Listening for the melody of God

Shelton speaks on fuller Christian life through authenticity, song

By Jessica Connor

MYRTLE BEACH— Through pain and joy, despair and panic, when you are so utterly exhausted that you wonder if your way is hidden from God, just be real. Embrace your journey.

And don't forget to sing.

That was the message from Dr. Connie Shelton, senior pastor of Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church, a multiracial downtown church serving the inner city in Jackson, Miss. Shelton spent three days lifting up hundreds of seniors who flocked to Myrtle Beach Feb. 7-9 for the South Carolina Conference s Older Adults Spiritual Life Retreat.

Craving winter sunshine and spiritual rejuvenation, attendees cried, laughed and sang with Shelton as she led them through funny and sometimes heartbreaking stories with authenticity at the core.

Let the walls down and take the masks off, Shelton implored the crowd, reminding people it is okay to admit they are not doing fine, okay to stop the pretense and simply lean on each other.

In Shelton s opening message, she challenged attendees to be real with each other over the next few days. After all, she said, with authenticity comes a deeper, more fruitful way to experience life “ and Christ.

Shelton recounted the time she was serving as a guest preacher and her then-4-year-old daughter Bailey disappeared from sight. Loud snickers began to resound, and she was horrified when she discovered her daughter at the communion table, double-dipping in the juice. While the congregation took it in stride, she was aghast and tried to salvage the moment by tying it in with a scriptural lesson about the open table.

But everyone knew what I was doing, she recalled, shaking her head ruefully at the memory. And in that moment I realized Christ had salvaged the moment.

She learned instantly that being real with each other is not only okay, but good and well for our collective soul.

Many times we stay in the embryo position, so concerned about who is looking, that we don t even reach out for help, Shelton said.

But God knows our pain. He knows we all suffer. And if we are all suffering, we can lean on each other “ if we can be authentic enough to admit what we are going through.

There is something about somebody crying with you that makes a difference, Shelton said.

The melody of God

But in that realness, we need to learn to not only accept, but embrace our trials, our pain, our hopes and our fears. Part of that embracing is learning to listen.

Shelton urged the crowd to open their ears and listen for the constant, empathetic melody of God in everything we experience “ then learn to lift up that melody through music and song.

Flo Johnson, one of the attendees, said Shelton s words especially resonated with her. I m blessed to be in a church where we are real, honest and open with each other, not ˜playing church but truly ˜being church, Johnson said. Being real with each other is so important, especially as we age. We all need to do more of that.

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