The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Mary Nelson

Fostering leadership is strength of community developer

Young drug dealers were brazenly operating outside Bethel Lutheran Church in Chicago's West Garfield Park neighborhood when Mary Nelson arrived one day last February.

"I was so mad," Nelson recalls. "I went up to them and said, 'You have to get off this corner! This is God's corner.' " A bespectacled woman of 64 with a grandmotherly smile, Nelson would seem an unlikely contestant for a battle of wills with street thugs — much less a triumphant one.

"I had to wait there 10 minutes while they slowly walked away," Nelson says, shaking her head. "But we've struggled so hard to get them off that corner. You just have to keep at it."

The showdown with corner drug dealers reveals Nelson's unflinching faith, fearless tenacity and deep concern — qualities that have made her one of the nation's most respected community development executives of one of the most revered agencies.

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February issue


Embracing diversity