
also laying his hand upon their hearts, and this act was the genuine
blessing of a father-in-God, the shepherd calling his own by name.

There came to me the following letter from a parishioner whose first
child lived only a few hours:

  The one thing I wanted to do was to receive the Holy Communion.
  My husband called the Parish House and left word. We expected his
  assistant or possibly the deaconess, and you can imagine how
  honored and comforted we felt when Mr. Nelson came himself. It
  was indeed comforting to know that such a busy person could take
  time for one of the most humble of his church. We shall never
  forget the talk we had with him in the hospital before receiving
  the Holy Communion. He asked all about our little boy, and told
  us always to speak of him by name and think of him alive with the
  Father. Mr. Nelson told us of a baby sister of his who died, and
  how he felt about her. He said he always visited that tiny grave
  when he went home. He really stands in our hearts.

The strength of the Lord dwelt in his heart else he never could have
given himself so indefatigably to the demands of a great city parish.
There were no barriers of access to him. Until 1919 he did not have a
private secretary, preferring to answer personally all his mail in long
hand, and the only times he allowed himself to be out of reach of the
telephone were during Holy Week and possibly on Saturdays. Everyone who
came to the office was able to see him without any formality. I remember
showing him an article in a church paper on the misuse of the title
"Reverend," and suggesting that it might be well to print it in the
Sunday leaflet. He was amused and only said, "What does it matter what
we are called as long as they _call_ us." This intense desire to give of
himself lay back of his disappointment when friends and parishioners
failed to communicate with him because they hesitated to trouble so busy
a man. Former Mayor Russell Wilson remarked that "Frank Nelson was the
spiritual advisor to many men whom you would not think of as having
spiritual advisors." The downright sincerity of the man and his
"at-homeness" with human beings of all kinds made it natural for men to
talk with him.

There was, however, more in his personality than mere sociability and a
genial manner, because an indefinable power or strength went forth from
him. It was in his ministry to the sick that people felt especially a
certain grace in his faith. He carried about with him "the medicine of a
merry heart," and patients wanted to see him. He was a door through
which a person passed to a deeper consciousness of the mystery and
greatness of life and the infinities which brood over it. Therefore, his
ministry to the sick commended itself to an unusual degree. One of the
leading surgeons of Cincinnati, Dr. J. Louis Ransohoff, declared it his
firm conviction that Frank Nelson gave a patient a double chance. Few
ministers are welcomed by the medical profession in as intimate a role
as this pastor took upon himself. Well known in Cincinnati is the story
of his entering a Roman Catholic Hospital to be greeted by the Mother
Superior with a hearty "Good-morning, Father Nelson," and the Jewish
surgeon, "Good-morning, Rabbi Nelson," while the parishioner-patient
said, "Good-morning, Mr. Nelson." His presence calmed panic-stricken
patients, and if he had sought to carry further along this line, there
are those who felt that he could easily have established a clinic or
healing class. Of no end are those who maintained that they could not
have undergone an operation without his standing beside them. Because he
cared he often came out haggard and worn. Such incidents are revealing
examples of the acceptance on the part of a large portion of the entire
city of the ministry of one who was utterly sincere, utterly genuine.
Those who follow the same calling must with pride point to him as
superbly a man of God.

Frank Nelson was held in the highest respect by the medical profession
because physicians generally felt, in the words of Dr. Ransohoff, that
"his life had a spiritual significance; there was no cant, only
humility." Sometimes he walked to the operating room beside a fearful
patient, and one man later said, "Something came through him to me. The
fear was gone." He often went with parishioners to a doctor's office,
and sent hundreds of others giving them an infinite amount of time and
thought. Because of Frank Nelson the name "Christ Church" was an open
sesame for all the little-known workers and assistants on the staff of
the church. For these countless favors he frequently expressed publicly
his gratitude saying, "We very often have need of the help of lawyers,
doctors and nurses. And we never appeal in vain. Without thought of any
return the doctors and lawyers of the city, the hospitals, and the
Visiting Nurses' Association give us quick response of their very best."

Those who worked with him have unforgettable memories of the way in
which he visited the poorest tenements, always with the same courtesy
and unconsciousness of environment that he showed to wealthy
parishioners. Whether East Hill or Mt. Adams they were his people, and
each received the kind of attention, the friendship, the grave dignity
and consideration that each most wanted. When it was a Communion
Service for the sick in a poor section of the city, he had a deeply
sympathetic approach. Usually he himself would clear a little table in
the dingy room, and when he had placed the fair linen and the silver
vessels where the sick person could watch him and had donned his
vestments, the place was transformed. As he commenced the beautiful
liturgy, read only as the Rector could read it, there was in the humble
room a Presence for which he was the channel.

In his reading of the Burial Office, there was a play of light and shade
upon this man of God who, like Moses, "wist not that his face shone."
The majestic notes of faith and assurance which reverberate in the words
of this service were, on his lips and in his sympathetic and superb
reading, like the overtones and rich harmonies of an organ. There was no
formalism nor coldness, no hesitancy to plumb the stark reality of the
occasion, but only the vibrant convictions of his own great faith in the
goodness of God. Few can fail to recall the clarity and feeling with
which he read St. Paul's immortal passage in 1st Corinthians, nor ever
forget the prayer he invariably used in this service, "We seem to give
him back to Thee, dear God."

Frank Nelson made Christ Church known throughout the city, and on
occasions of trouble and stress, as just mentioned, people other than
those in his flock turned to him naturally and wistfully. Their desires
were not always consistent with the customs of the Episcopal Church. In
one such instance a widow requested a eulogy, but Mr. Nelson told her
that it was not the procedure of his church and, furthermore, he would
not know what to say. Not abashed in the slightest, she replied, "Oh,
that doesn't matter. Just give the address you made at the Mabley-Carew
Department Store dinner!" However, he did read a poem, and in trying to
express her sincere appreciation the widow somewhat astounded him by
saying, "Why, that was enough to make Bob stand up in his coffin."

He knew what was in the human heart, and realized the craving for
understanding in times of despair and sorrow. Somehow he managed to do
and say the right thing. At one time the mother of a parishioner had
died in a distant state, and when the family arrived in Cincinnati, he
was at the railroad station at seven o'clock in the morning to meet them
and accompanied the coffin from the baggage car to the hearse. So simple
an act bespeaks the innate dignity and simplicity of the man. It was his
custom at the cemetery to walk with the chief mourner, and by such
little kindnesses and numberless other courtesies he endeared himself to
each generation in his long ministry. A parishioner whose mother died
late one Good Friday evening remembers that despite the heavy tax of the
day Mr. Nelson came to her house shortly before ten o'clock, and, though
no lights were on, rang the bell, calling, "I want to talk with you." By
his coming, a sleepless night was shorn of its dread and vastness, and
confidence and serenity took their place. At another time when a family
received the fearful word from Washington that a son had been killed in
the Argonne, Mr. Nelson though confined to his bed with illness went at
once to call in the home. On the day of the funeral, before going to the
church, he read the identical service in that suburban home for the
invalid mother. As many people in Boston have said that until Phillips
Brooks came to them in their sorrow they never knew what Isaiah meant in
his words, "And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime
from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from rain,"
so Christ Church people found in Frank Nelson a stronghold in time of

There are many incidents that illustrate the ideals of this incomparable
pastor. For instance, the Council of Churches had two social workers in
the Juvenile Court, one of whom was a parishioner, young and beautiful.
Mr. Nelson did not really want her to do such work, but her parents
thought her trained and equipped for it. In his solicitude he went to
the Executive Secretary and asked, "Do you have staff meetings? I want
you to have her there in your office. Give her the knowledge that she is
dealing with the abnormal, and that not all life is perversion." The
welfare of each individual in his church was his personal concern.

He exercised this same solicitude for us young clergymen, some fourteen
in number, who were his assistants and to whom he gave a tutelage and
friendship that continued long after our apprenticeship was ended. He
was an exacting teacher and beyond us, but like all others who labored
in his parish, we felt a special joy and pride in working under him. It
was a tremendous strain to keep up with him, and his own daily stint of
work often put us to shame; in the fullness of his powers he made as
many as thirty calls a week. One was never through, one could never do
enough, and when tempted to let down, there was felt, even when not
heard, that imperious voice, "Go on! Don't be easy on yourself." His own
shepherding exemplified his belief that in the ministry honor for one's
self is nothing, humanity everything. No task, even scrubbing floors,
was too menial or too hard to be beneath the position of him who is
God's servant. When the problems and the pressure of work in such a
large institution weighed upon us, and their full scope inevitably was
revealed at staff meetings, it was then as we were on our knees that his
informal, absolutely real prayers lifted and strengthened us. Yes, on
some rare occasions in his tower study we were on the Mount and gained
fleeting glimpses of the City of God.

It was difficult at times for those of lesser faith not to be appalled
by the awful waste and stupidity of human life such as any great city
unbares. But the Rector used the many instances to illustrate the
requirements of wide sympathy, and to teach us to reverence the
qualities of personality even when we could not fathom the reasons for
apparent foolishness. He would say things like this: "Never forget that
the development of our free will is what God wants. Love may make
mistakes, but they are not failures. There are times when one's own life
is of very little importance compared with the need for sacrifice." The
assistants, the deaconesses, and parish visitors had, in addition to a
training in modern social methods, the supreme advantage of religious
direction. His guidance issued from his own example and experience.

Deaconess Margaret Lloyd writes:

  It seemed in those early years as though all our parish poor
  lived on the top floors of tenements, and I often thought that
  climbing the famous penitents' stairway in Rome would have been
  an easy climb compared with the ascent of Mt. Adams! It was
  climbed almost daily by some member of the staff, and very
  frequently by the Rector. It was not only the climb, but the
  drab, dreary houses of the period. For those were the days of
  heavy, soft coal smoke, of a yellow, unpurified water supply, and
  a lack of adequate housing or health laws. The consequences were
  that a large parish like ours always had typhoid or T. B. folk
  needing material help as well as sympathy and compassion. The
  annals of such a parish always contain numberless "human interest
  stories." There was a very large family which never was able to
  provide shoes or to have quite enough clothing for six children.
  We suspected that, despite all efforts, sufficient food was
  lacking, and especially at those times when the head of the
  family was on one of his happy-go-lucky sprees. Everyone on the
  staff felt a sense of relief when this bibulous father died for
  there was enough insurance money not only to bury him, but to
  leave funds to tide the family over the next few months, and
  until the mother and her two eldest children had found jobs.
  Imagine our feelings when, in less than two weeks after the
  funeral, the widow appeared at the parish house! She had come to
  ask Christ Church for a little help until she had work. "But what
  has become of your insurance money, surely you have not used it
  all up so soon?" "Oh! yes we have, deaconess! You see we always
  craved gold band rings for the children, and I always doted on
  having a pink enamel bed." It was really true! The bed that they
  had longed for stood in their shabby front room, pink enamel,
  gold curlicue trimmings and all! Its enormous expanse was covered
  with tawdry silk pillows and silk spread, and it stood out, the
  one glorious object in the whole tenement. Also the children with
  the utmost pride showed their gold band rings which according to
  the custom of those days each wore on the "wedding finger"; even
  the five year old displayed his golden trophy. Mr. Nelson did his
  best to modify the protests of his outraged staff. Finally we did
  see at least something of his point of view, that to the family
  these symbols of respectability meant what a Persian rug would
  have meant in a more sophisticated family. For these friends of
  ours had "arrived," socially speaking, via the pink enamel bed,
  and their admiring neighbors could never again refer to them as
  "poor white trash." It takes a long, long time to change ideas,
  but the Rector's respect for human personality (foolishness and
  stupidity notwithstanding) and his method of patience, tact, and
  a sense of humor did change many of us. And a controlled sense of
  humor has a marvelous effect at times. There was the instance
  when the Rector went to conduct a funeral service on Mt. Adams.
  It was a very hot day, the little rooms were crowded, and family
  and neighbors were close to the coffin. Mr. Nelson put on his
  vestments in the stuffy kitchen. He had begun the majestic words
  of the service when there strolled into the room the small boy of
  the family nonchalantly carrying a very large slice of
  watermelon! He found a spot on the floor at the foot of the
  coffin, and proceeded to eat the juicy treat. The Rector
  continued with the service, and the mourners gave him absorbed
  attention until the last prayer. No incongruity could possibly
  change the beauty and dignity of that service as conducted by our

Frank Nelson was shepherd to all. To be sure, there were complaints that
he did not call in every home, and to some who did not have the
opportunity to experience at first-hand his sympathy and concern, he
seemed aloof. But when a need arose he met it; and as years were added
to years he won the confidence of all types of people. To the rich he
said, "Your money is the smallest gift you can offer. Yes, Christ Church
needs money, but it needs you yourself far more." He said to the poor,
"You are splendid in the way you are helping us. The parish could not
get along without such workers as you. Keep it up!" In the warm climate
of his enthusiasm and appreciation, young and old, rich and poor
discovered within themselves an undreamed-of capacity to respond to his
faith and to his demands for service. In turn he was generous in
gratitude. At the time of his twenty-fifth anniversary he wrote the
following acknowledgment to a parishioner who had written to him of all
that Christ Church and his ministry meant:

  Thank you indeed, and thank you still more for these seventeen
  years of most extraordinary service, and personal loyalty and
  friendship. I can never tell you how much I have appreciated
  them, and do appreciate them. I know I have made life harder for
  you--both in the work I have put on you--and by the way I have
  often left you to carry the burden unaided. But I know too that
  the Spirit has carried you on and filled you with new visions and
  powers of life. And that makes all the rest worth while. I am so
  glad that you are coming up to us at Cranberry. I know you will
  love its loveliness, and in its quiet and the sweep of sea and
  sky, you will find refreshment and renewed strength. And then we
  can talk not of plans and work, but what lies beneath them, faith
  and God and the abundant life.

As his forty years' ministry came to a close, there was throughout the
entire city a growing crescendo of acclaim, which found fervent
expression in words like these: "He was our best friend for years."
Deeper than the affection which drew forth such recognition was his
profound faith in the Father-God of all mankind. It was Frank Nelson's
limitless trust in his Heavenly Father that gave him his strength and
influence. Many an evening on his way home he went into his church or
chapel to pray, and lay before God the problems and griefs of his people
which he carried in his great heart.

    "Therefore to thee it was given
    Many to save with thyself;
    And, at the end of the day,
    O faithful shepherd! to come,
    Bringing thy sheep in thy hand."[8]


[8] _Rugby Chapel_ by Matthew Arnold. Macmillan Co. Used by permission.

