‘Divine intervention’: Chris Shelton joins staff of Rowan Helping Ministries
By Susan Shinn Turner
For the Salisbury Post
A few months ago, Kyna Grubb was pulling together a list of churches that have supported Rowan Helping Ministries — which gave money, which gave food, which sent volunteers.
Because her volunteer base has been shrinking — either because folks are aging out or the improving economy has many going back to work — she was thinking about ways to re-energize the volunteer base.
“And then Chris shows up,” says Grubb, the organization’s executive director.
Chris would be Chris Shelton, who recently was lead pastor of LifeChurch and regional director of Samaritan’s Purse. He was trying to discern the next step in his life.
“I resigned from LifeChurch in January 2019 and immediately began exploring new opportunities to continue ministry here in Salisbury and Rowan County,” Shelton said. “I sensed a call to stay in Salisbury. My friend Carol Herndon encouraged me to come see Kyna and have a conversation about what is going on at Rowan Helping Ministries.”
Shelton had the idea of partnering with Rowan Helping Ministries through another nonprofit organization.
“I was not interested in coming on staff,” he said.
Grubb saw things differently.
“It was divine intervention,” she says.
Shelton could take all his experience and apply it to Salisbury and Rowan County, she reasoned.
“Our mission moves beyond charity to a true ministry of justice and mercy,” Shelton said.
To that end, Shelton became director of operations at Rowan Helping Ministries on May 6, one day before he turned 42.
“He is enthusiastic and organized,” says Chris Bradshaw, a board member and facilities chairman. “With his background and his abilities, he is working well with people.”
Shelton and his wife, Molly, 38, are happy to remain in Salisbury with their four children, Julia, 11, Elisha, 10, Zeke, 4, and Jonas, 4. Molly will continue her work as an art teacher at Salisbury Academy.
Shelton will oversee anything at Rowan Helping Ministries that’s food related: Jeannie’s Kitchen, the food pantry and Food for Thought, the backpack program that assists schoolchildren who are food insecure. Food for Thought has been housed at Rowan Helping Ministries since the new facility opened several years ago.
Herndon, the friend who recommended Shelton to Grubb, is that organization’s former executive director.
“Chris is a special man, full of grace and love,” says Herndon, now chief financial officer for Rowan-Salisbury Schools. “His personal mission and passion are perfectly aligned with the ministry of Rowan Helping Ministries. Chris has a unique intention to strengthen our community, and he sees the power to do so through the inclusion of and service to our neighbors that often struggle the most. Chris truly values everyone’s contribution. In his new role he can make the difference God has called him to make. I can’t think of a better fit or partnership.”
The Rev. Rhodes Woolly agrees. He is senior pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, and he and Shelton are longtime colleagues and collaborators.
“Chris will be a great asset to Rowan Helping Ministries. He loves the Lord, cares deeply for the community, and is eager to walk alongside those who are marginalized. You can’t ask for a better combination.”
While Shelton is also eager to strengthen ties with local churches, the downtown churches are the entities that formed Rowan Helping Ministries in 1967, including St. John’s Lutheran Church.
Shelton and Grubb have pored over scrapbooks that hold the history of Rowan Helping Ministries from its genesis as Rowan Cooperative Christian Ministries. In November 1967, a list for the clothing distribution center shows Tuesday was the day assigned to St. John’s, Wednesday to First Baptist and Spencer groups, Thursday to First United Church of Christ and First Presbyterian, and Friday to St. Luke’s. That month, the center served 27 families and 123 individuals.
A 1968 list shows a total of nearly 50 member churches across eight denominations. Today, Grubb says, that list totals more than 200.
“We have come full circle,” Shelton says. “Rowan Helping Ministries was a church-based initiative, and this is still an inclusive ministry. We join hands with anybody.”
“Given the history and reputation of Rowan Helping Ministries, there’s probably not another nonprofit that would serve as a better platform for seeing our dreams and ambitions become a reality.”
Those plans, Grubb says, include offering more workshops, and hosting classes such as Bridges Out of Poverty and Stephen Ministry.
“Helping is our middle name,” Grubb says. “This is a place where people who want to help meet people who need help.”
“This is an opportunity to continue to find new ways of building bridges in this community,” Shelton says. “Although the location of my work has changed, the nature hasn’t, and that is exciting and fulfilling.”