Sidebar Below — Epiphany, the campus literary magazine*
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The Evangel University community has honored Dr. Nathan H. Nelson, professor of English and chair of the Department of Humanities, one more time as he retired this summer from full-time service.
Nelson has been named the 2020 recipient of the top faculty honor offered by Evangel — the E.M. and Estella Clark Award for Excellence in Teaching, Scholarship and Service.
The award, which includes an unrestricted cash grant, was established in 1991 by Dan and Elaine Johnson, in recognition of her parents’ work on behalf of higher education in the Assemblies of God, as well as their special affection for Evangel University.
Students, faculty and staff submit nominations, and a committee makes the final decision.
“Dr. Nelson has a sustained and distinguished record of achievement at Evangel University,” said Dr. Mike McCorcle, provost and executive vice president. “He has served our students and our community with distinction for 32 years, and we are sad that he has retired this summer.”
This year, the Clark Award presentation was a featured portion of the annual faculty and staff back-to-school meeting, which was held on Wednesday, August 12.
Historically, the Clark Award is presented during Evangel’s commencement ceremony in May. However, the 62nd Annual Commencement was postponed this year until August 15 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and more recently those plans were altered from in-person to a virtual video celebration.
“I am still not completely over the shock of receiving this award, but I am very grateful,” said Nelson. “I have been truly blessed to have had wonderful students at Evangel who can make a teacher look good.”
In the fall of 1988, Dr. Nathan Nelson moved from his home state of Minnesota and taught literature, critical theory, and composition at Evangel for the next 32 years. He also served as chair of the Humanities Department from 2008-2020.
In 2002, Nelson received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, given by the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education for “effective teaching and advising, service to the university and community, commitment to high standards of excellence, and success in nurturing student achievement.”
One of the highlights of his time in the local higher education community was the establishment of the Foreign Language Institute in partnership with Missouri State University, Drury, OTC and Southwest Baptist University.
The innovative Institute currently allows Evangel students to take courses in 12 languages, in addition to French and Spanish which are taught in his department at Evangel.
“I worked as part of a consortium team with representatives from area institutions to envision, develop, and implement a friendly instruction-sharing plan that would make enrollment and transcripting between schools as uncomplicated as possible,” said Nelson.
“The result has allowed Evangel to attract students who want to study ‘less-commonly-taught’ languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and Swahili as part of their Evangel education without the complexities of traditional transfer protocols.”
Respected teacher and leader
“Nate represents the sort of excellence in teaching that we strive to achieve,” wrote Dr. Robert Berg, professor of theology, in his nomination of Nelson for the Clark Award. “We will lose an outstanding embodiment of the integration of faith and learning with Nate’s retirement.”
Fellow English professor LaDonna Friesen remarked, “For 32 years, Dr. Nathan Nelson has been a model of creative, excellent teaching. As department chair, he lifts our spirits, nurtures our gifts, prays for us, and challenges us to serve our students at the university with excellence — because he does so himself.”
And Samantha Wheeler, a freshman last year from Auburn, Illinois, wrote in her nomination, “He cares tremendously about our education and our ability to apply that to our careers and lives. His desire is for us to succeed and excel not only in his class but also in life.”
Although he retired this summer with the title Professor Emeritus, Nelson said he will teach a couple of on-line classes in the fall
And who knows, there may be another book or two in his future.
Last year, Nelson released a new scholarly book for use in advanced interdisciplinary studies of faith and learning, George Herbert’s 82: Psalmic Social Disorientation in “The Temple.”
He has also authored The Dissidence of Suffering: Disaster Narratives and the Novelization of England’s Maritime Epic (1989) and Spiritual Devotion: Intimacy with God (1996/2000).
According to Nelson, Evangel University has been an integral part of his family’s life for more than three decades.
- Nate’s wife, the Rev. Juli Nelson, graduated from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary at Evangel in 1999 with a Master of Theological Studies degree.
- Their son, Tyler Nelson, attended Evangel for two years, graduated from sister-school Vanguard University in 2002 with a BA in English, and then returned to Evangel where he earned a Master of Education in Secondary Teaching degree in 2010.
- Their daughter, Courtney Lunsford, graduated from Evangel in 2004 with a major in psychology and a minor in English, and then completed her law degree from the University of Arkansas.
