OBITUARY: Patricia Shelly

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

She was born on Dec. 21, 1951, in Chicago, Illinois, 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. After graduating from Newton High School, she earned a degree in Bible and Religion from Bethel College (Kansas) in 1976.

Patricia moved to Denver and studied at Iliff School of Theology, completing a master’s of divinity 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, Patricia 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 and 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, she worked in Jerusalem with Mennonite Central Committee as the country director for MCC’s relief and development program 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 colleague from Tabor College.

Patricia 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.

She was involved in the broader Mennonite church, serving as Moderator of the Western District Mennonite Conference and on the International Mennonite Peace Committee. She also served on the Mennonite Church USA Church board, spending the last two years as moderator of MC USA (2005-2017).

As an active member of Bethel College Mennonite Church, Patricia 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 of Lenexa and Kenneth John Shelly (unknown); two nephews, William (Sarah) Whillock, Newton, and Greg (Leah) Shelly-Unruh, Wichita; niece, Lizzie Shelly (Kansas City); and many other extended family members and friends.

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

A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30, at Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Kansas. The service will be live-streamed at

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

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