  _The Spokesman
  of the City's

  "_He so stirred the very soul of our responsibility
  for social living that we felt he had
  come to break the old city's sleep of habit or

  --_Miss Edith Campbell_


Frank Nelson loved the city, and was moved by its swift, tumultuous
life; hence, he was able to stir it. No mere reformer or "up-lifter" who
sees only ugliness and sordidness can effect very far-reaching changes,
and retain his faith. Mr. Nelson succeeded in both. He came to
Cincinnati under the high compulsion of a mission, and relinquished his
work on the same high plane of faith and vision. To have retained such
conviction over a period of forty years in the sort of work which was
his testifies to a quality of realism that is at once impressive and
authoritative. He knew the vice and corruption that lurked the streets,
and yet he reiterated to the end that "there is a glory in the city seen
in the faces of men and women, boys and girls, which is the immortal
soul growing clean, and entering into paradise." Something of that glory
he created. Christ Church is located in Ward Six, formerly Ward Eight,
and there also Mr. Nelson had his residence at 311 Pike Street. One of
the boys who grew up in the district and is now a successful business
man declares that this ward would be entirely different today if it had
not been for Frank Nelson and the work carried on in Christ Church. But
this clergyman's work and influence spread far outside his parish and
beyond his ward.

By many Catholics, Jews, and Protestants Frank Nelson was acknowledged
as "the flaming sword of the Charter Movement"; the man who so
interpreted the Community Chest that "he made it a platform upon which
every man could stand"; and in the minds of some of them he so
o'er-leaped sectarian differences that they considered him their
minister. His was a position as unique as it was remarkable considering
the fact that he held no title or high-ranking office such as Bishop.
This minister quickened the conscience of Cincinnati, and brought into
full bloom vague, half-formed ideals. Many looked upon him as the
spokesman of the city's conscience.

Mr. Nelson did not grow up in an age of radical and revolutionary
economic and social programs. He was not a student of such
philosophies, yet he had in his heart that particular treasure, namely
an affection for people, for the fortunate and no less for the poor and
the dispossessed. Without this love for the common man, these
philosophies are never translated into the natural order of things nor
ever become more than intellectual pronouncements. He was neither a
mystic nor a reformer, but a citizen who was deeply cognizant of
religious faith as laying upon him and upon everyone a compulsive
service. This mighty conviction he expressed in varying ways as we shall
see, but never in more arresting words than in a sermon which he
preached on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Presbyterian Church of
The Covenant from the text, "Ye shall not see my face except your
brother be with you." Though delivered in 1916, this sermon was recalled
twenty-three years later on the occasion of Mr. Nelson's retirement as a
consummate expression of his faith and convictions, namely that we are
not isolated individuals each to be saved by means of self-centered
piety, but only through practicing religion in fellowship with one

A study of his annual reports indicates that from his St. George's days
he was dominated by the vision of the Church as having a mission to the
city. As early as 1903 he outlined the conditions that confront
Christian people, and the relation of the Church to them:

  The city of today is the point of concentration of the forces
  that are making the character, and determining the standards of
  our time. So complex is our modern civilization that it is not
  possible to separate the individual in our estimation of his
  standards and character from the conditions by which he is
  surrounded, and in which he lives. For they vitally influence his
  point of view, his ideals, his efforts to attain them. A boy who
  grows up in an atmosphere of openly accepted corruption will
  inevitably lack sensitiveness of moral perception. Our young men
  and women, our boys and girls are subjected to a moral pressure
  that is extremely difficult to resist. What is the duty of the
  Church? The moral welfare of these young people is its intimate
  concern. It may, and it must, bring to bear a counter pressure of
  high individual moral standards and ideals. It may, and it must,
  hold up before them faith in purity and honesty, and persuade
  them to receive it. But that is not enough. It must utter its
  word of protest against the rule of the Boss, not because it
  wishes to enter the arena of politics, not because it differs
  from him on political questions, not even because he is the
  denial of democracy, but because he maintains his power of
  corrupting manhood and womanhood by protecting and fostering vice
  in order that they may be his allies. It must utter its protest
  against the dictum, "Whatever pays is right," not because it
  wishes to dictate business methods, or to set itself up as an
  authority on economics, but because it finds this corruption in
  business demoralizing to standards and character. It must utter
  its protest against overcrowded and unsanitary tenement houses,
  not because it considers its function to be the censorship of
  buildings, but because such conditions breed immorality among the
  boys and girls. The individual message alone is made ineffective
  by the constant pressure of these conditions. To make that
  message effective, the conditions must be changed. And it is
  peculiarly the work of a church, situated as is Christ Church, to
  say and do what it can to make them intolerable to the conscience
  of a Christian city. I have said all this because I want you to
  see clearly the place in the pulpit and church of such preaching
  and work as we have tried to give and do. We must go forward with
  increasing energy and purpose, and that whether the results seem
  great or small. We may, and must, at least sow the seed in the
  faith that God will inevitably bring it to the harvest.

Again and again he thundered, "The conditions must be made intolerable
to the conscience of a Christian city," and the spirit of the times
rolled back the sterile answer, "It can't be done in Cincinnati." But he
shook himself like a lion and took up the battle.

The fight for honest municipal government in Cincinnati was a mighty one
and the story of it is fairly well known, but a few pertinent facts are
essential as a background to Mr. Nelson's part in it. For more than
thirty years George B. Cox controlled the city by all the devices known
to the wily, astute politician. Few presumed to run for any office on
the Republican ticket without his approval. Unburdened by shame, he
declared, "I am the Boss of Cincinnati ... I've got the best system of
government in this country. If I didn't think my system was the best, I
would consider that I was a failure in life." He openly derided
reformers. Lincoln Steffens had surveyed and written up the city as he
had many others and declared it under the dominance of "the most vicious
political gang in any city." Few inroads were made on Cox's preserves
until after his death in 1916. At the close of World War I, the city
began to reap the bitterest and most evil results of its contentment
with benevolent despotism, and in 1922 found itself verging on
bankruptcy. Aroused citizens were determined not only that Cincinnati
should have an efficient, economical government but also that its
reputation as a sink of iniquity should be erased.

When the Republican organization perceived that an investigation was
inescapable, it determined to name the investigators! The Republican
Executive and Advisory Committee appointed a survey committee to devise
a plan to solve the city's and county's most pressing administrative and
financial problems. A distinguished group was selected; among the
members were Frank H. Nelson, George H. Warrington, Charles P. Taft, and
other eminent citizens some twenty-one in number. This committee engaged
Dr. Lent D. Upson of the Detroit Bureau of Governmental Research, who
with a large staff of specialists proceeded to turn the city and county
governments inside out. The Upson Report furnished the ammunition for
what turned out to be nothing short of a revolution.

A City Charter Committee had been organized which, after the Upson
Committee reported, proposed an amendment to the city's home rule
charter embodying the city manager plan of municipal government and a
small council of nine elected at large by proportional representation.
In the fall of 1924 the critical issue was submitted to the electorate,
and a significant victory won. "This new movement, its representatives
youthful, clear-eyed, energetic and determined, took its place in the
books of our history as the first reform enterprise of any permanence
in a great city of the United States."[9] In this crusade of civic
warriors Frank Nelson ranked as "a flaming sword," to use the colorful
phrase of his friend Mr. Ralph Holterhoff. He was a constant worker in
planting the first seeds of the moral rightness of the cause, the
crusader whose faith clarified the fundamental religious background
inherent in good government. During the initial campaign of 1924, Mr.
Nelson, preaching this gospel from his pulpit, carried his parish with
him into the righteous cause, and he literally toured the city wards as
well. When the City Charter Committee was given permanent form,
following the sweeping victory of November 1924, it is significant that
the organization meeting was held in the Parish House of Christ Church.
Among the speakers were Mr. Nelson, Charles P. Taft, John R. Schindel,
and Henry Bentley, who was known as "the Commander of the legions that
gave a city a new body and a new soul," all of them leaders in the
campaign, and members and vestrymen of Christ Church. Another
parishioner, Ralph Holterhoff, was, almost single-handed, responsible
for financing the Committee's work for its next fifteen years.

Repeatedly throughout successive years Mr. Nelson spoke at Charter
rallies, giving a series of remarkably effective addresses which
assisted immeasurably in sustaining the zest and interest of citizens in
the reform ideal. As Mr. Murray Seasongood has said, "The technique of
good local government has been developed by study, but the will to bring
about good local government has not been infused into the residents of
our cities." Toward that will and fusion in the city of Cincinnati, men
are agreed that Frank Nelson's moral and spiritual contribution was
enormous. Leaders declare that in routing the forces of corrupt
government from their strongholds, his was the most powerful voice
raised in the city. His trenchant words, his statesmanlike ability
spurred the lagging energies and fired men's spirits to greater effort;
he gave the necessary courage and drive and inspiration to carry through
and maintain the reform movement. "It is the man of ideals and faith,"
Frank Nelson reiterated, "who has more courage than any politician. We
shall set our faces steadfastly to the victory not only for good
government and efficiency, but for the morality and the righteousness
and the power of faith in this community." In the opinion of Mr. Ralph
Holterhoff, the treasurer of the City Charter organization, Mr. Nelson,
by his extensive contacts with all classes of citizens, radiating not
only through his parish but throughout the entire fabric of Cincinnati's
economic and social life, aroused the people with more success than any
other individual. He literally mustered thousands of recruits who became
zealous apostles and voters for the cause, although many had not voted
for years because they felt nothing could be done about the existing
evils. During the recurring campaigns for councilmen, Mr. Nelson was at
the beck and call of the organization, giving extravagantly of his time
and vitality at many rallies, particularly at the opening meeting of
campaigns, where he either was the keynote speaker or took such part as
expressed the religious convictions that lay behind the movement.
"Hearing him," wrote Alfred Segal, a newspaper columnist, "people felt
that good government was more than a matter of efficiency and economy.
It had to do with civic self-respect and social morale and bright

Because the issue was clearly moral, this minister did not hesitate to
use his pulpit and his parish organization to further the cause. It is a
tribute to his church that he met with only minor criticism. He carried
his people with him because he enabled them to perceive the relationship
between religion and politics. Of course he met with criticism from
those who felt that a clergyman should remain aloof from politics, yet
at the same time he was genuinely admired and respected by those who did
not agree with him. Several of his bitterest political critics, such as,
for example, James Garfield Stewart, and Doc Hagen, a ward politician,
were not lacking in keen appreciation of his position. And on other
civic issues where he made no concealment of his opinions he was,
according to Herbert Bigelow, the minister of The People's Church and a
former city councilman, "never a trimmer, and those who have seen him in
tight places never saw him crawl."

Though the Cincinnati Community Chest is not in politics, it has
definitely influenced the course of good government because of the
character of the people who carry on the work of the numerous social
agencies which it comprises. In 1913, these agencies were organized into
a Council, and Frank Nelson's vision, enthusiasm and tireless efforts
were determining factors in welding together the diverse religious and
racial groups engaged in social service throughout the city. Through
this Council, multiple activities were coordinated, and Jewish,
Catholic, and Protestant welfare agencies were kindled with new spirit
and power which resulted in greater efficiency and an increased
opportunity for reaching larger numbers of people. As a consequence, the
majority of the social welfare enterprises were able to make a united
financial appeal, and since 1919 have continued together without a break
in the ranks. Charles P. Taft says of the Cincinnati Community Chest:

  The executive direction and social vision of C. M. Bookman, and
  the spiritual leadership of Reverend Frank H. Nelson have given
  to the campaign and year-round organizations of volunteers a most
  distinctive quality. It is not that we raise each year an amount
  greater per capita than most other cities, although we do that;
  but it seems to one attending our gatherings that all the men and
  women of good will in our community have come together and that
  their spirits are welded together in a great cause, the education
  of the whole city to the highest standards of health, character,
  and welfare.[10]

The welding together was again the work of many civic-minded men and
women, and Frank Nelson was the fire which fused the different parts
into a unity. "He made the Community Chest a platform upon which every
man could stand," says C. M. Bookman, the Executive Secretary. His work
in the formative years of the Council, particularly in the raising of
funds for the first three years, was of untold value. As the Council
achieved coherence and a consciousness of its identity, he went on to
the larger work of conveying to the city the idea that in this cause the
people of Cincinnati could be supremely united, above politics, and
beyond racial and religious prejudices. It was his ability to interpret
the spiritual basis of this work that made it a common platform. As a
result, contributors felt their gifts to have a downright significance.
"It is," he said, "God's way of making cities good in spite of

Frank Nelson believed so thoroughly in the work of the social agencies
that the financial drives became a crusade, an adventure in human
relationships. He took off his coat, so to speak, and plunged into the
drives as one of the solicitors. The calls assigned him were the general
run as well as the difficult cases. He canvassed people of modest means
whom he didn't know as well as the large donors. As the calling was done
by two men soliciting together, he often found himself teamed with a man
whose occupation contrasted sharply with his own, once being paired with
a distiller! In the personal interviews his was not the milk and honey
approach, and he often became quite indignant if some did not give
according to their means. On one occasion he called with Mr. William J.
Shroder on a man who headed a large corporation but who refused to give
commensurately, using as an excuse the fact that the directors were
away. Mr. Nelson's feelings blazed forth and he blurted out, "You run
this corporation, and you can do as you please," and with that he strode
out of the room leaving his calmer friend to secure a gift of $500.00.
Sham irritated him beyond measure. Again, at headquarters one day
Maurice Pollak was holding forth in vivid language on the subject of
people who refused to contribute, and he did not notice Mr. Nelson
coming in behind him. When he suddenly stopped in some embarrassment,
Mr. Nelson exclaimed, "Go ahead, Maurice, you are saying just what I
feel but can't express so well." As he was a man of intense fervor, it
is probable that he was better at interpreting the inner significance of
the cause than in soliciting contributions. In 1922 he was elected the
General Chairman of the drive, and from 1916 to 1939 was a director of
the Chest.

As the years went by, Mr. Nelson became something of an "institution" in
Cincinnati, and his popularity made him "fashionable" to the
superficial-minded. Yet there was something decidedly spontaneous in the
acclaim with which he was once greeted by over one thousand canvassers
at a campaign dinner in the suburban city of Norwood. To a man the great
audience rose when he stood to speak, and applauded with genuine emotion
this Christian minister who represented Cincinnati as they wanted it to
be. Always sensitive to the reactions of a throng, he poured forth such
utterance as made them see the Community Chest as a great moral force,
not as just a financial campaign. Their consciences were quickened by
his graphic portrayal of their desires for righteousness and decency and
fair opportunity.

