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IN THE SPIRIT: Bigger family awaits new Mendenhall minister

Shelton There was no writing in the sky, no voice from heaven. "I would have loved that," said the Rev. Keri Shelton, "but that doesn't happen. At least, it didn't happen to me." Nevertheless, a bolt of some sort caused Pastor Keri to e-mail her ...


There was no writing in the sky, no voice from heaven.

"I would have loved that," said the Rev. Keri Shelton, "but that doesn't happen. At least, it didn't happen to me."

Nevertheless, a bolt of some sort caused Pastor Keri to e-mail her husband one day when both were at work in Iowa. The message: "I want to quit my job."

Kurtis Shelton wrote back, saying, "OK."


Pastor Keri's next words to him: "I want to go to seminary."

And his were, "Let's go."

"He gets big points," Pastor Keri said. "He and the girls never once have flinched about picking up and moving. They've been wonderfully supportive."

Pastor Keri is the new shepherdess to the 266-member body of Mendenhall Presbyterian Church, East Grand Forks. She came in September and officially was installed Oct. 28.

Fresh out of Louisville (Ky) Presbyterian Theological Seminar, where she earned her master of divinity degree in May, she said she's still adjusting to "having people call me 'Pastor Keri.' It's getting easier, but I'm just Keri. The congregation has been wonderful at helping me get settled."

Kurtis Shelton, a high school educator, has been substitute teaching in East Grand Forks and Crookston. The couple has two daughters, Mekayla, 15, and Emma, 11.

Nationally, about 25 percent of clergy in Presbyterianism are women. Pastor Keri is the first female to permanently serve Mendenhall.

One of her greatest joys so far has been sprinkling water on a tiny head.


"I really enjoy baptism," she said. "I love kids and never knowing what's going to happen. And bringing new

people into the church is exciting."

Pastor Keri was raised on a corn and soybean farm 20 miles of Council Bluffs, Iowa, near Beebee Town. "It doesn't have a zip code," she said. "It's a cute little town, but there's not much there anymore."

A good part of her childhood was spent "outdoors riding on tractors," she said. "I was very much a tomboy."

After Pastor Keri earned a bachelor's degree in psychology, sociology and human services from Graceland University, Lamoni, Iowa, she was a social worker for Children and Families of Iowa, a private social service company.

"I was in family preservation, working with families who had children at risk for foster care," she said. "The goal is to keep families together."

In 1996, she became a protective worker with high-risk families for the state of Iowa in Red Oak. "Instead of bringing kids home," Pastor Keri said, "I was removing them from the home. I went from helping families stay together to tearing them apart, and that's not what it's supposed to be."

The children and families she worked with "taught me more than I ever gave them," Pastor Keri said. "They taught me to never give up on people. It was a hard but great lesson to learn."


Not always Presbyterian, Pastor Keri was brought up in the Community of Christ Church.

When she and her family lived in Red Oak, they searched for a church that had a good children's program. "We looked at other churches, but we fell in love with the Presbyterian Church," Pastor Keri said. "We decided Presbyterian was a good fit for us because of its emphasis on mission."

While a social worker, Pastor Keri saw how important the church is in the lives of people, especially broken families. She tells of a wife and mother who was addicted to methamphetamine.

"I spent years working with her," Pastor Keri said. "She got clean and got her family back together. She went back to school. She started going to church, and the people there supported her. When families like that succeed, against all odds, that makes it worthwhile."

It was during that time that Pastor Keri felt she wanted to continue to work with families in a more positive way. When the seminary entered her mind, by way of the Holy Spirit, "I felt at peace," she said

After seminary graduation, Pastor Keri served as an interim pastor in the Bahamas.

"With the call process, it was a whirlwind summer," she said. "I had talked to Mendenhall before we left for the Bahamas, and when I vis-

ited Mendenhall, I fell in love with it. I left here on a Sunday, and the next day, they called and extended the call. Mendenhall, the people, and the town - it's a lot like Red Oak with the rural feel and being back around farm families. It was a great compromise. My husband and children wanted a big city. I wanted a small town. We got both. Knowing that you feel at peace with a decision is an OK place to be."


Pastor Keri's favorite Bible verse is Micah 6:8: "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

"It's one of the strongest verses in the Bible," she said, "because that's just the way it is."

Being a shepherdess requires "a whole lot of trust in God and knowing that it's not about you," Pastor Keri adds. "It's about God's work on Earth. You are just the vehicle, and you are to be open to that."

Dunavan is a Herald columnist. Reach her at (218) 773-9521 or naomiinthespirit@aol.com .

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