These words were shared with the Millsaps College Board of Trustees in the October 23, 2020 homily by The Rev. Dr. Joey Shelton, dean of the chapel and director of church relations at Millsaps.
In his remarks, Shelton shared how a walk around campus led him to the softball field where he watched coaches and players going through some drills, despite the cancellation of their fall season. Where he anticipated depression, he found joy and energy and engagement. “I was,” he wrote, “inspired and moved by their commitment to all things Millsaps.”
Shelton and his fellow clergy at the college share an equal level and commitment. Their work covers a broad range, from spiritual formation for students to the Center for Ministry to relations with churches throughout The Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church and beyond.
Working with Shelton to strengthen the foundation of the faith community is The Rev. Paige Swaim-Presley, director of the Center for Ministry and associate chaplain, and The Rev. Elizabeth Henry, director for the Thriving in Ministry program under the Center for Ministry. All of them support the broader work of the Wesley Connexion, offering spiritual formation for Millsaps students through a Wesleyan lens. Ruby Medlin rounds out their team, providing operational support for the busy work of the chaplain’s office.
After graduating from Millsaps in 1982, Shelton returned in 2009 as a clergy member of the Board of Trustees. In July 2017, he took on the role of chaplain and director of church relations with responsibility for strategic leadership of the people and programs associated with campus ministries, external church relations and the Center for Ministry.
Shelton also teaches an undergraduate course each year on Wesleyan Studies and participates on the leadership team for the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Campus Center. In August 2020, his title was expanded to include the title of dean of the chapel, with oversight of the new Yates Chapel in the Selby & Richard McRae Christian Center.
Under Shelton’s guidance, the office of chaplain has nurtured growth of faith programs for students, faculty, staff and the broader community. This work has included weekly spiritual self-care guides, the “Reflections from Yates Chapel” series (broadcast every Wednesday on the college’s Facebook page), the establishment of a partnership with Rose of Sharon Evangelical Methodist Church in Merida, Mexico (two blocks from Casa Millsaps, the college’s conference center), training in spiritual self-care for business executives through the Else School of Management and facilitation of healing circles with UMC leaders through the college’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Campus Center.
Nestled within the office of the chaplain—and a critical component in the college’s work of maintaining strong relations with churches beyond the campus—is the Center for Ministry, a long-standing joint venture between the college and The Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church. Led by Swaim-Presley, the Center’s work is focused on providing spiritual direction for clergy and lay people of all denominations. The Center has also been active in the design and development of the Millsaps Youth Theological Academy for high school students, which is anticipated to host its first class in the summer of 2021.
Henry joined the Center in January 2019 to lead the Thriving in Ministry program, funded through a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment. The program is focused on supporting southern clergywomen serving in their first solo pastor or senior pastor role, and associate ministers who feel called to solo or senior pastor leadership in the future.
In the midst of a demanding workload, Shelton, Swaim-Presley and Henry still find time to focus on students, faculty and staff, providing support, guidance and direction during a trying time. They are the spiritual backbone of the Millsaps campus, but still find moments of clarity and faith in the most unlikely of places—like a softball field.