He was always one of the speakers held in reserve for the crucial last
days of the campaigns, and at the large daily luncheons held in the
Hotel Gibson for the canvassers he was at his best. The following
sentences from a newspaper report of one such address are typical:

  You know what this Community Chest has done for this great city,
  how it has been, as the old seer said long ago, the river of
  life, flowing through the streets of the city, keeping it clean,
  refreshing it, strengthening it, heartening it, so that the tree
  of life, bearing all manner of fruits, through all the year,
  could grow upon its brink and spread forth its branches to
  shelter and give new vigor and hope to the inhabitants of the
  city. That river of life which we call social service is more
  vital, more important and more needed for the steady maintenance
  of the morale, well-being, and good life of the whole community
  than the Ohio River is, believe me.

By the power of simple, forceful speech, strengthened by his great love
for people and his belief in them, he enabled Cincinnati to see beyond
the horizon, to dream dreams; and by his uncommon labor some of these
dreams became actualities. He looked at the city's welfare from the
religious viewpoint, and in so doing commended religion to the
religiously indifferent. He saw the practical value of spiritual things
and the spiritual value of practical things. When, for example, he
addressed the National Conference for Social Workers at Denver in 1925
and propounded the theme of Immortality, the audience was at first
aghast, and then enthralled. He maintained that they had nothing to work
for unless it was for eternity; that their business was concerned with
souls, and that the souls of the feeble-minded were as much heirs of
immortality as those of others more fortunate, and that no man has the
right to condemn or stand in judgment. It was a bold speech to such an
audience, and held their rapt attention; it was perhaps the more
stimulating because it had been preceded by the scholarly and very
formal address of the president of the conference. It was this occasion
that produced a choice story which Mr. Nelson loved to tell on himself.
At the close of the long evening two men were overheard commenting on
the speeches. One of them remarked, "The first man was over my head, and
the second just plumb crazy."

He not only made the Community Chest common ground for all, but he also
enabled the churches to see it as their work, calling the social service
organizations "sub-committees of the Church, doing for the churches the
work that the churches want done and would have to do themselves if it
were not for the Chest."

Frank Nelson's influence on the civic and political life of Cincinnati
cannot be measured, but its power was evident and was revealed time and
again through the contacts he had with civic leaders. A Roman Catholic
priest said that many politicians went secretly to Mr. Nelson before
expressing themselves on certain civic matters or endorsing certain
projects. If some considered him officious, they could not have known
his humility, much less his consuming passion for human beings. When he
addressed public gatherings, one could gauge his power by watching the
audience; as the sincerity of the man made his words convincing, even
cynical faces "broke up," and the light shed by his stirring eloquence
often brought tears.

Among the many tributes paid at the time of Mr. Nelson's death, was one
given by the Reverend Jesse Halsey, the beloved former minister of the
Seventh Presbyterian Church, who culled the phrase "An Unmitered
Bishop," a title which is signally descriptive of the man by reason of
the many civic causes to which he was spiritual advisor, and thus a
father-in-God to diverse groups scattered over the seven hills and in
the "bottoms." He actively furthered many humanitarian causes: the
Juvenile Protective Association, the Anti-Tuberculosis League, the
Branch Hospital, the Community Chest, the Council of Social Agencies,
the Helen S. Trounstine Foundation, the Hospital Social Service, St.
Michael's Convalescent Home, and many others. Now that he is gone, the
long list of social enterprises ceases to be a mere string of activities
and becomes a roll of drums.[11] His whole life seems to exemplify the
words of the philosopher Bacon: "The nobler a soul is, the more objects
of compassion it hath." His spirit breathed out upon men, and in his
lifetime the city felt its beauty and greatness, drawing from his
constancy the courage to endure. He protested impatiently against the
nonsense often bandied about concerning the alleged immorality of city
folk compared with country folk, and cited confuting evidence out of his
pastoral experience to prove his conviction saying, "Heroes of these
days are the poor people who live in our big cities."

One of the heroines of Cincinnati, though not one of the poor, was Helen
S. Trounstine, a remarkable young woman of Jewish faith, who was
responsible for making Mr. Nelson the first president of the Juvenile
Protective Association. She was a pioneer in social service work, but
her career was tragically cut short when she died at the early age of
twenty-six. At her memorial service held in Christ Church Parish House
January 21, 1917, Mr. Nelson made the principal address and some of his
words indirectly reveal much of himself:

  I remember the organization of the Juvenile Protective
  Association; I first met her then. I had never known her before
  and I said to myself: "Here is another person with an enthusiasm
  come to complicate my life." I tried to get out of it, but
  because I wanted to help little children (I built this parish
  house for the young people, making my people support it for their
  sake), and she knew it, with infinite patience and constant humor
  and courtesy she kept forcing me, until gradually she landed me
  in the Presidency of the Juvenile Protective Association, utterly
  ignorant of what I was to do or what was to be done. And with the
  same humor and patience she went ahead and did the work and made
  me and the board responsible for it--made us stand behind her,
  until at last we were ashamed that our consciences were so dull
  and poor that we had not seen it long ago. And then we set out to
  do something.

According to the opinion of Miss Edith Campbell, who was thoroughly
acquainted with his social work, though not a member of Christ Church,
Frank Nelson's "doing" resulted in legislation for the Court of Domestic
Relations which was to be in the future a real guardian for unfortunate
children. His relationship with the Juvenile Protective Association is
but another instance of the ways in which he not only ministered to the
city and awoke its conscience, but also helped to foster understanding
between church people and social workers. Possibly in no other city are
there such close ties between churches and social agencies, and this
relationship was Frank Nelson's achievement. He often attended the
social workers' meetings of the Monday Evening Club; the conference of
Charities and Philanthropies found a welcome center in his parish house.
Thus he wove a pattern for social service that came to fruition in
municipal and state laws, the kind of laws which give such work
permanence and effectiveness.

Frank Nelson was a chivalrous individual who labored for what he thought
was right; he championed numerous causes when many people were
marshalled on the other side. It is in keeping with his character that
he took a pronounced part in the creation of understanding and the
removal of prejudices among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. Years
before the National Conference of Jews and Christians was organized, he
practiced the principles of the inter-faith movement. At one time after
presiding at a mass meeting in Music Hall held to protest the
persecution of Jewish people in Europe, he wrote his friend, Dr. J.
Louis Ransohoff: "I realize how dreadfully you must feel, and I would
like to tell you that no matter how badly you feel as a Jew, I feel
worse as a Christian because in the beginning Jews were persecuted in
the name of Christ." On more than one occasion he preached in the Isaac
M. Wise synagogue for his friend, Rabbi James G. Heller. In one such
instance he spoke on his concept of the spiritual life, considering the
great thing in man to be his soul, and pointing out that the journey is
superior to the road in the realization of man's destiny. His candor won
him the respect and admiration of many in all faiths, for they knew that
he honored their opinions. No more dramatic incident illustrates his
spirit than the one occurring in the inter-faith meeting at the Rockdale
Temple Annex when he confessed his faith. Dr. Heller says there had been
a great palaver of generalities by the two preceding speakers, and Mr.
Nelson commenced his address by bluntly asking the audience if they
wanted him to speak as he saw the truth, and they roared back, "Yes!"
Thereupon he launched forth with the ringing declaration, "Let us be
honest! I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ!" He then proceeded to say
that he would like all Jews to become Christians just as he knew the
Jews and Roman Catholics desired universal allegiance to their faiths.
With one or two exceptions, not a soul in that great audience resented
his frankness. His ministry was that of one who lived day by day a life
of good-will rather than of one who merely talked about it.

Some men considered that he reflected too much surprise at the degree
of harmony already existing among the faiths, and that his expressions
of pleasure at finding such unanimity thus raised doubts as to its
reality. However, in his broad spirit and totally Christ-fashioned
personality, he himself was at home with men of all faiths. In 1939, Mr.
William J. Shroder, as Chairman of the Community Chest campaign, chose
for the year's theme or slogan "The Unity of Religion and Democracy." So
excellent a "sermon" did he preach on numerous occasions that Mr. Nelson
jestingly told his friend that he must stay out of his parish!

On the rare occasions when Jews change their religion, they usually do
so because of marriage. One such instance is of special interest. The
daughter of a leading Jewish citizen married a Gentile, and since her
rabbi would not perform the ceremony they turned to Frank Nelson,
admiring as they did his faith and works. In a large sense he was rabbi
and minister to all sorts and conditions of people. Dean Friedlander of
the University Medical School, as he lay dying, said to a friend, "I
have told my students how to treat the dying, but it is different when
it comes to yourself. Frank Nelson has given me a hand." Again, another
friend in his trouble found such sane religious counsel that, although a
devout member of his synagogue, he declared, "It took a Christian
minister to bring out my soul." He never hesitated to disagree or argue
with his best friends, always maintaining that "works without faith" are
not sufficient. Thus all who knew him welcomed him, and in their need
turned to him with affection, confident of his understanding.

Mr. Nelson was one of the three founders of the Council of Protestant
Churches. No small detail was above him, and with Jesse Halsey he
rummaged through second-hand stores for furniture for the first office.
With the ministers of other churches he worked in closest cooperation,
and together they fought the Cox Gang, supported the Social Agencies,
and many other activities to which the civic-minded and church-minded in
Cincinnati gave unstintingly of their devotion. The Reverend John F.
Herget, the distinguished former minister of another downtown church,
the Ninth Street Baptist, says, "For twenty-five years we labored
together and the passing years only added to my confidence in his
intellectual and spiritual integrity. He was a real friend, and when my
only son died, he was the first minister in Cincinnati to step through
my doorway. I can never forget it. Do you wonder that I loved him and
cherish his memory? We were very different in many ways but those
differences never deprived us of mutual respect and deep affection."
Without a doubt, ministers of all Protestant churches regarded him as
the foremost clergyman in the city.

In 1901 Mr. Nelson was elected to membership in the Clergy Club of
Cincinnati, an organization which is composed of many of the leading
Protestant ministers. On the occasion of the club's twenty-fifth
anniversary in 1919, Dr. Dwight M. Pratt, then of the Walnut Hills
Congregational Church, wrote a witty and apt characterization of each
member. The following is his superb sketch of Mr. Nelson:

  NELSON: The Apollo of the Club, equally recognized as such
  whether in ecclesiastical robes and millinery or in outing
  negligee; the physical having its counterpart in athletic
  qualities of mind and heart; a broad-minded, tolerant Churchman,
  incapable of surrendering to the artificial in form and ceremony
  or to the pretentious in self-constituted human authority, even
  when sanctified by tradition and usage, and aware of its historic
  affinities to Rome. Fundamentally spiritual in his conceptions of
  the Church and of the Kingdom; quickly alert to elements in
  religion that are born of the flesh and vitiated by human pride;
  unsurpassed in the Club for his exalted conception of historic
  Christianity and of the glory and prestige of a spirit-filled and
  spirit-guided church, having a vision of church unity impossible
  of realization under the assumption and the exclusiveness of
  Episcopacy; a genial democrat in spite of aristocratic training
  and environment; intimately acquainted with the trend and quality
  of modern critical scholarship, and in sympathetic touch with the
  social movements of the day, in the church and outside of it; too
  thorough and vital, however, to make the mistake, more common in
  his church than any other, of substituting social Christianity
  for evangelistic, thus making the care, culture and comfort of
  the outer man more important than his spiritual redemption; a
  student of men and books; an observant traveller, a recent and
  scholarly resident of the ancient metropolis of the world:[12] a
  keen interpreter of the movements of history, ancient and modern;
  endowed as a preacher with homiletic skill and the spiritual art
  of making life seem large and the Kingdom of God the one supreme
  reality for man; and all this in spite of the fact that he is far
  from being Puritan; never showing the marks of an ascetic nor any
  tendency or inclination to self-martyrdom; as much in need of
  reform in some things as the time honored secretary of the Club;
  popular with men because in so many respects like them; popular
  also as a public speaker and on occasions where grace of speech
  and manner constitute an essential factor in the program; a
  conspicuous personality in a pageant, having the note of
  sincerity, sympathy and appeal that commands assemblies; a man
  whose promotion will always be in spite of high-churchmen and the
  favorites of Bishops; a man indispensable to the breadth and
  representative character of the Club.

There remains one other activity to be mentioned in Mr. Nelson's
city-wide ministry. In 1930 Mayor Murray Seasongood appointed him to the
Board of Directors of the University of Cincinnati, a board commonly
known as the Trustees. It was a distinguished appointment,
characteristic of Mayor Seasongood's primary emphasis on the welfare of
the city, and indicative of the confidence placed by intellectual and
civic leaders in Mr. Nelson's judgment and ability. The Board was made
up of eight business men and lawyers and concerned itself mainly with
the financial problems of the University. Mr. Nelson's approach was to
the human element in each situation with which this Board had to deal.
He served in this capacity for eight years, and became "an acute,
piercing trustee." The University Medical School has oversight of the
Cincinnati General Hospital, and Mr. Nelson was troubled by the large
number of cases of tuberculosis among members of the staff and the
nurses and interns. The hours were long, the pay poor, and living
conditions deplorable. He was very active in his support of the efforts
by the authorities to bring about improvement in these conditions.

He was chairman of the committee which interviewed candidates for the
office of Dean of Woman, since many on the Board did not feel qualified
to make such a selection. During the depression in the thirties when
reduction of salaries and of department personnel became necessary, Mr.
Nelson was instrumental in securing fair treatment for the individual
teacher. He would ask if the teacher whose salary reduction was under
consideration had a family and how many children. His colleagues
considered him a very important agent in preserving morale during these
difficult years, and the President and deans frequently sought his

He was a firm believer in academic freedom. When the Engineering College
arranged lectures for business men, he gave the plan his hearty support,
and occasionally came under fire because of certain radical speakers. He
was frequently the choice of the University as its representative on
public occasions in the city. At the Commencement of 1924, the
University of Cincinnati bestowed upon Mr. Nelson the honorary degree of
Doctor of Laws, "as one who has ever striven to advance the government
of the mind and spirit, and who by his own severe self-discipline and
true humility has taught all of us to subdue ourselves to the
imperishable laws of reason and faith."

