This Week in Texas Methodist History March 5
Bishop John Louis Nuelsen Preaches to German Methodists in San Antonio March 5, 1910
Bishop J. L. Nuelson, MEC bishop from Omaha, had been touring missions in Mexico and was returning home. He had a few hours to kill between train connections in San Antonio on Saturday, March 5, but that was enough to hold a preaching service at the MEC German Church, located on the corner of South Hackberry and Montana. The service was scheduled for 7:15, and his train was set to depart at 9:00, but that was plenty of time for the bishop, known as “the youngest bishop in Methodism.”
Bishop Nuelsen is not well known in Methodist history circles, but he stands as the first example of a trend that became more common in the latter half of the 20th century, the campaigning by ethnic caucuses to elect one of their own. German speaking Methodists were an important constituency of the MEC and, to a somewhat lesser extent in the MECS, but no member of one of the German speaking conferences had been elected bishop until the 1908 General Conference of the MEC when Nuelsen, a college professor who was only 41 years old, was elected in Baltimore. His election was the first example of an ethnic caucus organizing a successful campaign to elect a Methodist bishop.
John Louis Nuelsen was born in Zurich, Switzerland, to the Rev. and Mrs. Heinrich Nuelsen. His father was a German immigrant to the United States who returned to Europe as a Methodist missionary. The younger Nuelsen lived in various cities in Germany as his father continued his missionary efforts, but when it was time for higher education, he enrolled in Drew Theological Seminary and received his degree in 1890. Three years later he earned his Master’s at Central Wesleyan in Missouri.
He served appointments in Missouri and Minnesota, and then was appointed to professorships at St. Paul College, his alma mater, and then at German Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. It was from that post that he was elected bishop at the MEC General Conference of 1908 meeting in Baltimore.
Instead of being assigned to one of the German speaking conferences, he was assigned to Omaha for the 1908-1912 quadrennium. One of his assignments during that period was to visit Mexican missions, hence the reason for his train ride through Texas.
At the 1912 General Conference Nuelsen was assigned to the European area. He returned to his birthplace, Zurich, and oversaw MEC churches in Switzerland, Germany, France, North Africa, Spain, Russia, Scandinavia, Italy, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. World War I meant that he had church members and pastors on opposite sides of the conflict, and his position became extremely difficult. After the U. S. entered the war, some American papers criticized supposed pro-German stance. For some of the war years he was confined to Switzerland.
The 1920 General Conference divided the European Episcopal area into three parts, left Nuelsen in Zurich. He retired from the active Episcopacy in 1940 and died in Cincinnati, in 1946.