Honoring a faithful man


I first met Bill Shelton over 20 years ago in a hospital in Atlanta. I don’t remember who told me about him but, for some reason, I felt compelled to visit this man who was a stranger to me. When I prepared to end the visit, he asked me what else I had to do in Atlanta that day. I replied that he was the only reason I had made the trip. After he was released from the hospital, he and his wife, Donna, began to attend church.

Bill was a firefighter and paramedic with the Peachtree City Fire Department when I met him. He and Donna had previously been very active in an Atlanta mega-church with both holding leadership positions. They were both friendly, personable, and it didn’t take long for them to be fully integrated into the brand new church plant.

About four years later, Donna would become the church secretary and, eventually, business manager. Still later, she would be the diocesan administrator after I was elected bishop of Georgia and Tennessee (while still keeping her church duties).

Bill, on the other hand, took a different route of service. After serving in various capacities, he entered the Holy Orders process with an eye toward ordination. Eventually, he would be ordained to the diaconate by Bishop John Holloway. He retired from the fire service and, essentially, became a full-time deacon.

In our communion, a deacon differs greatly with what most people in our region call a deacon. Our deacons are not elected laymen who serve on a church board for a season. Our deacons are ordained clergy who have a number of pastoral and sacramental responsibilities and the ordination is for life. We, like the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican communions, have two types of deacons: (1) transitional and (2) permanent. A transitional deacon is ultimately headed toward the priesthood. A permanent deacon is a deacon for life and is usually wedded to a specific local church, unless he relocates. Bill is the latter.

The importance of a permanent deacon cannot be overstated. He is a person who can develop an enduring bond with the people and normally gains and keeps their trust. He is also one of those people that the priest can count on to be there during good times and bad. Bill is such a deacon — loyal, faithful, compassionate, and spiritual.

Bill is also a worker. In addition to sacramental and pastoral duties, he serves on the church’s Rector’s Council that advises the pastor (that would be me). He is also a valuable member of the diocese’s Commission on Ordained Ministry.

Over the years, he and Donna have counseled a multitude of people, especially young adults. Bill’s most famous saying is, “Just do the next right thing.”

A recovered alcoholic, Deacon Bill has led many young men into sobriety. When I was taking a doctoral course on addiction, he introduced me, and accompanied me, to several Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

This past Wednesday, it was my great privilege and honor, as the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese, to install Bill as an honorary archdeacon. He is the first person in the history of the diocese to be so honored. His former official title was “The Reverend Deacon William J. ‘Bill’ Shelton.” His new designation is “The Venerable William J. ‘Bill’ Shelton, Archdeacon (hon).”

The dictionary definition of “venerable” is “deserving to be venerated — used as a title for an Anglican archdeacon or for a Roman Catholic who has been accorded … recognition for sanctity.” Archdeacon Bill would, no doubt, argue that he does not fit this definition. True humility is another one of his attributes.

This man spent a career trying to save lives. I, myself, witnessed one such action when Bill, on a dark night in Jacksonville, Fla., suddenly ran out into a four-lane highway. He had seen a man in a wheelchair attempting to cross this dangerous stretch of road full of traffic and turn over. The man spilled into the path of oncoming traffic. Without conscious thought, Bill plunged into the traffic, putting himself between the cars and the man, got him back into the wheelchair, and brought him to safety. He has spent a second career serving God and God’s people in a way that is outstanding.

One member of the church recently said, “If you look up the word ‘deacon’ in the dictionary, you will see a picture of Bill Shelton.” Um, that would be: Archdeacon Bill Shelton.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]