When one considers the recognition which the entire city whole-heartedly
and unreservedly accorded Mr. Nelson, it is a sorry commentary on the
influence of politics that upon the expiration of his second term as a
trustee of the University the new Republican Mayor, James Garfield
Stewart, failed to reappoint him. He was deeply hurt, but there was
satisfaction in the realization that it was because of his continued
denunciation of party politics that the reappointment did not go
through. He was a clergyman who never curried favor nor withheld opinion
when forthrightness was the moral requisite. The people knew where he
stood, and no office could silence him. To behave as a citizen is "to
conduct oneself as pledged to some law of life." His faithful obedience
was recognized on many occasions and in numerous ways. One such
recognition was his place in a group of fifteen leading citizens
selected by four Cincinnatians chosen at random by "_The Cincinnati
Post_." He was described as "having given vision and voice to public
service, and in the art of human relations a leader in many fields for
many people."

Few public testimonials have awakened so spontaneous a response as that
tendered Mr. Nelson on December 3, 1923, in honor of his twenty-five
years of service to church and city. Originating among his own
parishioners, the plan quickly developed into a city-wide observance.
The committee on arrangements was expanded, and included the Reverend
Doctor Francis J. Finn, Rabbi David Philipson, the Reverend John F.
Herget, and the Right Reverend Boyd Vincent, as well as a large number
of prominent laity outside Christ Church. When the evening arrived, one
thousand one hundred people from all paths of life sat down to dinner in
the Hotel Gibson. The President of the University, Dr. Frederick C.
Hicks, presided. The Mayor, then George P. Carrell, cut short a vacation
in order to be present and speak for the city, Mr. George D. Crabbs
represented the Social Agencies, Dr. William S. Rainsford came on from
New York to join in the acclaim. Mayor Carrell voiced a perfect tribute
when he spoke of Mr. Nelson in these simple words: "Here is a true man.
He loves his fellows. He does not recognize creed or color. Cincinnati
is proud of him. Cincinnati loves him." At the conclusion of the
speeches, Mr. Nelson, visibly affected, rose to speak. The tumultuous
applause lasted five minutes. With characteristic humility he expressed
his thanks, and then drew the attention of the audience to the central
theme of any true public servant's work, namely, that "Faith creates;
cynicism destroys." This enthusiastic testimonial was a moving
demonstration of the place Frank Nelson filled in the hearts of his
fellow-citizens, an exception to the rule that a prophet is without
honor in his own city. There were two interesting side-lights to the
occasion. On the morning of the dinner the Reverend Francis J. Finn, a
particular friend, and the pastor of St. Francis Xavier's Roman
Catholic Church, offered up the Holy Sacrifice with his Protestant
friend as his special intention; and in the evening there stood among
the waiters, but not of them, Detroit Williams, the colored sexton of
Christ Church, who could not have been present but for Mr. Nelson's
skillful arrangement.

Such was the spirit of Cincinnati's great Christian citizen. His
humanity was all inclusive, his spirit discerning, and the city claimed
him as its own, for he gave voice to its conscience and helped it find
its soul.


[9] _City Management_ Charles P. Taft, p. 108 Farrar and Rineheart,
1933. Used by permission. Other statements on the Charter Movement are
based upon the report of the Consultant Service of the National
Municipal League entitled _The Government of Cincinnati, 1924-1944_.

[10] _City Management_ C. P. Taft, p. 30. Farrar and Rineheart. Used
with permission.

[11] Adaptation of a thought expressed by Alexander Woollcott in _While
Rome Burns_, p. 7.

[12] Mr. Nelson twice spent a year in Rome on leave of absence.

  _They Came
  To Be In
  His Presence_

  _In This Church
  The Reverend Frank Howard Nelson, D.D.
  Preached The Gospel of Christ
  for Forty Years


  "_I thank my God upon every remembrance
  of you._"

  --_Memorial Plaque at Entrance
  to Christ Church._


"You can't change me, old man. I am the last of the black Protestants."
In this whimsical way Frank Nelson spoke of himself one day in
conversation with a friend on some point of ritual. It is abundantly
evident that he was in no way a bigoted churchman, and with all his
fine, broad sympathies he stood forth as a Protestant. He represented
that aspect of the Catholic-Protestant structure of the Episcopal
Church, he conducted the services in Christ Church from that angle, his
preaching reflected it, and the absence of the clerical collar
emphasized it. There is a measure of truth in his droll description of

In the first decades of this century Mr. Nelson was one of a group of
broad-churchmen whose influence was just beginning to be felt.
Theologically he was a liberal with reservations, and stood in what is
now called "Central Anglicanism" in the sense of "essential orthodoxy,
continuity, and breadth and liberality within limits, checked by the
principle of discipline, and an outlook, above all, theocentric;
fidelity to Christianity as the religion of the Incarnation, and of the
Church viewed as Christ's mystical body."[13]

The truth is that he was different from certain brands of so-called
liberals. Like many of them he was an individualist but not, as in the
popular conception of that word, an eccentric. His individualism resided
in his strong personality, whole and complete rather than partial. He
had an immense scorn of the petty narrow-minded points of view. He said,
"There is no one so narrow as the broad-minded liberal! Look out! Be
sure that you do not develop a closed mind toward the other man's point
of view!" Frank Nelson stood in the stream of the best traditions of
historic Anglicanism. He had, for instance, a tremendous feeling of
reverence for the Altar and the appointments for the celebration of the
Holy Communion; and his manner of conducting the Lord's Supper brought
that service very close to the most sensitive of worshipers. On the
first Sunday of each month the Holy Communion was celebrated at eight
and at eleven A.M., and he made it the chief factor in building
up the younger members of the parish into the Church. Usually Christ
Church was crowded for the first as well as the later service, and it
was immensely impressive to contemplate the congregation that came at
the early hour of eight o'clock from all parts of the city and from
distant suburbs. There is communicated serenity as well as reverence in
the stately, liturgical service, but that feeling-tone is dependent on
the minister conducting it. Mr. Nelson was a medium for the
communication of the very spirit of Christ in that service. The ancient,
familiar words were given a fresh beauty by his manner and his natural,
virile voice. His methods reflected certain qualities of his character.
It was his custom to read the service up through the Sanctus from the
north end of the Altar, moving to the center for the remainder, and at
the moment of the consecration of the Bread and Wine to turn halfway
around so that the congregation could see the blessing of the Elements.
It was in part an observance of the Apostolic custom of the minister's
standing behind the Altar and facing the congregation, and one which he
had learned from his days at St. George's under Dr. Rainsford.

In a time of much disparagement, Frank Nelson and his parish upheld the
fair reputation of the Church. Bishop Hobson says, "Many a minister and
many a church have taken heart and courage because of his ministry."
Because he was unafraid to experiment and venture on fresh approaches to
old problems, he risked misunderstanding and criticism. He had a marked
sense of the dignity of his office, and all who worked on the staff of
Christ Church were aware that he was the rector, a czar if you will, but
one with a gloved hand. He ran the parish, but not for his own sake nor
from delight in power. As a matter of fact, he distrusted power,
particularly when wielded by small men in the office of Bishop, and
because of that distrust, and because of the democratic nature of the
government of the Episcopal Church, he held the leadership of rectors
to be equal in value to that of the Episcopate.

In the management of the parish, he was "a man set under authority." He
expected hard work of those to whom he delegated responsibility. Though
he occasionally interfered, he invariably backed up his leaders even
when they were in the wrong. He did not hesitate to criticize: a
retiring choir-master said to his successor, "He is a tyrant, and you
won't last three months." After eighteen years, he is still there! There
were those who sometimes found Mr. Nelson abrupt, but as they came to
understand his temperament and to appreciate his insistence that things
should be run decently and in order, they were the very ones who would
have stood on their heads for him because his nature inspired endless
devotion. It is easy to lose sight of human values in a large
institution, but he was the kind of person who was quick to apologize
for any rudeness, and if the instance had to do with some fine point of
procedure, he would grin and say, "But I was right!"--and he was. A
unique thing about his rectorship was his willingness to take the blame
upon himself when something went wrong. He felt he was at fault for not
having given his subordinates the right training. The conception he held
of his office of rector impelled him to give each year a comprehensive
report of his parish work along with an audited financial accounting of
all monies that he had handled personally.

In the services of Christ Church, Frank Nelson's individuality found
complete expression. The Prayer Book offices were marked by an absence
of ceremonial, but filled with a profound simplicity and a noble
dignity. People coming from other parishes and accustomed to
considerable ritual and better architecture (Christ Church has been
likened to a Moorish mosque!) learned that such externals occupy in
reality a subordinate position in the Christian life, as the rector's
manner and forceful preaching lifted them to the plane of spirit-filled
worship. He was concerned not with the creation of an atmosphere in
which to bathe with satisfaction one's feelings about God but with the
living message of the Gospel. One came at last to love the old church
building because there the spirit was fed, the mind enlightened, and the
will impelled to action.

People came to be in his presence. They found a new, bright sense of the
glory of religious faith; they felt how precious is the least of the
human vessels into which God pours His Spirit. The man in himself
communicated a personality so wholly infused with the grace of the Lord
Jesus that his hearers were stirred to action, which result stems from
the authentic note in preaching. "Effective preaching can only mean
effective in the sense of doing God's work."[14] Frank Nelson did God's
work. He stirred people to do God's work. The atmosphere of conviction
generated by the preacher is due to his whole personality rather than to
his words; hence the impact made upon his hearers at the moment of his
speaking is never conveyed through the printed page. Its influence,
however, continues in their lives, and measured by this standard Frank
Nelson was a powerful and effective preacher. The gift of swift,
magnetic, eloquent speech was his. Words with the quality and vigor of
intuitive imagination poured out of him. Yet preaching was never easy
for him, and as it was dominated by his characteristic intensity and
fervor, he was nervous beforehand and exhausted afterward. His emotional
range sometimes led him off the main thread of a discourse; at times he
ranted; and more than once preached an entirely different sermon from
the one outlined in his written notes. His preaching was "feeling warmed
up to vision," and the word of God passed through him to men. He
believed tremendously in preaching; there were few services in Christ
Church at which he did not preach,[15] but he was not a so-called
popular preacher; crowds did not constantly fill the pews. To some his
driving power was wearing, and even some of his admirers would exclaim,
"Oh, I do wish Mr. Nelson would not tear his throat so when he
preaches." But his very force of delivery, and his vehemence were a part
of the man, and he no more could have preached in another manner than
have changed his stature.

But these characteristics had compensations or off-setting factors.
After Mr. Nelson's exchange with the rector of St. Paul's Church, Rome,
Italy in 1912, a certain dowager commented, "Mr. Lowrie's sermons made
me feel comfortable, but Mr. Nelson makes me feel a miserable sinner!" A
newcomer, on his first Sunday in Cincinnati, went to Christ Church
intending to "sample" several churches before casting his lot with one.
The choir came in, followed by a young, boyish-looking clergyman whom
the man presumed to be the assistant. During the sermon Mr. Nelson
continually entangled himself in his stole and gave the impression of
one so inextricably caught up in his message that he was a part of it,
stole and all! The newcomer was Frederick C. Hicks, later the President
of the University of Cincinnati. He did not go elsewhere but continued
at Christ Church and eventually became a vestryman.

Mr. Nelson did not talk in an amiable sort of way about the Christian
virtues; his sermons, thank God, were not colorless essays on the
doctrine of God, and the Church. He preached with abandon, and there
issued forth a fiery stream of conviction that stabbed his hearers into
life. Within those in whom the seed found good soil there was
reproduced his hunger for righteousness, his integrity of character.
What we heard from the pulpit of Christ Church was the product of
hard-won battles, the forthrightness of a man stirred by his struggle to
live as a follower of Jesus Christ. He was no respecter of persons but
of personality, saying "We don't dare to be Christians." Some said Frank
Nelson did not preach doctrinal sermons, but if not, then church
doctrine needs another name, for this man preached the Christian faith,
pouring it forth in great bucketfuls. If after hearing him one didn't
know something about the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, then there
is no such thing as doctrine.

The rector was sensitive about his failure to attract larger
congregations, and deprecated his ability as a speaker. He was forever
saying that he could not preach, and that he preached too long, but
jested that he was too old to change! Once in the midst of an
after-dinner speech, he paused to make an aside to his friend, J.
Hollister Lynch, "Am I talking too long?" "Yes," whispered Dr. Lynch,
but he kept right on! Cincinnati is not a church-going city like
Pittsburgh, for instance, but, as one witty observer has remarked,
"Cincinnati has fewer moral lapses!" In making judgments on this point,
one should take into consideration the fact that there was a large Roman
Catholic constituency, and that the predominant German population of
Cincinnati which came in such large numbers during the middle of the
nineteenth century, was definitely anti-religious. Christ Church,
moreover, is a downtown church, and the greater number of the
communicants live in suburbs. His parish took him for granted as was
inevitable over a forty-year period, but when we recall his multiple
civic associations, and the fact that whenever he spoke there was a
religious foundation to his address and in his presence, we perceive
that Mr. Nelson's preaching reached far beyond the bounds of Christ

The sermons of Frank Nelson were pervaded with a fine ethical
perception. He was in the succession of the ancient Hebrew prophets in
their profound love of justice and concern for humanity. He had a keen,
quick feeling for spiritual values, and succeeded in relating them in
vital fashion to the throbbing stress of daily living. Beyond his
piercing eloquence, captivating as it most certainly was, was the
compelling fact that in his interpretation of the religious significance
of human experience he stood forth like a pine tree towering above
scraggly growth. No one can ever forget that tall, dynamic figure in the
spacious pulpit of Christ Church preaching the Word of God with gripping
power. It was not merely the power of virility and eloquence, but the
power of grasp, of comprehension, the ability to communicate truth and
make it come alive, and cry out for expression in the hearts and lives
of his hearers. We felt the majesty of the human spirit, the impatience
of sure faith with the rags and blemishes of doubt and cynicism. "Like
rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth," Frank Nelson
poured out his soul, and revealed the grand proportions of human

In his beautiful address at the Helen S. Trounstine Memorial Service, a
portion of which follows, we find one of the best examples of Mr.
Nelson's ability to interpret human experience, as well as of his
intuitive understanding of another's travail of soul:

  And then her courage. There are the lesser courages and the
  greater. There are many who dare face danger and undertake hard
  tasks, and face ridicule and failure. It is a fine and a true
  courage and I do not underrate it. Helen Trounstine had it and
  had it to the full. She tackled hard tasks; she faced some men
  whose interests she opposed. She fought out her fights against
  all comers, and never flinched. She would go into the court or
  into the saloon or dance hall, the places of commercial
  recreation, and fight her fight with all, for what she believed
  to be right; and she won most of the time. It was a noble thing
  to see that delicate woman unafraid before the problems and evils
  of the world.

