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Community remembers Shelly at memorial service

September 29th, 2023

Patty Shelly at a Worship and the Arts Seminar event in 2015

The memorial service for Professor Emeritus of Bible and Religion Patty Shelly will be Saturday, Sept. 30, 11 a.m., at Bethel College Mennonite Church, with livestreaming available.

The link for livestreaming is, where the service can also be viewed afterward.

Patricia Joyce Shelly, 71, died Sept. 4, 2023, at home in Newton after a three-year struggle with pancreatic cancer.

She was born on Dec. 21, 1951, in Chicago to Kenneth and June Rupert Shelly, while her father was in seminary. She lived in Pulaski, Iowa, and Trenton, Ohio, before moving to North Newton. She was baptized in 1967 at Bethel College Mennonite Church and remained a member there throughout her life. After graduating from Newton High School, she earned a degree in Bible and religion from Bethel in 1976. 

Shelly moved to Denver and studied at Iliff School of Theology, completing a Master of Divinity degree in 1980. After studying for eight months at the Ecumenical Institute for Advanced Theological Studies (Tantur) in Jerusalem in 1981, she returned to Denver and completed a Ph.D. in biblical interpretation at the University of Denver/Iliff School of Theology in 1992.

During part of that time, Shelly served as associate pastor at First Mennonite Church in Denver (1983-85) and was ordained as a Mennonite pastor.

For most of the next three decades, she taught at Bethel College in the Bible and religion department. She served as campus minister for almost half of that time, with primary responsibility for chapel and worship.

From 1996-2000, while on leave of absence from Bethel, Shelly worked in Jerusalem with Mennonite Central Committee as the country director for MCC’s relief and development program in in the West Bank and Gaza. From 1986-2015, she led study tours to Israel/Palestine/Jordan, and in more recent years co-led joint Bethel/Tabor College tours to the same region with a Tabor colleague.

Shelly was a folk musician and composer, producing two albums and two songbooks. Several of her songs have appeared in Mennonite hymnals over the years.

She spoke (and sang) in numerous church and community settings about biblical studies as well as her time in Israel/Palestine.

She also spoke extensively in the region about her participation in three meetings with Iranian political and religious leaders. The first meeting in 2007 of an ecumenical, Christian delegation to Iran was followed by two dialogues with Iranian officials in New York at the beginning of United Nations Assembly sessions.

Shelly was involved in the broader Mennonite church, as moderator of Western District Mennonite Conference, as a member of the International Mennonite Peace Committee, and as a member of the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board, 2005-17, the last two years as moderator of MC USA (2015-17).

As an active member of Bethel College Mennonite Church, Shelly served on various committees as well as the church board and as moderator of the congregation.

Survivors include her mother, June Shelly, Newton; a sister, Doris (Arthur) Whillock, Newton, and two brothers, Andy (Carmen) Shelly, Lenexa, Kan., and Kenneth John Shelly, unknown; two nephews, William (Sarah) Whillock, Newton, and Greg (Leah) Shelly-Unruh, Wichita, and a niece, Lizzie Shelly, Shawnee, Kan.; and many other extended family members and friends.

She was preceded in death by her father, Kenneth, and a brother, Timothy.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial gifts be designated to Bethel College (KS) or Bethel College Mennonite Church. 

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