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Churches: ‘Father Abraham’ will retire from Mount Zion

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

God called Abraham Nelson to the ministry when he was 17 years old.

He didn’t listen.

“I tried everything to get away from preaching,” Nelson said. “I fought it till probably 1971.”

By that time Nelson had worked 25 years as a ceramic tile contractor and was trying to attend seminary two nights a week in Kingstree while preaching on Sundays.

“It just wore me out,” Nelson said. “I had to give up something, so I gave the tile business to one of my sons.”

Finally, God had his man.

Nelson didn’t disappoint. Stories of his wise counsel to other ministers and happy disposition in the face of hardship filled the room Saturday night as his congregation and the community celebrated his retirement as pastor of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Parkersville Road after 29 years. The man known as Father Abraham is just the fourth pastor in the church’s 142-year history.

“He touched our lives, and we are grateful for that,” said Dr. Francis Covington, toastmaster for Saturday night’s festivities at Applewood House of Pancakes.

The platitudes continued on Sunday during the pastor’s last sermon. The S.C. House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring him for his many years of spiritual nourishment and wishing him God’s richest blessings as he continues to serve the Lord on Monday.

“It’s a little bit like hearing your own funeral,” a weary Nelson said Monday afternoon.

He said he is looking forward to going where he wants when he wants and staying as long as he wants, starting with a visit to a son in Tampa, Fla.

Of course, a preacher never really retires. Visiting ministers Sunday told Nelson they would be calling on him as a substitute in the future. On Saturday night, the Rev. Albert Dines said: “This is a turn in the road, not the end of the road. God will still use you mightily.”

Dr. Charles Pee called Saturday night’s retirement ceremony “almost too big for comprehension.”

Pee said he was an intern at Friendship Church in Conway in 1982 when his boss said they were going to Pawleys Island. “I didn’t know where Pawleys Island was,” Pee said. The men from Conway were looking for the Rev. G.W. Bessellieu, pastor of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church. They happened to pass Nelson working in his yard and stopped to ask directions.

“It’s amazing how people can come into your life and transform it,” Pee said. “We’ve been friends ever since. He has helped keep me on my feet through some of my most difficult times. Real Christians make the lives of others better. We have been blessed by this great man of God. He puts a smile on our face in rough times.”

Nelson was born near Manning and raised on Sandy Island. He graduated from Howard High and went to Myrtle Beach in 1946 for a ceramic tile job that paid 60 cents an hour. Naylor Tile kept him busy with work as far away as Florence. He spent the next 13 years with Naylor, except for a two-year military hitch. He moved to Petersburg, Va., for a time but came back to Pawleys Island and started his own tile business.

Nelson’s wife, Marian, was teaching in Kingstree and took a job at Choppee in 1956. “They called it Choppee University because of the discipline. It was the top school in the state,” Nelson said. There were two other teachers commuting from Pawleys Island and they all began car pooling.

The Nelsons joined Mount Zion church and he became an usher, Sunday school teacher, trustee and deacon. In 1971, he became pastor of St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church in Georgetown and moved on to Antioch Baptist in Lane for several years. In 1984, he followed Bessellieu as pastor of Mount Zion.

“Whatever you do in life comes out one way or another,” Nelson said. “I work with the people, and they work hard with me. This church has really helped me to grow in the ministry. This church has really been behind me and given all the support any person could expect. It’s one of the greatest congregations any minister could ask for.”

The Rev. George Payton said God delivered Nelson right on time to Mount Zion.

“God puts people in our lives to take us from where we are to where we need to be,” Payton said. “Abraham Nelson has been there for me every step of the way for 21 years.”

Nelson has endured his own loss. His wife, Marian, died in 2009 after 53 years of marriage.

The Rev. Alfred Buckner said Nelson has never stopped giving. “What we do for ourselves,” he said, “dies with us. What we do for others lives forever.”

With his legacy at Mount Zion assured, Nelson said it was time to give up the daily grind.

“I’m going to get a little rest,” he said, “so I can work some more.”

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