  Yet that was not the finest courage she had. That other finer
  courage is the one that I would emphasize. It was given her to
  reconcile a spirit filled with high ideals and great desires,
  with a body weak, often bent and torn with pain, unsuited to the
  tasks she longed to do, until at last she was stricken with utter
  helplessness waiting for the end. For only a few brief years was
  her body adequate, even a little, to her will. And instead of
  bending before that limitation and saying that she could do
  nothing because of it, instead of growing bitter with resentment
  at a fate that had so burdened her, she but grappled with it the
  more determinedly. With utter courage of heart and mind, she
  fought her inner fight and won the victory of cheer and energy
  and peace. With no excuse and no complaints, and no relaxing of
  her will before the limitations of her strength, she lived and
  loved and served as if she had the health she longed for. The
  limitations of her stricken body meant the giving up of many dear
  desires, of hopes that would have made life sweet and joyous, of
  work she yearned to undertake.

  Any of you who have had much to do with one stricken with a sore
  disease, who knows he never can be well again, know that it is
  not the sickness, the physical weakness and pain that make the
  problem and the tragedy. It is the reconciling of the will to
  surrender life's hopes and the readjustment of the life to the
  conditions that have got to be, that nothing can change. That was
  Helen Trounstine's problem and her tragedy. She sat down with her
  fate and fought that fight and won it. It must have meant many
  hours of untold darkness and suffering and bitter questioning and
  struggle. But of such hours she gave us no outward sign. At least
  I saw none in the years I knew her, except that finest one of
  all, the victory of her soul in the glad and joyous doing of what
  remained within her power.

It is not surprising that his addresses on Good Friday and his sermons
on Easter Day were more nearly adequate to those great days than is
commonly the case. He cared for these days tremendously, and never
ceased to be heartened by the throngs that crowded the old church,
filled up the chancel, and stood in the vestibule through the Three
Hours on Good Friday. It seemed as if the whole city was aroused as
people from offices and factories, and from the outlying districts came
to these special services year after year during his long rectorship. It
stirs the imagination to think of that gathering, the rich and the poor,
the highly-cultivated, and the meekly endowed, shop girls and clerks,
the faithful and those groping for faith, all drawn by the mysterious
fire kindled by this man of God. There was a concentrated intensity to
his preaching on these occasions, for he saw clearly and felt deeply the
tragedies of life. In that vibrant voice and in his passionate concern
for the soul of men, there burned a white-souled homage to God, and a
faith and love that spoke to each one's condition. Out of his long
brooding over the darkly colored stream of history, and the chequered
progress of Christianity of which his daily contact with the city's life
as well as his study gave him profound knowledge, there came forth
"great out-bursts of unshakable certainty which stand up like Alpine
peaks in the spiritual landscape of humanity." The integrity of the man
along with the power and dramatic quality of his speech was unveiled for
all the world to see. One recalls in this particular a certain Good
Friday after World War I when he took up Sarah Bernhardt's ghastly
reversal of the First Word from the Cross, "Father, do _not_ forgive
them for they _know_ what they do," and with terrific intensity
literally shouted, "That is a lie straight from hell."

His preaching always illumined a fine feeling for the mastery of
language, and those who heard him over the span of the years were
conscious that in his Good Friday addresses he employed plain,
Anglo-Saxon words, fundamental, strong words that lent a cumulative
effect to his speech. Because of his modesty he never consented to the
publication of any of his Good Friday addresses, which is lamentable for
without a doubt they represent his best preaching. A full, stenographic
report, however, was made of his last addresses in 1939, and certain
paragraphs from the Third Word may well be quoted. This Word from the
Cross, "When Jesus therefore saw his mother and the disciple standing by
whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then
saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother!", was greatly loved by his
people because he gave to it an interpretation that was entirely

  As those of you who have been here on other Good Fridays know, I
  give that my own interpretation. Some say that I am wrong: that
  when Jesus Christ said "Woman, behold thy son," He meant He was
  directing her attention to His friend, St. John, who would be a
  son to her now that He was going away. Perhaps. But I like to
  think the other way: that He was revealing to that mother of His
  the thing that should justify her motherhood, and her faith, and
  her love. He was saying, as it seems to me, things like this:

  "Behold, your Son, bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh. Known
  and yet unknown. The Son whom the angel announced to you long ago
  among the Judean hills. The things that you have treasured and
  pondered in your heart must be brought out now to allow God to
  open to you their hidden meaning. For I am your Son, your
  first-born. In these years of wonder and strangeness I have not
  forgotten the love and care and protection given me. Through you
  I grew up in the knowledge of the Scriptures and the love of
  God's House. No, I have not forgotten those years in the
  carpenter's shop in Nazareth, and the laboring for daily bread.
  Neither was it easy to break away, and leave home, but God called
  me, and deep down in your heart you were glad that God chose
  me--it was the confirmation of all that the angels had whispered
  in your heart. You were proud of me, sure that God had somewhat
  in store for me that had never been known in the world, never
  known to the mothers of other sons. And then murmurs came to you
  of opposition, of the hostility of men high up in the synagogues,
  weird reports of my deeds, and strange teachings, and finally all
  that I said and did seemed to go against the authority and
  sanctions of your religion, and you were fearful of my mind. And
  now I have come to this disgraceful end. This cross is the
  fruitage of those thirty years spent with you and in the
  fulfilling of God's pleasure. This fruitage of the Cross is not
  the fruitage that God gives to the sons of evil as seems to be
  the just fruitage of these thieves crucified beside me. In
  reality this Cross is the crown of my life, and some day the
  world will see it, and take Me unto itself, and the Cross will
  have become a throne."

  It is the word of justification and comfort that Jesus gives the
  broken-hearted Mary. It is the word of God to woman. "Now we see
  through a glass darkly, but then face to face." In Jesus, the son
  of Mary, we see what the world will be like 'when the years have
  died away.'

It was on these special occasions that he so frequently was inspired.
Easter Day, for instance, with its many services and huge congregations
stimulated him to the utmost, and to many of us it seemed as if we stood
in one of the vestibules of immortality, certainly in the temple of this
man's faith. He preached at both the eight and the eleven o'clock
services, and each time with undiminished vigor and clarity of thought.
In the interim, he personally greeted all the parishioners who remained
after the first service for breakfast in the parish house.

Frank Nelson loved the ministry, and his convictions glowed and radiated
pervasively. Innumerable scenes flood the memory, and I recall an
ordinary Sunday which included the early celebration of the Holy
Communion at eight forty-five A.M.; an address to his Chapel
Class at nine forty-five; and a sermon at eleven o'clock; in addition to
all these he went, in the afternoon, to a labor union memorial service.
There he repeated the morning's sermon from the text, "The last enemy
that shall be destroyed is death." It was the fruit of all his ministry
to the bereaved, and of his penetrating, sympathetic insight into the
loneliness and devastation of death's inroads. As he brought the
Christian faith to bear upon the problem, he imparted by clarity of
thought and eloquence of words as well as by accent and genuineness of
emotion that certitude which is possible only for one who himself
possesses that which he proclaims. This sermon was a notable example of
Phillips Brooks' definition of preaching, "Truth conveyed through
personality." The few notes here included give only a glimmer of the
range of his thought, and do not adequately convey the personal factor
which made one want to rise up and call him blessed:

  Men have ever striven to conquer death, and never succeeded.
  Christ too died and though He rose from the dead, He did not
  return to this life and take up its habits and tasks again. St.
  Paul was not thinking of overcoming death in this way, but rather
  of the new consciousness and gift of power that Christ has given
  men. Christianity is a conquering power. Faces what appears to
  be the impossible, what experience declares to be impossible, but
  does so with the word that "all things are subject to Christ."
  "We see not yet all things put under him--but we see Jesus."
  There is nothing that may not become subject to the spirit of man
  through Christ.

  Christ facing human problems: the fear of God's wrath,
  superstitions arising from doubt of God's moral goodness,
  sickness, sorrow, hopelessness, sin, worldliness, bitterness of
  spirit and mind, suffering, and at last conquering death as an
  enemy by His resurrection.

  Death's mastery over us is not a physical thing. It is its power
  over our spirits, its apparent defeat of hope, of work begun, of
  love entered into, of faith laid hold upon, and the bitterness
  that is the fruit of that defeat. Through Christ the power of
  achievement was strengthened, and released by death. We resent
  death perhaps--reason for shrinking is that so impersonal and
  physical a process should be able to overcome a spiritual
  consciousness and experience. We resent always the victory of a
  lower over a higher order. (Feb. 28, 1926)

Frank Nelson combined a happy idealism with common sense, and when the
occasion moved him to inspired utterance, he drew upon the deep wells of
his being, and spoke without effort as waters flow from a fountain. This
quality characterized many of his speeches, such as the one in Music
Hall after the Armistice of 1918 which he himself considered his best,
and those at Masonic gatherings when men flocked to drink in his words
and to be in his presence. He overshadowed other speakers, and what
Henry Ward Beecher said of another is doubtless applicable to Mr.
Nelson: "When he speaks first, I do not care to follow him, and if I
speak first, then when he gets up I wish I had not spoken at all."

The worth of so much preaching troubled him at times, and he too had his
darker moments. Sometimes he paced up and down Howard Bacon's study
never saying a word, or perhaps bursting out in boyish petulance, "When
I am down, the parish is down. Why can't they stay up?" At a staff
meeting one morning he told the incident of an organization that had
requested him to address them, and when he asked on what subject, the
reply was "Oh! just talk!" He passed this off as a sort of reflection on
his fluency of words.

Preaching was desperate business to him because "the burden of the Word
of the Lord" lay upon him, and if he rose to great heights, he also was
dashed down to the depths. To preach for forty years from the same
pulpit is an exacting task, and the net result of such an experience is
no better summed up than in the remark of a humble parishioner by whose
house he was walking one morning with Frederick C. Hicks. It was Monday,
and the woman was hanging out her wash. Mr. Nelson said, "Let's stop and
ask her what she remembers of my sermon." The good soul was non-plussed,
and could not recall even his text. And then with a leap of inspired
insight she said, "But Mr. Nelson, this cloth is whiter every time I
pour water over it." Perhaps this is the lasting effect on every humble
soul who patiently waits as God communicates His truth in earthen

People came to be in Frank Nelson's presence. He never let them down. He
had said of William S. Rainsford's preaching: We came here as church
people, professing the faith, and as "we sat before him we saw poured
forth the reality of the thing we had professed to believe in ... He
took us to whom religion was a profession, and made it a passion."
Christ Church people find these words set up poignant echoes of a day
when they sat before Frank Nelson and heard the living Word of God.


[13] _Central Anglicanism_, Charles W. Lowry, Jr. _The Witness_ May 27,
1943. Used by permission.

[14] _The Servant of The Word_, Farmer p. 6, Charles Scribner's Sons.
Used by permission.

[15] Farmer in his brilliant book, _The Servant of the Word_, makes this
illuminating comment on preaching:

"The wisdom of the reformers appears in always associating the speaking
of the word with the other sacraments, and the protestant habit, which
is sometimes derided, of always having an address at every meeting is
seen to have sound reason behind it. It is part of our whole
understanding and valuation of the person and the personal way in which
God deals with him. I want the thrusting intrusiveness, the
interjection, of another's serious speech. I believe there can be no
substitute for the sermon." _Ibid_ pp. 80-81.


  _"He was easily the prince of us all in diocese
  and national church."_

  --_ZeBarney Phillips_


The diocese of southern Ohio, of which Christ Church is a part, was
vastly strengthened by the leadership of Frank Nelson. In the earlier
years of his rectorship he had had little time for diocesan affairs, not
that he was indifferent, but he was essentially the kind of person who
did one thing at a time, and never allowed himself to be diverted from
the immediate task. Moreover, because he was impelled by burning
convictions to express freely his pronounced views, he was considered
radical, and was misunderstood and disliked by many churchmen. The
diocese of those earlier years was conservative and static, and politics
then played a more weighty part than now. A clerical friend in speaking
of Mr. Nelson candidly stated, "I had to grow into friendship with him.
In those early days I had a sort of prejudice against him as a militant
opponent of things, but I soon saw my mistake and recognized that he was
of nobler cast." He never sought position, and never until 1916, with
one exception, was he elected a deputy to the General Convention, which
is the highest body of authority in the Episcopal Church. Even when the
Convention met in Cincinnati in 1910 and Christ Church was the host to
numerous services and meetings, he had no vote. Until 1916 he had
represented his diocese at the General Convention only in 1904; he was
defeated for re-election in 1907 because he had defended Dr. Algernon
Crapsey in a once famous heresy trial.

His larger interest in the diocese probably had its beginning when in
1908 as a member of the Social Service Commission he visited the Hocking
Valley, and was shocked by the abominable living conditions of the
miners and the almost intolerable injustice of their economic
circumstances. His interest, thus fired, increased with the years until
he came to be depended upon in every sphere of diocesan life, serving on
the Standing Committee, the Bishop and Chapter, the Board of Strategy
and Finance, and in practically every other committee and department of
importance. He was most insistent on maintaining the missionary program,
which he held to be the very heart-beat of the life of the Church. Even
during depressions, Christ Church never lowered its missionary giving
of $24,000, and one year voted $3000.00 from its parish budget to make
up a deficit in the missionary budget because as he said "We have failed
to educate the people." His thorough knowledge and good judgment were of
infinite value to a succession of bishops. On the occasion of Mr.
Nelson's Fortieth Anniversary, the present Bishop, Henry Wise Hobson
said, "In all parts of the Diocese I have heard clergy and lay people
say such words as these: 'The spirit of honesty, courage, fellowship,
and service which has grown up in the life of our Diocese is primarily
the result of the influence of Frank Nelson, whose own spirit has been a
contagious force in our midst.'" Others who have observed the remarkable
growth and increasing strength of this Diocese say that its present
vitality has been generated, not by numbers, nor by wealth, but by the
passionate spirit of certain recognizable characters of whom Frank
Nelson was easily the leader. During Bishop Reese's long illness, Mr.
Nelson largely conducted the business of the Diocese, and for a man with
such positive convictions, he was extremely fair in presiding at the
Convention. He leaned over backward to be just, and did not silence even
those who brought up petty reasons for disagreement on the subjects
under debate.

