Roger Nelson
(September 28, 1941 - January 12, 2019)

I was grieved to discover that my friend, mentor and colleague, Roger Nelson, has gone home to be with his Savior.

I was honored to read some of Roger's favorite Scripture passages and lead two of his favorite hymns at his memorial service on March 2, 2019.

You can see the whole Pasadena Memorial Service at, where you can leave a tribute. It's the first memorial you come to. I read some of Roger's favorite Scriptures and lead a couple of his favorite hymns at 9:25 and 1:05:20. That service is followed by the Covenant Shores Memorial Service.

You can hear my reflections on the memorial by clicking here.

Visit the final letter from the Friends of John Wesley for more information on Roger's ministry and final days.

If you don't have time to read the whole letter, here's my favorite passage:

During his final days Roger's sister, Joan, visited him daily. Though Roger slipped in and out of consciousness, Joan observed many encouraging signs that he was "in touch" with the Lord. Joan shared that a few days before his death she observed one of Roger's Christian nurses praying fervently at his bedside. As the nurse left the room Joan heard Roger whisper a faint "Hallelujah."

In the course of his 37-year career he gave about 1,800 performances of his one-man plays in 32 countries on six continents and all 50 states, including venues like Carnegie Hall, the Pasadena Playhouse, Shakespeare Centre at Stratford-Upon-Avon, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Stratford Festival Theatre in Canada, Oxford University, and Wesley's Chapel in London. Other international performances included the following cities: Adelaide, Athens, Bangkok, Belfast, Berchtesgaden, Bonn, Brisbane, Cairo, Canberra, Caracas, Dubai, Dublin, Geneva, Glasgow, Guatemala City, Heidelberg, Jerusalem, Kuwait City, Livorno, Melbourne, New Delhi, Nurnberg, Panama City, Paris, Perth, Port of Spain, Prague, San Jose (Costa Rica), Singapore, Sydney, Tel Aviv, and many others.

We shouldn't be surprised by his productive career. At the bottom of each of his newsletters he reminded us to pray for The Five S's: Safe travel, Stamina, Solid relationships, Sterling performances, and Souls. Those prayers were answered again and again!

Roger is the second person I ever saw perform a one-man play. It was The Man from Aldersgate, about John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, in 1993 at a Christians in Theatre Arts conference in Vancouver, B.C. I was trying to decide whether to move to New York City. That conference and Roger's performance were instrumental in my decision to move from our 70-acre farm in Oregon to an 8.5' x 11' room on Times Square, a move I'll never regret.

The next summer, Roger stayed at the Lamb's Church, where I was an intern at the time. When I told Roger how much I appreciated The Man from Aldersgate, he told me that he had attended the Lamb's Church years earlier, when the founding pastor, Paul Moore, told Roger of a dream he'd had in which Roger was John Wesley. Roger asked Rev. Moore, "Does he play for the Mets?" But Roger took the dream seriously and had a script written. He performed that play thousands of times all over the world.

Roger allowed me to sit in on a rehearsal of the second one-man play he was just starting to perform, The Confession of St. Patrick. I got to shadow him for a performance, help him set up his merchandise table, see how carefully his show was designed to fit in a suitcase, watch him put on his beard and makeup.

I asked him endless questions, and he always answered graciously and candidly. At some point during that conversation he mentioned the year he quit his day job. I quit mine the next year, and I've never looked back. The Lord used Roger's inspiration to launch my career with one-man plays, and I'm eternally grateful.

Roger and I kept in touch, and in 2004 (I think), he set up a staged reading of a rough draft of Beyond the Chariots, my at-that-time brand new one-man play that tells the rest of the Chariots of Fire story. It was at William Carey International University, and it was such a huge encouragement to share the story of a missionary with future missionaries. I loved having Roger there as I set up!

In 2006 Roger approached me about teaming up to rent an Off-Broadway theatre to perform our plays in rotation. We selected The Man from Aldersgate and Beyond the Chariots, and we called it Fire Off-Broadway, drawing upon the imagery of the flame in the symbol for the Methodist Church and Chariots of Fire. What a thrill to collaborate with the man who was such a huge inspiration to me!

My last visit in-person with Roger was in 2016 when I was in L.A. for a booking. We got together and watched one of the World Series games: Cleveland Indians vs. The Chicago Cubs. He liked the Cubs even more than the Mets, so he was really in it! During one of the commercials something reminded him of a production in his youth that he regretted being a part of. We prayed together to renounce it and break any hold it continued to have over him. It was a beautiful moment as my mentor was showing the way to an even deeper walk with the Lord, and inviting me to help him take that journey.

Looking forward to our next collaboration in Glory!

You can see clips from Roger's plays below:

This page can be found at

See the rest of Olympic champion Eric Liddell's Chariots of Fire story in Beyond the Chariots. Watch it online and book a live performance.


James L. Padgett said...

Thank you very much for your post, Rich - for that which you shared about Roger - how he positively impacted you - of your times together - and for posting the clips from both of his plays. I hope to meet you at his memorial service in March. God bless!

Rich Swingle said...

Looking forward to that, James!