I went to sleep, the images I had seen on television, the pain and anguish I heard in President Obama’s voice as I listened on the car radio, trapped in the numbness that came over me when I first heard of the massacre of innocents in Connecticut. I awoke to the painful reality that what I heard and saw was not some awful nightmare, but yet another human tragedy, almost beyond comprehension.
“I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7 CEB)
I received word today that my friend, colleague in ministry, and my former Regional Minister, the Rev. Dr. Don Shelton, has died. I write today to give thanks for his life, for his devotion to family and to his faith, his leadership in the church, and his loyalty to friends and family. I reach out to Linda, his wife, and to his family, seeking to share my thanks for his life, while sharing my prayers for them in this time of loss. I don't know the details of when he died or funeral plans, but I would like to share with you my words of gratitude for the life of Don Shelton.
If you don’t know him, Don served two terms as Regional Minister for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Pacific Southwest. Before that he served as pastor of First Christian Church of Bakersfield. Like me, Don and his wife Linda, were graduates of what is now Northwest Christian University in Eugene, OR. He did his seminary work in the Bay area and served with distinction in ministry. In retirement he served as Interim President of the Division of Homeland Ministries of the Disciples and most recently had returned to Bakersfield where he was serving as Transitional Pastor of his former church. In retirement Don had been diagnosed with cancer, had surgery and was doing well. In a recent phone conversation he shared that the cancer had returned, but he continued with his ministry.
These details are contextual. They tell you something about Don and his ministry. I want to offer a brief memorial, offering my words of thanks for his gracious presence in my life. If you’re reading this and you’re clergy, you know that “Judicatories” often get a bad name. They can come off as ecclesiastical functionaries. Some deserve such a rap, but from my experience and that of others, Don does not. He will not be counted among the uncaring or the incompetent. Instead, he will be counted among the wise and gracious.
Don was Regional Minister for most of my ten years of ministry in Southern California, and in a time of crisis in my own ministry he was there for me and for my family. When I told my son, he rightly said, Don means a lot to everyone in our family.
Regional Ministers and Bishops often have to balance the needs of both congregation and pastor. They have to be pastors to both, and it can get tricky. I was faced with the prospect of resigning from my pastorate of 5 plus years. I lived in a parsonage in a rather expensive community. My wife was a teacher and my son just finishing junior high. Don helped us find an equitable solution that enabled Cheryl and Brett to finish the year. That was important. But, equally important was Don’s presence as I processed my own call to ministry. I would not be serving as pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church today had it not been for his support. Indeed, I likely would not be in ministry today at all.
Don helped me find a congregation to serve where both they and I experienced healing. Before that moment I struggled with what seemed like conflicting callings – ministry of theological education or parish ministry. But in the course of the years of ministry in Lompoc, which Don enabled, I discovered a call to parish ministry. I am a pastor today because he stood with me. For that and for his support of me and my family’s needs in a time of difficulty, I am and will be forever grateful.
As the passage from 2 Timothy states: Don fought the good fight against cancer. He stood firm in his faith and in his calling to ministry. He offered himself to the church and to its pastors. And for that he is to be commended as one of God’s good and faithful servants.
Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has issued a Pastoral Letter on where the Disciples stand on the question of sexual orientation. It is made available to us as a video and as a PDF.
Today as I sit to write, it is the anniversary of the massive earthquake that shook Haiti two years ago. We have experienced the shock of other tragedies since then: the earthquake in Japan, storms across North America, and the on-going drought and starvation in the Horn of Africa (to name a few.)
We are on a journey toward Christmas. It is a season called Advent. It invites us to consider our callings as the people of God, to look inwardly and consider what distractions and issues need to be dealt with so that we can love God and love neighbor. In the spirit of Advent, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) offers a brief video message. It features, among others, the thoughts of Sharon Watkins, our General Minister and President, as well as, the elected leadership of the church. I invite you to watch, consider, and offer your own thoughts about the hope of Advent. What are your hopes for this coming year as we walk the path set before us. As John the Baptist shouted, taking his cue from Isaiah: "Prepare the way of the Lord: Make his paths straight." (Mark 1:3; Isaiah 40:3 CEB).