When in 1929 the illness of Bishop Reese necessitated his resignation,
the Diocese spontaneously turned to Frank Nelson as his successor. There
is a certain piquancy in the contemplation of the change that by this
time had come over the Diocese. A man who at one time had been
distrusted, and branded as radical if not reckless, had so won the
respect and affection of his associates that they desired to express
their trust and belief in him by electing him to the highest office of
his Church. Reverend Sidney E. Sweet, now Dean of Christ Church
Cathedral, St. Louis, nominated Mr. Nelson at the Convention saying, "He
is a man whose intellectual and spiritual gifts rank him with the finest
in the Church throughout the United States. It will make the Diocese of
Southern Ohio proud to present the name of Dr. Nelson to the House of
Bishops as the representative of this Diocese." Another discerning
friend, Alfred Segal of _The Cincinnati Post_, put the case
dramatically when he wrote in his column: "The other day Rev. Frank
Nelson stood on the threshold of ecclesiastical glory. He needed but to
take one step and he would have been on his way to the eminence of
Bishop. But he turned away, though many welcoming hands beckoned him."

In declining the nomination, Mr. Nelson said that his decision came as a
result of consultation with friends whose opinions he valued, and from
his own best judgment which counselled against his acceptance. He felt
that it was desirable to elect a man with no local associations, and his
own long ties with the diocese made him an unsuitable candidate. He had
confided in friends his lack of diocesan consciousness, and confessed a
reluctance to assume at his age another kind of work. Furthermore, the
parish of Christ Church and the city were by now so deeply embedded in
his very soul that even a change, if not a severance, of such ties was
unthinkable. He put forward the name of Dr. Howard Chandler Robbins, who
later refused the election. The selection of Dr. Robbins, important as
it was, nonetheless seemed secondary to the insistent attempts of
leaders to place this humble servant in the office of Bishop. Upon Mr.
Nelson's entry into the luncheon hall after the convention, he was
greeted by a tremendous ovation. He was a strong man among strong men.
The following letter from the late Right Reverend William Lawrence of
Massachusetts did not dissuade him from his firm decision:

  November 22, 1929

  My dear Frank:

  You well know that it is my rule not to "butt in," but as a
  Pullman conductor once told me, "there ain't no use in having
  rules that you can't break when you have to."

  I believe that you respect my judgment; my judgment is that you
  are the one man who has the qualifications to be Bishop of
  Southern Ohio. I know your loyalty to your parish and your humble
  estimate of yourself. But the Diocese and the opportunity which
  the Church will give you as Bishop are greater than your parish.
  Think of Trinity, Boston, at Brooks' election and its result
  today. Spaulding of Utah brought into the House of Bishops a
  breeze of fresh air, a new life and courage which abide there
  still--You will do the same.

  Think of the cheer that your election will bring to Vincent,
  Reese, and the whole Diocese.

  Let them have your name and your life. I never wrote such a
  letter before and no one knows that I am doing it now.

  Yours affectionately,

  William Lawrence.

At the succeeding convention another concerted effort was made to induce
Mr. Nelson to become Bishop. It was refreshing to find the office
seeking the man, especially a man who had never sought for himself
positions of prestige, a man never found in the society of office
seekers. Although he was gratefully aware of the well-meaning intentions
of his friends, and felt in the proposed honor the warmth of their
personal affection, he did not want it said that he had permitted the
election and then declined it. In as tactful a manner as possible he
labored to prevent the Committee on Nominations from presenting his
name. During a stormy session of the Committee a movement was under way
to over-ride Mr. Nelson's wishes and present his name as the nominee of
the Committee anyway. At this juncture Dr. Hicks, his close friend and a
Vestryman of Christ Church, rose and protested with considerable
indignation, "Gentlemen, this means you simply do not know Frank
Nelson." The debate went on, but Mr. Nelson remained firm, saying on the
Convention floor, "I _may_ not be Bishop of Southern Ohio," and he used
the word _may_ in the ancient sense of having "power to prevent." "I
cherish the tribute, but I tell you without recourse to thought or
prayer that I cannot do it." Finally, the Convention proceeded to the
happy election of Henry Wise Hobson, and the Diocese of Southern Ohio
remembers with gratitude that it owes Bishop Hobson to Frank Nelson.

From 1916 until his death, Mr. Nelson was a deputy to the triennial
meetings of every General Convention, and became the principal
spokesman in the House of Deputies. This body is not always as decorous
and staid in its deliberations as the House of Bishops, but Mr. Nelson
at all times commanded a respectful hearing among the deputies. He came
to be one of the leaders who, as a veteran church-paper correspondent
put it, "could read the signs of the times." His opinions carried
enormous weight though not habitually swaying votes.

In Diocesan circles as well as in Christ Church, he was absolutely
fearless in utterance, and was among those who were eager for the
Episcopal Church to make large ventures of faith. Like Bishop Brent, he
commanded a vision and a breadth of spirit which were incomprehensible
to those who could not conceive of a universal Christianity free of
sectarian doctrines and dogmas. In this respect he reflected and
perpetuated the greatness of Phillips Brooks who thus stated his
position: "I cannot live truly with the men of my own church unless I
also have a consciousness of common life with all Christian believers,
with all religious men, with all mankind." As a natural consequence of
such conviction, Mr. Nelson was insistent that the Episcopal Church
become a constituent member of the Federal Council of Churches, and
lived to see accomplished that small but significant step towards
cooperation among the churches.

In the debates that occurred in various years on such subjects as the
proposal to eliminate the word "Protestant" from the official name of
the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, and on
the status of the Presiding Bishop, he was very firm but kindly and
tactful in setting forth the Protestant emphasis in the
Catholic-Protestant fabric of his church. He argued that the word
"Protestant" in the title is there to protect the right of every sort of
churchman. His candor was disarming, and he could get away with such
unvarnished statements as this: "As you know I am a Protestant of the
Protestants. I do not belong to the Catholic party in the Episcopal
Church. I belong to the Protestant party. I believe in Protestantism; I
do not believe in Catholicism, I never have, and please God, I never
will. I believe in Protestantism; but I believe more, and deeper, and
further and broader, and higher in manhood and womanhood. I can see a
vision of God in the man and in the woman, in the Catholic as well as in
the Protestant, in the Jew, in the atheist, as well as in the
Episcopalian."[16] He was alert to any move that threatened the
democratic basis of the Episcopal Church and diminished the power of the
clergy and the laity, holding in the instance of the Presiding Bishop's
status that the proposal for something similar to an archbishopric would
introduce a monarchical form of government into a church whose
government closely resembles that of the United States.

At those conventions when the Prayer Book was under revision, Mr.
Nelson's spiritual discernment, large-heartedness, and wise judgment
were an important supplement to the work of the liturgical authorities.
One of the really notable speeches of any General Convention was his
plea for the church to place the emphasis in the Baptismal Service where
the Apostles did, namely, on discipleship rather than on Creed. "The
Creed ought to be on the Altar, not at the door of the Church," he said.
"I want the Creed in the service, and I believe it will receive more
emphasis than before if it is inserted where I have proposed to place
it.[17] The important thing required of Christians is to follow Christ.
It is harder to follow Christ than to accept a creed, and God forbid
that I should make membership in the Church easier than Christ made it."
His earnestness and deep religious feeling made a profound impression,
but there were those who saw in the proposal an opening wedge for the
subordination of the creeds, and timidity and caution overcame the surge
of approbation which followed immediately on his speech.

Commencing in 1925 and continuing until his death, Mr. Nelson served on
the Joint Commission on Holy Matrimony, which dealt with the highly
controversial issue of divorce. In upholding the high standards embraced
in the canons of the Church, he supported that section of the
Commission which sought to take into account the far-reaching human
factors involved in marriage and divorce. He was absolutely convinced
that the Church was not approaching the problem in the right way. To him
it was not an ecclesiastical problem but a definitely human affair. He
said he preferred to submit a delicate, ethical problem to a human
bishop rather than to the arbitrary operation of a rule. He maintained,
"Divorce is now on a legalistic basis. That was not the way of our Lord,
and the Commission desires to lift it out of the legal atmosphere into
the sphere of the fellowship of the Gospel." Towards this end the
Commission had (in 1931) drawn up a proposed canon which was the result
of six years' study on the part of an extremely able group of clergymen
and laymen. Among the latter were some of the great lawyers of America,
such as George W. Wickersham, Roland Morris, and Professor Joseph Beale
of the Harvard Law School. This Commission proposed that "any person to
whom a divorce from a former marriage has been granted for any cause by
a civil court may apply to his Bishop to marry another person." In other
words the Commission was endeavoring to have the matter decided not by
some hard and fast rule which was bound to do many injustices to
individuals, but by a more general principle to be interpreted by the
Bishop or Marital Court. The proposal was defeated, but in the battle
which ensued and has not ceased "Frank Nelson," says Bishop William
Scarlett of Missouri, "was a leading figure. He was trying to see this
whole matter through what he believed to be the mind of Christ, and to
act and legislate accordingly."

At the Church Congress in Richmond, Virginia, in 1926 in a paper on
_What Is Loyal Churchmanship?_ he boldly stated:

  Even when it comes to the canon in regard to remarriage of
  divorced persons, when I find in my conscience, standing before
  God in the presence of Christ, as I try to do, that a man and a
  woman have a right to be remarried, I will remarry them and take
  the consequences. I do not mean that I would go about seeking
  ways of disobeying the Church. I am putting extreme cases. Of
  course I do not mean that.... My first loyalty, my highest
  loyalty is to the Spirit and to the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ
  as God gives me grace to see it.... The human soul is more sacred
  than constitution or canons. Canons and forms of worship are used
  to illuminate and guide men's minds and souls to Christ, not to
  dominate them or compel them to conform to this or that.[18]

In a few exceptional instances he remarried divorced persons. He held
the present canon of the church to be utterly ridiculous in permitting
reinstatement to communicant status following remarriage after divorce:
"If one commits so grave a sin as to demand excommunication, how can one
be reinstated while continuing to live in that sin? It is absurd on the
face of it."[19]

There were those who sneered at his position, saying it was
individualistic and amounted to the setting up of oneself against the
law of the church, yet he of all people was most conscious of the sin of
pride and excessive individualism. At his last Convention in 1937, he
reemphasized the point that the object of rewriting the marriage canon
was not to liberalize divorce and remarriage: "We have been trying to
interpret the mind of our Lord. We have presumed to separate men from
the love of God by excommunication. This Commission is trying to set
free to a higher plane this tremendous question which is facing us, to
lift this tremendous relationship from regulation to the life of the
spirit. We want this church to face reality." Nevertheless, the
Commission marched from one defeat to another, but it still marches!
There was passed in 1931 one constructive piece of legislation bearing
on instruction in Christian marriage which was enacted largely through
the extremely forceful defense of Frank Nelson.

The same human touch which guided all his thought and effort was
apparent in his work on another Commission, namely, the Budget and
Program. He usually was chosen to present the report in the House of
Deputies, and it was always a masterly presentation. Like Gladstone, he
had the faculty of making people like figures, because he set them forth
in terms of human values or in what the newspaper writer calls
"human-interest" stories. This same humanness was delightfully manifest
on occasions when friends endeavoured to make him the presiding officer
or President of the House of Deputies. He would never consent, and
humorously said that if he became an official, he would have to attend
all the extra meetings and couldn't play golf!

In 1937 the General Convention met in Cincinnati. Though far from well
and worn out after the usual strenuous year in his parish, Mr. Nelson
gave up a large part of his vacation to assist in the arduous
preparations always entailed by such affairs. At the opening service in
the University Stadium he was selected by the Presiding Bishop to read
one of the Lessons, the deserved recognition of his place in diocese and
national church.

In the extensive work of forwarding the policies set up by the General
Conventions he was called upon, as one of the representative rectors, to
speak in many parts of the country. He was foremost in commending the
Nation-Wide-Campaign or budget plan of operation instituted in 1919, as
a means of re-awakening the church to a sense of national
responsibility. Despite heavy work in parish and city he never spared
himself, and willingly put his services at the command of the Presiding
Bishop. Only eight months before his death, he spent an entire week in
the Diocese of Massachusetts speaking two and three times a day to
groups of vestrymen on the forward work of the church.

When General Convention met in Kansas City in 1940, the first meeting
after Mr. Nelson's death, the President of the House of Deputies, the
late ZeBarney Phillips, said at the opening session:

  Later on we shall have the regular memorial to all members of the
  Convention who have died during the triennium, but as the
  Convention opens without them I cannot refrain from paying
  tribute to some of those whom we loved best and best remember.
  First you will all agree is Frank Nelson who was the outstanding
  member of this House at Cincinnati. His genuine Christian
  devotion, his courtesy, his fairness and his gentleness can never
  be forgotten. Let me tell you one little thing that shows his
  character. You all know his type of churchmanship, and yet, for
  the sake of others he placed candles on his altar for the
  corporate communion. It was a little thing but it was so like
  Frank Nelson.[20]

Whether in parish, city, or the whole Episcopal Church, his work was
affected by a mighty vision of the Kingdom of God on earth which set him
apart as an unusual servant who humbly read the scroll of life as it is
unrolled to the children of men. He passed on to others the torch of
faith which lights the path to the City of God.


[16] Address at the Centennial of Christ Church, 1917. He spoke in this
vein at Conventions though I cannot locate exact statements in official

[17] Mr. Nelson's proposal placed the Creed immediately after the

[18] _The Church and Truth_, p. 138, Macmillan Co. 1924. Used by

[19] Letter to the author, September 12, 1932.

[20] Letter to Mrs. Nelson from Mr. Richard Inglis of Cleveland.

  _The Mystery of

  "_There is not one of us but in some measure
  is in his debt._"

  --_The Cincinnati Enquirer_


"All the hold those people have on God is me. It is terrible. It bothers
me. They love me but they don't come to church." Mr. Nelson confided in
this vein one night to his intimate friend, Jesse Halsey, into whose
study he had stopped on his way home from a call in a distant suburb.
While it was inevitable that some people should use him as a crutch or
should let him do their climbing for them, the truth of the matter is
that he was a chosen channel for the communication of the Divine Spirit
to earth-bound men. Because he was genuinely humble, he was troubled
about those people who could approach God only through him. If they
little sensed that what they loved in him was God, they nevertheless
were compelled by their limitations to think of God in terms of Frank

He was only a voice in the successive generations of men whom God has
sent to minister unto this world, but men loved the voice and though it
is now no longer heard, the mystery and wonder of his personality still
remain. The happy blend of the spiritual and the human in his nature had
a profound influence upon those who knew him. Though poor, faltering
words may suggest the salient outlines of his character, the richness
and singularity of it defy complete expression.