Evangel University, which includes the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS), is a comprehensive Christian university committed to excellence in educating and equipping students to serve the church and society globally. Evangel serves more than 2,300 students from all 50 states and numerous foreign countries, offering 70 undergraduate majors and 19 master’s and doctoral degrees.
ALSO AWARDED: Dr. Luke Gibbs received The Orville & Jewel Mills Young Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, Scholarship and Service.
*SIDEBAR: Epiphany, the campus literary magazine
Reflections by Dr. Nathan Nelson
One of the ongoing highlights of my career at Evangel has been my 30-year involvement as faculty advisor to the staff of the campus literary magazine, Epiphany, from 1990 to 2020.
Since we established our Epiphany Coffeehouse series of readings in 1991, I have seldom missed an event, so I have a wonderfully broad landscape of memories involving student artists and their poems, short stories, original songs, visual art, and the occasional chapter from a novel in progress.
Back in the early ’90s, Sara Groves sang and played some of her songs at our Coffeehouse events that would eventually come out in her first album, and a few years later, Robert “Jonas” Woods performed some of his early songs with Farewell June in the Coffeehouse before the recording contract, albums, and national tours started happening.
Part of the vibrant energy of the Coffeehouse has grown out of the wide variety of students who have attended, performed, and/or served on the magazine staff. Epiphany is a university publication—not just an English-major project—and the Coffeehouse events have always been open to Evangel students, staff, alumni, and faculty of all sorts. I will never forget the time back in the ’90s when one of the dining-hall staff read some of his poetry among us—creating quite a sensation by its unexpected sophistication and aesthetic depth. We have seen a wide variety of performers among faculty over the years, too.
For several years, we were able to hold our Coffeehouses in the Bellwether Art Gallery in downtown Springfield (2009-2014), a venue that the Humanities Department was able to lease near Randy Bacon’s famous gallery. In that location, we were able to create a very cool, big-city vibe that could attract people off the street to see visual art and hear literary art.
Some of our most memorable events were held at the Bellwether with alumni during Homecoming for several years—late on Saturday evening after the Banquet.
We also held occasional Coffeehouse events at other places in Springfield so that Evangel’s artists could showcase their work to a wider audience. In one such case, we were invited to do so in the local franchise setting of Borders Books, which put our magazines on sale.
We also used the Joust, of course, before the Barracks space in the new Student Union was available, and we had many events outdoors in good weather. One favorite location was the completely enclosed greenspace on the north side of Building 12 (the Humanities Department) that lay between that building and the elevated corridors near it. We hauled our sound and lighting equipment as well as our coffee service into that hidden space by ducking under the corridors and setting up in a picnic-under-the-stars fashion on the grass.
I like to think that our editions of the magazine since 1990 have been of high quality even though it has not had a budget line from student fees. The staff has raised its own money for publication and depended for some help upon the generosity of private donors.
Several Epiphany volumes still strike me as stunningly well-produced by the student staffs, and one is unique in my experience: I have never seen or heard of a university literary magazine that includes a CD of original music performed at the staff’s coffeehouse events over a given year. Nor (as far as I know) have I seen original sheet music with lyrics from a student composer. The students who produced that 2011-12 magazine absolutely transcended all expectations and put out a delightfully varied, energetic publication with a professional-looking CD insert.
Over my time as faculty adviser, I have encouraged the staff to include as much high-quality visual art as possible in the magazine. As digital photography has become more sophisticated and easily applied over the last 20 years, the student staff has been able to partner with the Art Club and other students to represent the talents and skills of our painters, sculptors, printmakers, and clay artists as well.
The effect has often been that of a fine-arts magazine—not just a literary one. The synergy made by that collaboration has made me especially proud of the staff on many occasions.
Looking to the future
I am delighted to announce that the Epiphany organization has an even brighter future ahead because Prof. LaDonna Friesen will be the new Faculty Advisor to the staff. Her popular work as our Creative Writing teacher makes her a natural choice, but she also has a deep history with the Epiphany Coffeehouse culture.
During her years as a teacher at Evangel, she has faithfully attended the events and frequently presented her own superb poetry and prose to much acclaim. Much earlier, she did so as well when she was a student in the 1990s. Prof. Friesen has also designed, promoted, and administered several specialized writing contests on campus over the last few years, so she is well equipped and motivated to guide the magazine staff and its Coffeehouse events to higher levels of accomplishment.