John Nelson, right, with Presbytery of West Virginia moderator Dave Lee at the November 2022 Stated Presbytery Meeting.

How do you know when you have been called by God to be a pastor? John Nelson struggled with this question and finally concluded that he needed to make himself available to God, to put himself out there and find out.

John grew up in Fayette County in the little coal town of Beards Fork. His parents did not attend church, but John and his siblings would occasionally go to one of the United Methodist Churches in the area. When he was 19, John was encouraged to answer an altar call and give his life to Christ. He wasn’t really sure what that was about at the time or what he was doing. About a month later, he was moved to make a serious commitment to Christ. He became active in the Page Church of God in Page, WV, and remained active for about 10 years.

Even at a young age, John would sometimes lie in bed at night with scriptures running through his head and dream about preaching to people. He wasn’t sure that was a call from God or if that was just something he wanted to do himself.

John drifted away from the Page Church of God, though, and wasn’t going to church at all for a while. Also, he and his wife divorced.

Sometime later, after being away from church for quite a while, John met and started dating Chris, who was a member of Highlawn Presbyterian Church in St. Albans but did not attend regularly. One night she suggested that they attend a Bible Study at the church. John agreed. Both found that they very much enjoyed the study and getting into God’s Word. They started attending church regularly in 2001; a few years later, they were married and John became a member of the Highlawn Church.

Sadly, Chris went home to the Lord after a 2 ½ year battle with esophageal cancer in 2008. This was a difficult time for John. He struggled with the loss and angrily questioned God, “Why should I believe in you? How could you let this happen?” But through much prayer and God’s very patient love, he soon realized that even through the struggles and heartaches this world sometimes gives us, we are still very much loved and never forsaken. He prayed to be shown a rabbit as a sign to let him know that even he was forgiven and still loved by God after being so critical and angry about what happened. He walked down the street and saw no less than 12 rabbits! God does love us all so dearly.

During a Bluestone retreat and with a little bit of nudging from his “church moms,” John became acquainted with Beverly. They started dating and later married. John has a son from his first marriage, Dustin, and Bev is proud to be his stepmom. Dustin, now grown, has a son of his own, Keegan.

In 2009, John still didn’t know if he was called to preach, but he made himself available to God and enrolled in the lay academy for training as a preacher. He completed the three-year course and started doing pulpit supply for different churches. John found that he loved preaching and loved visiting with the various congregations. He loved being able to help out small churches that were without the means to support a pastor.

When their pastor moved to take a new call, many members of the Highlawn Church urged John to take on the responsibility of being their pastor. Once again, John was not sure this was God’s call. But after prayer and thought, he made himself available to God and accepted the position. As of Dec. 1, 2022, John officially became the Commissioned Pastor for the Highlawn Presbyterian Church of St. Albans.

John is both excited and a bit nervous about this new venture in faith for him and the church. He has never pastored a church before, so he has a lot of new things to learn. He will also need to give up part of his secular business working on computers. John has been self employed in his computer work, but he also has been doing some subcontractor work for Computers Plus. John plans to give up the subcontractor work so as to have more time for the church.

When asked to relate some good things about the Highlawn Church, John mentioned that the people of the church are very giving. They are good, down-to-earth folks that care deeply about children, old people and everyone in between. The church has always been very supportive of John and encouraged him in his work. They are not content to just stay where they are, but are always pushing forward in mission and ministry.

When asked about his dreams for the ministry that Highlawn and he will do together, John talked about the work they are doing with The Gabriel Project, which connects young mothers in need with churches like Highlawn. Currently, the church is helping around 20 young mothers a week with baby clothes, diapers, formula, and baby furniture. John hopes that they will be able to continue this great ministry.

John also dreams that the church will be constantly evaluating their programs and outreach to see if the need is still there. He hopes that they will be on the alert for areas of ministry that are being overlooked in the community that they can fill.

Borrowing a page from Joan Gray’s book, A Sailboat Church, John wonders how much the church has been rowing – depending mostly on their own strength. He wants the church to depend on the wind of the Holy Spirit to fill their sails and move them forward.

Many churches do a lot of work presenting their church and its programs to the community. John wants Highlawn to focus not on the church, but rather to focus on presenting Christ to the wider community.

May God bless the ministry of Commissioned Pastor John Nelson and the Highlawn Presbyterian Church of St. Albans!