A beloved mentor who opened doors

Patty Shelly, Bethel, 2015.

I have always been an impressionable person. As a child, I looked up to anyone who had the time to be in my life. When I looked up to someone, I wanted to be like them. Part of the reason ministry even came into my mind was because I saw my pastor and youth pastor and thought, “I wish I was like them.” 

A multitude of teachers, mentors and friends have opened doors for me. One was Patty Shelly, a professor at Bethel College.

When I showed up at Bethel in 2010, I wanted two things: to play football and to make ministry a career. Bethel offered me both of these opportunities. 

I remember being excited for my first Bible class. It was Intro to Biblical Studies with Patty Shelly. Despite my initial excitement, I hated it at first. Growing up Southern Baptist, I was taught that there was only one way to read the Bible and to think about God. There weren’t different options or theological ideas to ponder. This made class with Patty difficult for me.

Patty did not provide just one view of the Bible. She presented many different ideas to chew on. She invited pushback from students while creating an atmosphere of curiosity and exploration. 

I remember a class she taught called Jesus and the Gospels. During the section on atonement, one of the required readings mentioned the book God of the Oppressed by James Cone. I was fascinated by Cone’s work and asked Patty if I could use it for my final class project. She agreed and pointed me in the direction of other Black and womanist theologians. 

Eventually I needed to come up with a senior seminar project, and I wanted it to cover Black liberation theology. Patty walked me through the process and helped me find the resources I needed.

While this might sound like something any teacher or adviser would do, it was the first time I was able to choose the theological path I wanted to follow. 

Patty’s teaching opened many doors for me. Her mentorship guided my theology to the Anabaptist path I have chosen. She didn’t give me all the answers. She made sure I was free to ask good questions. She opened doors that led to the answers I needed — and sometimes to answers I didn’t expect. She shaped the way I pastor and view education.

This is the importance of mentors. I typically think of mentors as those who shape and mold us, but Patty showed me another kind of mentorship: opening doors for others to learn and grow. 

When I preach and teach, I keep in mind that I am not the ultimate authority. I am not there to give all the answers. I am there to open doors for others. To invite people to discover who God is in a safe and curious community — like the one Patty created for me and others.

I will forever be grateful for Patty and all the mentors who opened doors for me. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. 

Patty Shelly died Sept. 4 at the age of 71. I have been trying to figure out a proper way to honor her. I believe the best I can do is to be what Patty was to me: a teacher, mentor and friend who opens doors.  

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

Jerrell Williams

Jerrell Williams is pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan. A 2015 graduate of Bethel College, he has a Read More

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