Pierce enhances faith community

By Mo Juenger | Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Xavier University. Rev. Nelson Pierce serves as the full-time Baptist chaplain on campus, the Faith and Race Program director and gospel choir director at Xavier

With a passionate soul and a kind demeanor, Rev. Nelson Pierce Jr. has begun his tenure at Xavier University and continues to serve as a full-time employee of the Center for Faith and Justice (CFJ).

Pierce has been involved with the CFJ in various capacities since 2015. He now serves as the full-time Baptist chaplain on campus, Faith and Race Program director and gospel choir director. Outside of Xavier, Pierce is the senior pastor at the Beloved Community Church in Avondale, in addition to sitting on the board of his alma mater, Eden Theological Seminary. 

Following the structural changes in the CFJ last year, Pierce joins Rabbi Jennifer Lewis and Muslim chaplain Tala Ali as full-time chaplains available for students.

Before joining the Xavier community, Pierce was a community organizer involved with the faith community in Ferguson, Mo. during the 2014 unrest.

“I studied liberation theology in seminary, but I didn’t really ever understand liberation theology until I was in Ferguson,” Rev. Pierce said.

These experiences influence his current position as the Faith and Race program director as he continues to develop and create programs to benefit Black representation. He is currently involved with this through in the Dorothy Day Immersion program, Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Smooth Transitions and new Xavier-based literacy events for local youth.

“He does a good job of getting more people of Color involved in the space at the CFJ, especially at a private White institution,” sophomore social work major Rue Crittenden said.

This message of peace is also present in his role as Baptist chaplain and leader of Xavier’s gospel choir. Students expressed the passion for faith and justice that participation in the choir has brought them.

“As I was trying to figure out my faith in general, he had such an open mind about who I am as a person… He doesn’t make it feel like an obligation; he just lets us be who we are. We all come from different backgrounds and we all just have a passion for gospel music,” Crittenden said.

Pierce studied English literature at Washington University in St. Louis. He then attended graduate school at Eden Theological Seminary, focusing on liberation theology and graduating with a Master of Divinity degree. 

This area of study is one that deeply influenced Pierce’s choice to join the Xavier community. “My theological training brought me a commitment and passion for social justice, and I (thought) that could benefit the office,” he said.

Pierce believes that joining the CFJ has helped him to focus on his mission, as he is constantly inspired by the campus faith community.

“One of the most amazing things about being at Xavier is the way that people at all levels and in all areas take seriously the mission. And that’s from the president all the way down from residence life to recreational sports,” Pierce said. 

“It’s helpful and inspiring to me as I reflect and think about my own leadership who it is that I’m called to be and I’m called to work in the world.” 

Charlie Cresci, a junior student worker at the CFJ, explained that Pierce’s passion and commitment to students is inspiring.

“I watched him direct the gospel choir for the Spirit Celebration, and he’s a really great addition to the worship music aspects of the CFJ,” Cresci said. “It enhances the faith community because (it provides) a deeper relevance to the Protestant services, especially with Common Ground.”

Pierce hopes that his work continues to influence Xavier’s faith community and all students by learning from each other every day.

“It’s amazing watching students who come in with their own gifts and their own brilliance and their own genius and bring that, show up as fully as they can every day, be open to grow and learn new things and also share. I am, in many ways, constantly learning and being shaped and impacted by my relationship with the students.”