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Faith reigns for new Miss America

A UMNS Feature
By Linda Green*

Feb. 16, 2007

Lauren Nelson is crowned Miss America on Jan. 29 in Las Vegas. A UMNS photo courtesy of the Miss American Organization.

Lauren Nelson is relying on her faith to keep her grounded during the hectic year that lies ahead for the newly crowned Miss America.

Nelson, 20, a member of Centenary United Methodist Church in Lawton, Okla., won the coveted title on Jan. 29 in Las Vegas.

“It has been a whirlwind of a first two weeks,” she said in a telephone interview with United Methodist News Service. “I have been in probably six different cities already, and I will probably travel about 20,000 miles a month. I am very excited about this opportunity.”

Nelson took a year off from her studies at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond to compete first in the Oklahoma state pageant, which she won, and then to vie with 51 other contestants for the Miss America crown. Her long-term goals are to earn a master's degree in musical theater and perform on Broadway.

The daughter of Mark and Sherrell Nelson of Lawton, she entered the pageant circuit at 16 to fulfill her desire to sing and perform. After winning the Miss Teen Lawton (Okla.) pageant, she went on to win Miss Teen Oklahoma.

Winning those pageants helped her to save money for college, and she continued competing. “It just snowballed into this,” Nelson said. “I watched Miss America as a little girl and never thought that I could be one of the contestants in Miss America, much less Miss America herself.” She received a $50,000 scholarship with the crown.

Since winning, “life has changed drastically,” Nelson said. “I am traveling 20,000 miles this month. I have no home base this year. I have taken another year off from school.”

Faith plays major role

In performing her “royal” duties, Nelson is relying heavily on her faith and her favorite Scriptures, Psalm 23 and Philippians 4:13, to sustain her. “They are my favorites because they are the ones I remember learning as a little girl and loving for the first time.”

Nelson said faith “plays a huge role” in her life. “I grew up in church. I was baptized in the Methodist Church and have gone since I was a baby.

“So, especially this year, my faith will keep me grounded and will keep me going,” she said. “This year is going to be a very hectic schedule, and sometimes I am going to doubt myself, but I have to realize that God would not have put me in this position if he did not know that I could handle it.”

Lauren Nelson, Miss America 2007

For Nelson, being Miss American means “representing the youth of America, representing the ideals of America. I think especially now in our society we need a strong role model, and that is what I represent, and it is such an honor to be able to do that.”

She wants her faith to be seen in her actions. “You can say a lot of things, but you have to show that you are a Christian and make the right choices because of that,” she said.

Throughout 2007 and beyond her tenure as Miss America, she intends “to take it a day at a time and be grateful for every opportunity, thank God for every opportunity, and use every day to glorify him and give all the glory to him.”

The contacts, experiences and doors opened through being Miss America “are absolutely endless” and filled with possibilities, she noted.

“This year can take my life down a whole ’nother path,” she said.

Promoting Internet safety

The Miss America Organization provides outlets for young women to achieve their personal and professional goals and instills a spirit of community service through a variety of nationwide, community-based programs,according to the organization’s Web site. The organization annually chooses a national platform, and the reigning Miss America promotes that platform and raises money for it and the Miss America Organization.

Miss America also chooses a personal platform, and Nelson’s personal issue is “Be NetSmart – Protecting Kids Online.”

Nelson chose to promote Internet safety for kids because of an incident that occurred in her youth while she and her friends talked online.

“I was actually approached as a seventh-grader,” she said. “My friends and I were in a chat room and we were approached by an older person who asked for some information about us. Luckily nothing ever came of it, but as I grew up, I realized the significance of that experience,” she said. “And with my mom being an educator, having a younger brother and sister, and seeing the accessibility to the Internet not only in school but also in our home, it became a natural fit.”

She advocates safety online and offline. “This year as Miss America, I will get to travel and speak to spread awareness and education on that issue, (and) hopefully I will have the opportunity to touch many people and talk to a lot of kids and even parents about this issue.”

Internet safety is a two-way street involving parents and children, Nelson said.

Children should “be very guarded” and learn not to talk to strangers, not to share personal information and to involve an adult, Nelson said. “Kids have to realize that it can happen to them because every day, one in five children in America is being approached by online predators. It happens all the time, and being guarded is the most important thing to teach our kids.”

For parents, Nelson said the most important thing “is to be involved” by getting online with their children and monitoring their online activities. “Know what your kids are doing,” she said. “You would not allow your child to go to a party if you did not know what they were going to be doing and who they were going to be with, so don’t let them do it on the Internet.”

Nelson is excited about the year ahead, and grateful for the support of the people at Centenary United Methodist Church.

“Since I was a little girl, they have supported me and encouraged me throughout every endeavor that I have had, and it has been no different for the Miss America pageant,” she said. “I want to thank them for their support, their prayer and love. I am so honored and proud to be able to share this with them.”

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Audio Interview with Lauren Nelson

“My faith will keep me grounded.”

“My platform is Internet safety for kids.”

“Being guarded is important to teach kids.”

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