By Woody Woodrick
The Rev. Ross Olivier, a native of South Africa and senior pastor at Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church in Jackson, will leave that position in January to return to his home country.
The Revs. Joey and Connie Shelton have been appointed to follow Olivier at Galloway. Bishop Hope Morgan Ward announced the changes on Nov. 4.
“Ross and Shayne (Olivier) have been in a season of discernment about their great desire to stay in Mississippi and a great desire and need to return to South Africa,” Ward said. “Like many of us, we come to a fork in the road and want to do both. We honor the ties they have to family and the church in South Africa. We’re grateful for what they’ve brought to Mississippi.”
Family concerns are the primary reason behind Olivier’s decision to leave the United States. Olivier said that over the past year or so his mother’s health has deteriorated.
“I am the eldest son. My duty is to see that Mom is well cared for. I need to go do my duty,” Olivier said. “We tried everything we could to try and stay, but circumstances turned against us. When all the doors were shut, we had no choice.”
In addition, Olivier and a few other pastors in the Mississippi Conference have also encountered problems with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The INS has been reviewing those allowed to enter the country under religious visas. Persons holding such visas have had to fill out forms and participate in on-site inspections.
“The delays involved create enormous uncertainty,” Olivier said. “It took 10 months for the INS to acknowledge it had even received our application.”
Olivier said some members of his family were approved to stay, but others were not.
“We have absolutely loved it,” said Olivier. “It has been a wonderful stay and a great annual conference. The bishop’s leadership has been inspirational. We’ve been part of this magnificent church that is in the process of finding its new mission amid the changing of Jackson. Galloway can become a true downtown church but in a way that creates partnerships and synergies that transcend all kinds of barriers.”
Olivier came to Mississippi in July 2004 as part of a relationship developed between the Mississippi Conference and the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. The Rev. Cecil Rhodes, who serves Leland First UMC, also is in Mississippi as part of the partnership.
Bishop Ivan Abrahams of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa was guest preacher at the 2007 Mississippi Annual Conference.
During the Oliviers’ stay, they say they’ve not only served the congregation at Galloway, but come to love Mississippi.
“Mississippi has been our hobby,” Olivier said. “We have visited 80 of 82 counties and will visit the other two before we leave. We have researched them, dug into the history and traveled the back roads only. We’ve gone and imbibed the culture. We love the story that is located in the people of Mississippi; both the struggles and successes.”
The Sheltons return to Mississippi from Duke University Divinity School where they have served as directors of field education for three years. Both are elders in the Mississippi Conference. Joey Shelton’s last appointment in the conference was at Hattiesburg Court Street, where he served from 1997-2005. Connie Shelton served as executive director of The United Methodist Hour radio and TV ministry from 1999-2005.
“We’re thrilled Joey and Connie Shelton are returning to Mississippi to serve as pastors at Galloway,” Ward said. “They know and love our conference and state. They have demonstrated a heart for urban ministry. They are powerful preachers, and the entire conference will be enriched by their return.”
Olivier entered the Methodist ministry in 1980. At the end of his six years of training, he received the Flowerday Memorial Award as the outstanding ordinand in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.
He was appointed parish minister for the Heidelberg Circuit, encompassing a large region, with pastoral responsibility for 24 racially and culturally diverse congregations. His ministry in that context led him into vigorous opposition to apartheid, shaping his convictions in respect of social justice and reconciliation.
In 1994, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa tapped him to facilitate a re-visioning and transformation process, “Journey to a New Land,” an initiative to refocus the ministry and mission focus of the church in the context of the emerging new South Africa. During the course of this two-year project, he traveled extensively throughout the six countries served by the MCSA, conducting research, seminars, workshops and change-management events.
In 1997 he was appointed senior pastor of Northfield Church, a large congregation of approximately 5,000 members. His appointment to Northfield was interrupted in 1999 when he was elected to serve the MCSA as general secretary of the denomination, the position he held until his arrival in Mississippi. His responsibilities and duties encompassed the 4,500 congregations and 2.5 million Methodists in Southern Africa.
Upon his return to South Africa, Olivier will serve a congregation in the city of Pretoria.