Mr. Nelson's rare gifts of mind and spirit were enhanced by a robust
physique. He was tall, well-proportioned, and in his last twenty years
took on an almost majestic bearing which gave him a distinguished
appearance in any company. In his manner there was that graciousness
which men call charm or presence. Those who associated with him, whether
rich or poor, talented or commonplace, felt his friendliness. He was at
home with all kinds of people, and though born on the sunny side of the
street, and by birth and breeding an aristocrat, he became one of the
most democratic of men. Because of his greatness some approached him
hesitatingly, but they went away remembering only his kindness of heart.
He never stood on his dignity in that sense which conveys condescension.
His gay, infectious laughter which so often filled a room put people
immediately at ease, and yet he never belittled his calling nor lowered
himself to meet men.

There was a look of keenness in his eyes that sometimes pierced one
through and through, but always there shone forth faith and sympathy and
understanding. It was the warmth of his humanity that drew people, and
consciously or unconsciously gave them confidence and a stronger
readiness to meet life. Bishop Edward L. Parsons of California writes,
"When with him you felt as if you were entirely safe. You knew that his
judgment would be sound. You knew that he was too big to be dominated by
personal considerations."

The same warmth expressed itself in his appreciation of other men's
opinions, and because he was decisive in outlook and views, he found
pleasure and stimulus in the spirited exchange of ideas and in sprightly
repartee. In the Episcopal Church there is an amazing diversity of
thought on ecclesiastical matters. Frank Nelson, for instance,
represented one conviction, and the Right Reverend Spence Burton, now
Lord Bishop of Nassau, quite another. "We were the best of friends,"
writes Bishop Burton, who is a Cincinnatian by birth, "and we often
disagreed but got on happily together because I think that
temperamentally we were somewhat alike--what might vulgarly be known as
whole-hoggers. In that way we understood each other and did not annoy
each other nearly so much as if we had had the idea that we could have
only as much affection for each other as we had agreement with one
another." The admiration and affection which Mr. Nelson elicited was
pointedly demonstrated at his funeral. Bishop Burton sat in the chancel
alongside the Reverend Jesse Halsey, the Presbyterian minister. Dr.
Halsey said: "Bishop Burton, perfect gentleman that he is, not once
crossed himself in deference to Frank's (to him, atrocious) low church
prejudices!" Frank Nelson was like that. Respect for him sometimes came
grudgingly, but it came because there was no personal animosity in the
man. He was honored because he was a moral and a spiritual force with
which to be reckoned.

His election to the Commercial Club of Cincinnati in 1923 is another
indication of his democratic and appealing character. This club is one
of the city's most exclusive, its membership being comprised entirely of
business executives, captains of industry, and a small sprinkling of
professional men. The constitution of the club allows for three honorary
members, and at the time of Mr. Nelson's election, the only honorary
member was William Howard Taft. An extract from the Club's minutes

  Believing that it would be a merited recognition of one of our
  most worthy citizens, won by his unselfish zeal for the cause of
  humanity, and as a leader for higher ideals in our civic life,
  your Executive Committee unanimously recommend the election of
  Rev. Frank H. Nelson to be an honorary member of the Commercial

Each year at the Club's Christmas dinner, Mr. Nelson invariably gave an
address on some contemporary significance of Christmas. His message was
deeply impressive to this inner circle of representative citizens, for
he was one with them in spirit, even as he was one with the humblest of
his parish. In turn, such associations gave him courage and reënforced
his will to persist in a difficult calling, as the following lines
penned to a club member reveal:

  I wonder if you and a few men who are like you in real
  understanding and real goodness, realize what your confidence and
  friendship do for a minister? It isn't easy for us to keep our
  faith in what is right and just and true, when successful men
  tell us we don't know what we are talking about--that our faith
  is plain foolishness in the face of realities.

He entered into the Club's frolics with huge enjoyment, and on one
occasion took part in a pageant, dressed in the vestments of a mediaeval
bishop. During an outing in the South, the Club attended a religious
service, and while in the church Mr. Walter Draper had his pocket
picked. After the service, in some excitement he freely expressed his
indignation, continuing at great length until Mr. Nelson gleefully
returned the filched article!

Out of his warmth of human feeling there came a real capacity for
enjoying simple, ordinary things. If he was stirred by the tragedy and
the immemorial pain of humanity, he was also moved by the elemental ties
of family and friendship, and by all the simplicity that lends them zest
and joy. He loved anniversaries, and was deeply appreciative of the
innumerable remembrances he received on those occasions. Christmas
parties in his home were a particular delight to friends and to those
members of the staff fortunate enough to enjoy the hospitality of Mr.
and Mrs. Nelson. He was child-like at heart, and those close to him were
warmed by his gaiety and thoughtfulness. He had a feeling for music and
when he led the carol rehearsals in the parish house hall before
Christmas and Easter, the boys and girls responded whole-heartedly. He
took charge in a firm manner; in fact no bronco was ever more
competently restrained than his youngsters. The chorus of boys and girls
sang softly or loudly at his will, and enjoyed it, and when he left the
platform, they did not growl an adieu, they applauded!

Mr. Nelson's interest in people, and the work he accomplished had for a
background the sort of home environment which enhanced his capacity. In
1907 he was married to Miss Mary Eaton, the daughter of William Oriel
Eaton, a Cincinnati artist of distinction. Their adopted daughter, Ruth,
was an unending delight to him, and he lived to officiate at her
marriage, and to become a happy grandfather. Mrs. Nelson's admirable
arrangements of the household left him free of the many details that
might hamper a man in public office. He did not have to worry about
bringing home unexpected guests, and when he was not at home Mrs. Nelson
carried on in a loyal manner expressive of his interest in people. At
one time before the Travelers' Aid Society was organized, a mother and
two children arrived at the railroad station in some sort of pressing
difficulty. Not knowing where to go, the mother inquired of the
telephone operator, who suggested "Rev. Nelson." The woman in her
distress went to the rector's home on Pike Street. Mr. Nelson was out of
the city, but in characteristic fashion, his wife took them in and kept
them overnight. Mrs. Nelson's interest and work in the parish,
particularly with the young candidates for the Girls' Friendly Society,
was of a notable quality, and her fine understanding of their problems
was not only an important factor in the effectiveness of that
organization, but also happily supplemented her husband's unceasing

Frank Nelson was continually sensitive to his good fortune in possessing
adequate means, in contrast to the deprivation and financial
difficulties of many others. He was incapable of concealment and there
was a refreshing frankness to his acknowledgment one Sunday morning
when, speaking on the parish budget, he facetiously told his
congregation that his salary was too large but he did not have the moral
courage to refuse it! He was also fortunate in many other ways, such as
being free from illness the larger part of his life, and from personal
bereavements, for his parents lived to a ripe age. His gift of
imagination in dealing with many problems not experienced by him
personally was, therefore, the more unusual. "Genius is the power of
getting knowledge with the least possible experience, and one of the
greatest differences between men is in the amount of experience they
need of anything in order to understand it."[21]

The even tenor of his lot in life did not produce in him
self-satisfaction and complacency, but often did make him uneasy. He had
inherited his father's sternness of conscience and moral fibre. At one
time when a parishioner sold a piece of property and asked Mr. Nelson to
use the money to buy his first car, he was sorely perplexed as to the
appropriateness of accepting such a gift and allowing himself the luxury
of an automobile. He wondered what some of the people in his parish
would think. When calling in the "Bottoms," he often wore an old, blue
serge suit. He was acutely aware that his salary came in part from many
who had little, and to the end of his days his conscience troubled him
about this, wanting as he did to share the life of the least of his

Frank Nelson was a singularly modest person. In the early years of his
ministry one did not hear much about what he was doing. Everywhere
people talked of Stein's distinguished preaching, and not much was said
about Mr. Nelson's talents. He belittled his own abilities, and imagined
that things which were difficult for him came easily to other people. He
not only deprecated his skill in preaching, but thought he had no
capacity for meeting intellectuals on their own ground. It cannot be
said that he had an inferiority complex for that implies weakness, and
in Frank Nelson power and gentleness were happily and usefully joined.
The honor and acclaim that came to him from church and city never
impressed him unduly; in fact, he was saddened by them because they
represented a seeming success which in comparison with the great ideals
of the Christian ministry approximates failure. "So likewise ye, when ye
shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are
unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do."

His exceptional sense of reality and proportion, which is the very
essence of humility, made him a forceful leader and at the same time
congenial company. Because he was completely sincere and unaffected, his
friends felt no self-consciousness in the presence of "the cloth." They
in turn could be candid with him. This fact was once amusingly
demonstrated when the music at Christ Church was not at its customary
high standard, and Mr. Nelson, happening to meet a parishioner who had
not been in church for some time, asked her why, and enjoyed a good
chuckle over her reply: "Oh! I am tired of hearing the choir bawl and
you bawl!" There was always a lively give and take in his friendships.
On one occasion at the close of an inter-faith meeting, he was chided by
a Roman Catholic friend about his poor speech. Admitting that he had
come unprepared, Mr. Nelson without the slightest sign of resentment
offered to drive his friend home, and they had a good two hour talk in
front of the Roman Cathedral.

The range of his friendships was extraordinary for he possessed the
capacity to kindle admiration and affection. Many a man found him a
refreshing tonic, and would say, "I felt better for contact with him."
He was a frequent participant at the Round Table discussions in the
University Club, and delighted in the exchange of thought that came from
all sorts. At the time of the death of his friend, Father Finn, the
Pastor of St. Xavier's Church, which is in the vicinity of Christ
Church, Mr. Nelson attended the Requiem Mass, and afterwards was
observed standing by the hearse, head uncovered and tears in his eyes,
for they had been the best of friends. A great personality is more than
what he says, and many times brushes aside the trammels of the popular
conception of the institution which he represents. Frank Nelson had a
well-nigh perfect concept of what it means to be a Christian; and,
therefore, in his wide range of friendship among all faiths and those of
no faith, he carried himself without the faintest hint of disloyalty to
the Episcopal Church. As he was never colorless, men knew where he
stood, and though sometimes disagreeing with him, friends and critics
alike recognized his genuine goodness and knew his motives to be without
guile. He would say, "Always believe a person right until proved
otherwise. Take people at face value. I am a fool, but that is the only
way to begin." Such were the tenets of his quiet pugnacity of faith in
human beings. It is no wonder that a working-man called him, "The
greatest Christian in shoe-leather I ever met; a Christian capitalist
worthy of anyone's emulation"; or that his faithful colored sexton, who
waited on him, shined his shoes, and served him devotedly to the end of
his days, should say, "We were pals. He was always tops with me."

Mr. Nelson was often the one called upon when grace of speech, dignity
of manner and discriminating taste were required. At a community mass
meeting in Music Hall in 1927, he was chosen to introduce the speaker of
the evening, Miss Maude Royden, the noted English preacher. He
accompanied Miss Royden to the center of the platform with all the
courtliness of a true gentleman, and with that deference due a
gentlewoman and an eminent personage. His introduction was an instance
of his singular felicity of expression and his ability to state in
choice language the sentiments prompted by the event of the moment. Such
was Mr. Nelson's gift for being master of every occasion. Sitting in
the back row of the immense hall which was crowded to the doors, I felt
that the audience quickly sensed the fitness of the presence on the same
platform of two such estimable representatives of the Christian Church.

To illustrate further his command of language and his absolute candor,
there is an incident which also neatly tested his tact and truthfulness.
One sultry evening in Holy Week, when a long-winded clergyman was
preaching, it appeared to me that the rector dozed. I wondered what he
could honestly say to the man. After the service when we were in the
sacristy, he put his arm around the preacher's shoulders, and said, "Old
man, you set me to thinking!" His tact was never failing, though often
its diplomatic flavor could be more than faintly sensed!

Accompanying his humility of spirit there was in his nature and his
opinions an air of authority wholly unecclesiastical, purely personal,
but immensely impressive. It came in part from his particular type of
intellect. He had an assimilative mind, which enabled him, for example,
to acquire rapidly the gist of a book, and to state succinctly and
clearly a point which he was desirous of making. His was an intuitive
knowledge rather than a scientific. It was not the kind of knowledge of
which the dogmatists speak and in which they alone can believe. Mr.
Nelson's knowledge was the sort which sees into the life of things and
of men. His intellectual powers were richly developed by his parish work
and heavy responsibilities, and by his reflection upon all kinds of
experiences and his understanding insight into other people's problems.
A forty years' ministry combined with such a type of mind gave him, for
one thing, a rather fine grasp of medical science. He knew its
principles, and was able to simplify and help at times when technical
terms leave the layman baffled and vague. Because of this special kind
of mind and the sweep of his experience, his general effect on people
was sometimes overwhelming. To illustrate a minor angle, he was not
adept in leading discussions; he could not draw out a group because he
had pretty thoroughly covered the subject himself, and the impact of
his personality was a bit overpowering.

But above all, the authority one felt most in his personality was that
which came as a result of his being Christ-fashioned. He of all men
possessed the kind of nature which cannot live without God. There was
within him a spontaneity that was entirely himself, impossible of
duplication, totally socialized. He was not a mystic and maintained that
he was puzzled by their writings. He admitted that the prayer-life was
difficult for him, that he could not meditate or think about God for
long periods. His was not the ascetic or contemplative nature; he did
not live in reflective calm. In the whirlpool of human relations he was
an explorer, a bold adventurer bringing people into the presence of God;
and what does it matter whether one prays in words or acts? He
exemplified in his life one definition among many, namely, "To labor is
to pray." The weight of people's needs pressed down upon him so
relentlessly that he was driven to do something about them. His was the
temperament which animates an ancient prayer, "Lord, I am so busy this
day, if I forget Thee, do not Thou forget me." We are disposed to have
our tight little crystallizations of what prayer should or should not
be. Frank Nelson was impatient of such, for he ventured upon a scale
more broad than that envisioned by the average parson or layman. There
are no theological concepts which fit him.

Mr. Nelson had a natural talent for enjoying people, which implemented
all his work, but for a man in his position such a gift has its price:
either one wears himself out or neglects his major task and so spreads
himself thin. He chose the first course, and as we contemplate this
record of vast accomplishment who are we to say that he did not choose
wisely? He was a very busy man, and went about doing good, not just
doing. His description of Helen Trounstine's life of activity is
applicable to his own:

  It was not restlessness, the hurrying on from one thing to
  another, just to be busy. It was the true energy of full-hearted
  and full-minded interest in life, and all that it holds; the
  passion to learn that she might teach; to enjoy that she might
  give joy; to rest that she might have strength to do her work; to
  serve because men need her service. It was energy of mind and
  heart so full of the vision of the greatness of life and the
  opportunity of living, that she could not waste time except as it
  ministered to the part she was to play.

