Dr. John Nielson, a second-year faculty member here at ENC has managed to be one of the busiest faculty members on campus, and yet remain out of the spotlight. Since his arrival at ENC as an official faculty member in 2018, he has taught ministry and general education classes as well as fulfill multiple other responsibilities; He serves as chair and faculty member of the Religion and Culture Program, the creator of ENC’s newest Worship Arts major, and the new Director of ENC Music. According to Dr. Nielson, these positions just fell perfectly in his lap.
“It was a little bit unique. I was initially interviewed to join the faculty a couple of years ago and they went a different direction which was understandable and fine,” says Nielson. “With some of the transitions that ENC was going through in terms of music, they were talking about wanting to do a Worship Arts major, they were looking for someone to teach in practical theology/ministry kinds of things, and so some of the people in the program said ‘so if John had come back then, he would be a natural to do these things’… A lot of what I’ve done for the last 30 years kind of prepares me for this role, even in its weirdness… it’s really an odd shape. So there was an odd shape and I was an odd enough shape to fit that shape.”
Although this being only his second year as a faculty member at ENC, Dr. Nielson has quite the history with this campus. “I attended school here as an undergraduate and I was involved not only as a religion major but involved a lot in theatre and in music as an undergrad student.” Even before being a student at ENC, Dr. Nielson shares how he used to come to ENC as a junior in high school for events and games as he grew up in Quincy. He also has the distinct blessing of having so many family-ties here at ENC.
Not only was his father a part of the cabinet as well as a student, but his sister is the president of the alumni association, the windows in Angell Chapel were designed by his uncle, his wife, who he also met here at ENC, works in the Brickley Center, and now his daughter is attending ENC herself.
“I’ve got a lot of familial connections to ENC – I’ve got a lot of family members that have attended ENC or taught at ENC. [ENC] is a family thing. It’s part of my heritage, a part of my identity, to just be a part of ENC. I also see family in terms of this community, in students and in things we’re able to do and experience together,” says Nielson.
However, ENC has recently gone through a transition as the music department was dissolved. Dr. Nielson shared how he, along with those in the arts, grieved for the loss of the music department. “I took it seriously because I was a part of a lot of these ensembles — A Cappella Choir, I was connected to Symphonic Winds — so I cared about that and I wanted those things to continue.” Coming on as a new faculty member after the fall of the music department, he started with the goal of continuing with Gospel Choir, A Cappella Choir, and Symphonic Winds, while also developing new music expressions on campus, such as ENC’s Pep Band, Lion’s Pride.
“Music has always been important to ENC and it’s crazy to think about it not being the same presence that it was but I can’t change that or undo that. I can only do what I can do to support musical things and keep open to other things and keep laying a foundation for us to build on and to hopefully build back.”
As mentioned earlier, this is only one of the many responsibilities and goals he holds as a faculty member. Nielson finds himself being dually involved in different things every day. When questioned if he ever gets overwhelmed, he shared: “Sure, yeah. Just in the sense of all of those are priorities to me – all of those matter to me and there [are] only so many hours in a day and so there is a sense in which I know I could always be doing more in some of those. I really try to do the best I can to be responsive to what’s the current need, what’s the priority right now, and just try to do as much as I can to be helpful, to do what the next thing is but it does mean there’s a lot of switching gears… There is a sense of ‘I don’t want to let any of those areas down.’ I know I could always be improving and trying to do more but I do hope and believe I’m doing the most that I can for each of those. I try not to overly stress about it but I try to care enough to keep working on it.”
As far as his hopes for ENC, he just wants to see it become all that it can really be. When asked to think about the type of legacy he would like to leave at ENC, he expressed his wish of simply seeing the development of his new major, Worship Arts come to fruition. “If I could see that [new major] come to […] complete fruition and attract students and have graduating students. For that to be something we offer that we didn’t offer before and something I was able to be a part of in create that and launch that and grow that, I would be glad for that to be part of a legacy, so to speak,” says Nielson.
To students, Dr. Nielson advises to “Recognize you have a gift in these years, not only of your education but beyond the education, you have a chance to have a community here where you can build lifelong relationships that will matter 30 years from now. Recognize that you’re in a great season. See the gift that this time is, this community is, the relationships that you can form here with people in your major, outside your major, people you do things with, people you’re involved in the play with, people that you’re on a sports team with… Recognize that you can have a close relationship with faculty members. They can be a resource professionally but relationally. Recognize the gift that it is and take advantage of that. Don’t miss it and celebrate it and then be ready to have relationships that will matter decades from now.”
To faculty members, Dr. Nielson reminds you to not lose sight of what you know to be true. Specifically for the percentage of faculty who are also alumni, he wants to remind you of how you’re all collectively repaying a debt.
“Don’t lose sight of what we know is true. We want to create that same experience for the students now that we had or that we know we can have and to not miss the chance to keep that connection and keep that going. Repay a debt.”