Patricia Shelly announced as nominee for moderator-elect

In September 2008, Dr. Patricia Shelly gave the Christian response during a panel discussion that was part of an international dialogue on the role of religion in building peace. Religious and political figures, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, participated in the dialogue. (Photo provided)


By Jenn Carreto

(Mennonite Church USA)—The Leadership Discernment Committee of Mennonite Church USA announces Patricia Shelly of Newton, Kan., as its nominee for moderator-elect of Mennonite Church USA. The denominational delegate assembly will vote on the nomination in July 2013 during the biennial convention in Phoenix. Shelly is currently in her eighth year of service on Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board.

“We [the Executive Board] were enthusiastic to approve the recommendation for Patricia’s nomination,” says Richard Thomas, current moderator of Mennonite Church USA and superintendent of Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite School. “She is committed to Spirit-led discernment, understands organizational structure and brings a good sense of humor. She will be a terrific moderator in leading us forward.”

If affirmed at the Phoenix 2013 assembly, Shelly will serve two years as moderator-elect and two years as moderator and chair of the Executive Board. She would succeed the current moderator-elect, Elizabeth Soto Albrecht of Lancaster, Pa., who will succeed the present moderator, Richard Thomas, after the Phoenix assembly.

“I am excited by and humbly accept this nomination to be moderator-elect,” Shelly says. “I trust that the Holy Spirit will continue to use my gifts and experience in ways that further the work of Christ in the world.”

Prior to joining the Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA in 2005, Shelly served as a member of the Executive Committee for Western District Conference (WDC) (1985–1989), and later as WDC’s  moderator-elect and moderator (1991–1993). She worked with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) as a member of the Overseas Peace Committee (1987–1996) and as MCC Country Representative for the West Bank and Gaza in Jerusalem (1996–2000). She was also a participant in several MCC-sponsored interfaith dialogues with Iranian officials (2007–08).

Shelly currently serves as professor of Bible and religion at Bethel College, North Newton, Kan., and as core adjunct faculty in Bible at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary—Great Plains, also in North Newton.

“We see Patricia bringing many leadership gifts to this role,” says Duncan Smith of Beaverton, Ore., chair of Mennonite Church USA’s Leadership Discernment Committee. “Her skills in incorporating worship and discernment into the work of the Executive Board will benefit Mennonite Church USA as we continue to seek to live faithfully as a body of Christ.”

“My time on the Executive Board has allowed me wonderful opportunities to work with and feel very connected to our unique conferences and congregations across the country,” Shelly says. “Culturally, geographically, even theologically, we are a diverse body, and I am energized by this diversity.”

Shelly said that her years of experience in the Middle East—including leading interterm courses to Jerusalem for her students at Bethel College—have helped cultivate in her a deep respect for the multiform expression of the Christian tradition.

“Even as some practices—being very different than my own—have stretched me at times, I have been deeply moved by the faith that shines through our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East,” Shelly says. “These experiences have given me insight into our journey as Mennonite Church USA, and I am committed to carrying the concerns of the whole church as we move in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit.”

Born in Chicago, Ill., Shelly has fond memories of the congregations that shaped her at an early age. One such congregation is Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, where she was baptized in ninth grade and where she currently attends. Shelly went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in 1976 from Bethel College and a master of divinity degree in 1980 from Iliff School of Theology, Denver, Colo. She was ordained to Christian ministry in 1985 while serving on the pastoral team at First Mennonite Church in Denver. She received a doctorate in 1992 from Iliff School of Theology/University of Denver. Shelly has served Bethel College as campus minister/pastor (1986–1996 and 2000–2003), associate professor (1985–1996 and 2000–2004) and professor (2004 to present).

“As a professor of Bible and religion, Patty has actively integrated scholarship in biblical studies, campus and church ministries, the wider service and outreach functions of the Mennonite Church, and global ecumenical interests,” says Brad Born, dean and vice president for academic affairs at Bethel College. “The range of her activity and achievement is what makes Professor Shelly a tremendous resource for Bethel College students and colleagues, and it should serve her and Mennonite Church USA well as she accepts this important role.”

While excited by the nomination to serve as moderator-elect, Shelly recognizes that the strength of the denomination’s diversity presents a challenge at the same time. Yet such a paradox is not unique to our time and place, she says. “All we have to do is read the New Testament to remember that such differences have been a part of the body of Christ since the very beginning. As Anabaptists, we were born of the diversity of that very discussion.”

Shelly continues, “It is the strength of our peace witness and our commitment to keep listening to each other through these discussions that will help us continue to live into what unites us as a denomination.”

As guidance for this unifying focus, Shelly points to Mennonite Church USA’s missional vision: “God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.”

This vision statement is part of a 10-year Purposeful Plan affirmed by delegates at the Pittsburgh 2011 assembly. The plan contains seven priorities to undergird and guide the denomination’s work: Christian formation, Christian community, holistic Christian witness, stewardship, leadership development, undoing racism and advancing intercultural transformation, and church-to-church relationships.

As a member of the Executive Committee of the Executive Board, Shelly was directly involved in the dialogue and collaboration that brought the Purposeful Plan into being.

“I am impressed by the way this document has invited conversation at so many levels of the church,” she says. “It is a dynamic, living word, and I am excited to see how it unfolds as we move forward together.”

The Leadership Discernment Committee consists of Duncan Smith, chair, Beaverton, Ore.; Dionicio Acosta, Lancaster, Pa.; Kim Vu Friesen, Minneapolis, Minn.; Paula Brunk Kuhns, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Edie Landis, Telford, Pa.; Horace McMillon, Jackson, Miss.; George Stoltzfus, Lancaster; Louise Wideman, Bluffton, Ohio; Marty Lehman (staff), Elkhart, Ind.; and Kathryn Rodgers (staff), Elkhart.


Jenn Carreto is a writer and peacebuilder living in Seattle, Wash. She attends Seattle Mennonite Church.

Images available:
Patricia Shelly (Photo provided)
In September 2008, Dr. Patricia Shelly gave the Christian response during a panel discussion that was part of an international dialogue on the role of religion in building peace. Religious and political figures, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, participated in the dialogue. (Photo provided)