When Dr. Rob Pearigen began his tenure as president of Millsaps College in 2010, he expressed a desire for the college to have a chapel space that inspired spiritual reflection and formation, and that enhanced worship and religious life opportunities for all Millsaps constituents.
Ten years later, the Selby and Richard McRae Christian Center is in full operation and its centerpiece is Yates Chapel, an amazing place filled with light and joy that was formally consecrated on July 15, 2020. With the opportunities and responsibilities needed to maximize the use of the Chapel, Pearigen announced that Millsaps’s chaplain, The Rev. Dr. Joey Shelton, would carry the expanded title of dean of the chapel and director of church relations.
“It has been a joy to return to my alma mater and be involved with the convergences of faith, reason and work alongside students, faculty, staff, alumni and all our church-related communities,” said Shelton, a 1982 graduate of Millsaps. “I get to engage both internal and external audiences, hopefully helping each benefit from the other.”
There is no lack of work or opportunity for Shelton as he supports the communities on campus and beyond. “The college and the Center for Ministry are now engaged with each other in new ways through mutual efforts with Wellspring, One Campus One Community, the Else School Advanced Applied Leadership Program, religious studies and humanities,” he said.
Since his return to campus, a key focus for Shelton has been the Major Methodist initiative, a fundraising effort that supports the work of the office of the chaplain. Through the initiative, Shelton has been able to fund programming and additionally support a staff that includes include three full-time, ordained United Methodist ministers on campus and two others who work part-time with the Center for Ministry. The initiative has also played a critical role in expanding and building opportunities for students.
“It has enabled us to offer seven paid internships over the past two years for students interested in church-related and faith-formative work, establish the Millsaps Youth Theological Academy for high school students who want to learn about the intersection of their faith with their daily life experiences and support the Wesley Connexion student group,” Shelton said.
He added that the initiative also has an international component, stating that “we now have a partner church in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico (Rose of Sharon Evangelical Methodist Church of Mexico) for international mission pilgrimages.” Student participation is supported by both the initiative and the McNair Fund for Christian Missions, established through the generosity of David McNair, a 1960 Millsaps graduate and local businessman.
It is Yates Chapel, though, that offers the college a truly sacred space on campus.
“Millsaps College is now home to a magnificent space that offers hospitable access for a whole new world of sacred celebration on campus,” Shelton said. While its use has been limited by the coronavirus pandemic, Shelton oversees a weekly series known as “Reflections from Yates Chapel,” which is broadcast every Wednesday at noon on the college’s Facebook page and features a variety of clergy. Videos are also posted to the college’s YouTube page for viewing.
Shelton credits Millsaps for helping to shape him for the work he does today.
“Millsaps was my first academic experience with the concept of ‘critical reflection on the most important questions in life.’ I was introduced to the blending of academics, social justice, faith and fun. It is imperative that we learn to think critically, but critical thinking also needs to pause for reflection and purpose. Millsaps taught me how to engage and to pause. This blending is foundational for what has followed.”