Mr. Nelson did not scatter his interests indiscriminately but
concentrated his efforts in the fields where he was most competent:
social problems and the relation of the Church to the most concrete
activities of human life. All these fitted into his prime purpose.

The vision which governed his days was strengthened every year in the
long vacations that he took at his summer home in Cranberry Isles,
Maine. There beside the sea he dreamed long dreams, and drank in the
salty air which brought indispensable relaxation, and mental and
spiritual refreshment. In his small cabin on a point of land overlooking
the limitless ocean, he could be very much alone. Something of that
setting and its influence is conveyed in a letter to the Reverend
Theodore Sedgwick, a life-long friend, which discloses Mr. Nelson in a
reflective mood:

  Sept. 6, 1928

  Dear Ted:

  Many, many thanks for your intensely interesting letter, and its
  review of Julian Huxley's book. Such a view of life and religion
  does make one stop and think--and hesitate. It is the terribly
  earnest spiritual problem that we face today in the ministry. It
  is the sort of thing I had in mind, in suggesting the subject of
  "God" for the next Swansea Conference. For we have got to face
  the issue with eyes open, minds familiar with the biologist's
  point of view. The old affirmations of formal theology are not
  adequate to meet the issue. And yet in those affirmations I am
  sure lies the truth--that God lives, God our Father--conscious of
  Himself and of us--a person in a very real sense--from Whom we
  derive personality--from Whom we came--and to Whom we go. If
  mankind loses that, "his arms _do_ clasp the air" and he drowns
  in the infinity of time and space and his own nothingness. We
  have from Christ the truth and somehow we must learn it with a
  new understanding--or rather with _the_ new understanding that
  modern science and modern reverent scientific thought have given
  us. I am sitting at my desk in my cabin at sunset. The day has
  been cool and grey--a heavy curtain of cloud over the sky--But
  now--that curtain is thinning and through the break in the
  west--the whole glory of the sun has colored sky and sea with a
  golden light beyond description for exquisite beauty. The gulls
  are winging their way across the sea to a distant island where
  they rest and go back to each night. As I sit and look, my whole
  spirit is moved by the beauty and the evening quiet. There is
  infinity here--of space and imagination. Yet--the gulls--I think,
  are unconscious of all that--but I am moved by it and keenly
  conscious of it. It is not just biology--or I would be as the
  gulls--and I am not. And men are not. They want God--behind the
  glory--God clothed with the glory--adequate to the glory--that
  their own imagination and hunger and aspiration may be
  justified--That is what Christ has given us to preach and it is
  the truth. Now the gold has turned to a flaming red--thrilling
  almost to the point of pain. One must believe--and then face the
  chill grey of the coming night with the memory of it to lighten
  and interpret it.

  We go a week from tomorrow, back to work, to the men and women
  who have so bravely gone on working through long, hot summer days
  in the streets and factories and tenements of the city. And in
  that bravery and drudgery, there is the same flaming glory of
  God. It isn't just biology--it is the spirit of God, making the
  physical the dwelling place of God and glorifying it with His

Frank Nelson had an almost Elizabethan zest for thought and action, and
even at Cranberry he entered enthusiastically into the local life. He
preached at least once every summer in the Congregational Church, and in
that church today are numerous memorials to him: a silver alms bason,
the Service Book of the Congregational Church beautifully bound in red
morocco, a United States flag, and several pictures. Each year at Easter
there is a large cross of geraniums in the church, and after the service
the flowers are distributed among the families on the island with a
card saying, "Given in memory of Frank Howard Nelson with the Easter
message of Christ's Resurrection." When he left Cranberry the last time,
all the public school children were dismissed to wave their goodbyes.
His unaffected interest in the affairs of the community expressed itself
in practical ways, and his unassuming and simple manner gave little
inkling that he was a foremost citizen of Cincinnati.

"There is nothing comparable," says Coventry Patmore, "for moral force
to the charm of truly noble manners." Frank Nelson's manner was not only
the result of a choice family inheritance, but also the rich fruitage of
a lifetime of faithful obedience to a consuming passion and vision. He
was a life-giving river flowing in a parched land. In him the ancient
prophet's words found a fresh fulfillment: "Everything shall live
whithersoever the river cometh."


[21] R. L. Nettleship _Lectures on the Republic of Plato_, p. 129,
published by Macmillan Co. Used with permission.


  _Then of those shadows, which one made descent
  Beside me I knew not; but Life ere long
  Came on me in the public ways, and bent
  Eyes deeper than of old; Death met I too
  And saw the dawn glow through._



Frank Nelson never became an old man. Toward the end of his life his
body could not fulfill the demands of his spirit, and he was not able to
undertake as much nor see as many people as he wished, but he never
neglected any responsibility. At times he could not keep going and had
to stop on the street to rest because too much exertion caused pain, but
he would not spare himself nor did he ever complain. He was a happy
soldier who smiled through his closing years.

In 1931-1932 he suffered from a blocking off of the blood vessels that
drain the leg, a condition which has very serious possibilities. He
weighed these possibilities, says Dr. Richard S. Austin, but like most
patients he figured there was always the chance that he might not have
to pay the price. He was like the physician who when told to practice
what he preached replied, "Did you ever know a sign-post to walk down
the road?" He bore his illness with fortitude, concealing from his
family and friends the vexation that he felt as the activities which
were life itself to him were curtailed more and more. When entering the
church in procession with the choir, he would never use a cane though he
was often suffering acutely, but squaring himself, and throwing back his
shoulders, he would march resolutely on. As he crossed the chancel to
enter his pulpit, something of his old vigor was apparent, and as he
preached, his voice was strong and clear. If he was less animated, he
was no less intense, no less the tremendously invigorating preacher. One
day in the parish house Canon Symons met him carrying a heavy bag. He
was about to leave for one of his frequent periods in the hospital, and
Canon Symons remonstrated with him and tried to take his bag, but Mr.
Nelson refused, saying, "No, I won't. I would rather drop in my tracks
than to save myself and spend endless days in hospitals."

At the Annual Meeting of the Parish on April 10, 1939, Mr. Nelson
presented his resignation, "not because I want to quit, but I am
concerned that this parish should not weaken. This church is facing, as
every church is facing, a new day; and it needs the leadership of
younger and stronger men." It was accepted with marked reluctance to
take effect when his successor should be chosen and had arrived. On May
21st the parish and many of his friends outside Christ Church celebrated
his forty years' ministry in the one church and city, and there was a
singular out-pouring of people.

At the conclusion of the observance he wrote a friend:

  Though it was not so stated in the bond, it saved me from a
  farewell celebration. I preached at all three services, and it
  saved me the embarrassment of listening to eulogies, and saved
  others from having to deliver them! But everyone was fine about
  it. They decorated the Altar with gorgeous red roses, and me with
  my red Seminary hood (He wore his Doctor's hood rarely and always
  looked rather sheepish when asking his secretary to take it out
  of the safe!), and we had the two choirs at eleven o'clock, and
  lovely music at all the services. So the day went well, and we're
  all glad it is well over.

In a letter to another friend he said:

  It wasn't easy to speak and to face the services, and that they
  meant the real end of my rectorship, my active ministry. There
  were dear friends and very loyal parishioners there. And I think
  you know my love for Christ Church and for Cincinnati, and my
  inexpressible appreciation of all that this church and city have
  given me. It is terribly hard to try to realize that after this
  summer I shall no longer be rector of Christ Church--and all that
  that has meant and means--and in very deep gratitude I saw the
  many, and my mind and heart were very full. Indeed I hope I shall
  not "retire" from the friendships, and from the life of the
  people and city. Thank you more than I can say for what only you
  could so write. I have had a very rare opportunity, and very
  privileged forty years, and I hope the coming years--or weeks or
  months, whatever God wills--will bring in their own way the same
  high things and find me worthy of them, and chief of them, worthy
  of your friendship and faith.

He had given the church and city a lifetime of service, loyalty, and
love, and the place he held in the affections of his people had been
abundantly made known to him.

In July before the last Sunday he was scheduled to preach, he was
stricken by a heart attack, and so his ministry came to a close without
further sadness of farewell. He spent a few weeks in the hospital, and
improved sufficiently to journey to his beloved Cranberry Isles
accompanied by his wife and daughter. But a doctor, knowing what others
did not realize, broke down and wept when Mr. Nelson left the hospital.
His friends and he himself felt confident that a protracted rest would
do the work of healing. In August he sustained another and a more severe
attack, and as the chilling, autumn winds blew in from the Atlantic they
brought him to the Phillips House in Boston. He saw no one at first, but
then he grew restless, and the doctor permitted visitors. There were
many, and as he was making no progress, he was moved to the old family
home in North Marshfield, near Cape Cod. There as a boy he had roamed
the spacious, rambling house and the bright fields, and there his
parents had lived the last twenty-five years of their lives. The lovely,
old home with its atmosphere of peace brought back many tender memories.
In the absolute quiet of these surroundings which he loved, he lingered
some two weeks. With another attack he lapsed into unconsciousness, and
his boyhood friend, the late Dean Philemon F. Sturges of Boston, came
down to be with the family. On the morning of October 31st as the end
approached, Dean Sturges knelt beside him and in the dear familiar words
of the Prayer Book said, "Lift up your hearts," and the family bravely
responded, "We lift them up unto the Lord." The Dean continued, "It is
very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and
_in all places_, give thanks unto Thee, O Lord." It was meet and right
that Frank Nelson should depart this life on such a note of

At the burial in Cincinnati, November Third, the parish, life-long
friends, and representatives of the city thronged Christ Church not to
say "Farewell," but "Hail!", for as Alfred Segal grandly put it, "He was
like one going away to gather in his victory." For a night and a day
preceding the service, his body lay in the beautiful chapel of his own
creation, and great numbers of men, women and children of all faiths
came to pay a final tribute. The burial service was the same as he
himself had always used, only read now by his successor, and the Bishop
of the Diocese. To his friends and beloved people it all seemed passing
strange if not unreal. Frail beings that we are, we had never sensed
more than a vague possibility that his ministry would one day terminate.
It was not past human knowing, of course, but it was beyond the grasp of
human imagining that the day would come when Frank Nelson would no
longer walk the city's streets, no longer hurry to the distant suburbs.
We felt this way because in an unusual sense men loved this servant of
the servants of God in Cincinnati who had dwelt among them for forty
years. Yet the great congregation rose above human grief and surmounted
the consciousness of personal loss in the tremendous note of triumph and
thankfulness that prevailed throughout the simple service from its
opening sentences, "I am the resurrection and the life," to the Bishop's
final words of commitment, "Unto God's gracious mercy and protection."
They sang only hymns of victory, hymns that he especially loved and
which were expressive of his faith and spirit: John Bunyan's "He who
would valiant be," and "There is a wideness in God's mercy." The
recessional moved to the church door to the triumphant words "For all
the saints who from their labors rest," set to the stirring tune of R.
Vaughan Williams. Thus in the simplicity and dignity of the things said
and done there that afternoon did the passing of this noble minister
symbolize the destiny of all mankind.

They took him to beautiful Spring Grove Cemetery and laid him beneath a
majestic sycamore tree whose spreading branches seemed to represent the
out-reach of his life. Years ago at his behest Christ Church had been
given a plot of ground for the poor, the friendless, and the forgotten
of men, "God's Acre." There, by his express wishes, Frank Nelson lies
among the least of his flock, the faithful shepherd who called his own
by name. Then every man "went away again unto his own home."



It is now more than five years since Mr. Nelson's death, and today the
old church in the hands of his successor, Nelson M. Burroughs, whose
first name singularly suggests a prolongation of the Nelson dynasty, and
whose spirit and abilities are a worthy continuation of an unusual
rectorship, is still animated by Frank Nelson's vision, his joy in
service. His ideals live today in the parish of Christ Church, which has
not failed him but carries out that which he committed unto them in his
farewell address:

  The Church is the important thing to all of us. We need the
  Church, for faith, for courage, for guidance. The Diocese needs
  this Parish--its loyalty--its support--its fellowship--as we need
  the Diocese. The City needs this Church. You will never forget,
  will you, the Vision, and the power that came with it, that Mr.
  Stein gave us forty years ago, viz;--that the Church is the Body
  of Christ, not a club, to minister, and not to be ministered to.
  The people all about us, the whole city, are our concern, to
  bring them the Gospel of Christ. So, I pray God you will go
  forward into the new day with high faith and enthusiasm. You have
  a mission from God.

The mission goes on in the spirit of readiness to embark on great
ventures, and of youth not knowing defeat, for on Easter Day, 1941 the
authorities of Christ Church announced it as their purpose to erect a
glorious new building on the site of the present edifice as the only
adequate memorial to Frank Nelson. As in the dark days of 1917 the
parish audaciously built the Centennial Chapel, so the tragic repetition
of world war sees in the present rector and people no diminishing of
that daring and firmness of vision. This plan is, as Mr. Nelson would
have it, not for his own glory, but for the larger range of the Church
in the service of the city. He had said, "This is the work of those who
will come after me."

Christ Church will one day be clothed in garments of new beauty because
Frank Nelson preached the Gospel that is the hope of a better democracy.
The grandeur of his accomplishment impels men to undertake this task;
and thus it is a living fact that his vision is still an influence in
the city, and is the choice heritage of an unnumbered host.

If because of human frailty we think of heaven as rest, his spirit
corrects us. If in our partial understanding he seems to deserve release
from labor, yet for the very reason that he "wrought with tireless hand
through crowded days,"[22] we know in our moments of vision that for so
knightly a spirit the only possible reward is authority over ten cities.

From that kingdom of the spirit, he speaks to us across the abyss of
time, and nowhere is his voice stronger, his thought clearer than in the
first chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians. Here, forever sealed in
the enduring words of Saint Paul, is the heart of Frank Nelson's
ministry, a ministry valiant and without blemish:

  I thank my God upon every remembrance of you ... for your
  fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; being
  confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good
  work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.


[22] Inscription on a tablet in the chapel of Phillips Exeter Academy,
Exeter, N. H.

    | Transcriber's Note:                                   |
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    | Research has shown that the copyright on              |
    | this book was not renewed.                            |
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    | Page  25  Legionaires changed to Legionnaires         |
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    | Page  47  immeasureably changed to immeasurably       |
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    | Page  58  self-martydom changed to self-martyrdom     |
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