Pastor’s ‘second chance’ leads to GED
by W. Winston Skinner
Donnie Shelton was leading a group of youth at Cedar Rock Baptist Church near Woodbury.
He was stressing the importance of staying in school and getting a good education. Then one of the youth said, “Well, you don’t have yours.”
“That rubbed me the wrong way,” said Shelton, 49. The pastor was more than irritated by the remark, however. He was motivated.
On Dec. 19, he finished the last hurdle to earn his General Equivalency Diploma. “Prayer and hard work made the difference,” observed Shelly Smith, who worked with Shelton on his GED studies in Grantville.
Shelton was pastor at Cedar Rock Baptist from 2008 until he left the pulpit there earlier this year to start at new ministry.
In support of Brad Brimlow, pastor of First Baptist Church in Grantville, Shelton attended a Grantville City Council meeting in March 2011. At that meeting, Smith spoke to the council and talked about the need for a location in Grantville to offer GED classes.
“Brad offered the church social hall,” Smith remembered. For the next nine months, she taught GED classes at the church. She said “on the last Saturday in September,” Shelton called her to see if he might join the class.
Shelton had not been in school since he was in the eighth grade.
He grew up in East Newnan and quit school at 14 - with dreams of going to work in Texas. When that did not work out, Shelton returned to the local area to work on
septic tanks. He soon became a carpenter.
In 1989, Shelton married Dory, who he describes as his soul mate.
Shelton comes from a family of six children. Only one sister graduated from high school.
Not only did Shelton attend GED classes, he also completed seminary classes at the Western Baptist Association in Newnan with Dr. Paul Dennis as his instructor. Shelton could not, however, graduate from the seminary program until he received his GED.
“In March 2012, Donnie took the GED test and passed three of five sub-tests, but had to re-take math and language,” Smith said. “In 2013, Donnie passed math, and in December he passed language, but did not have enough points to average the 450 needed to pass.”
The pastor had just enough time - and money - to take one more test. "Jesus is going to take this one," he said at the time.
As he walked out with his science test results, Shelton looked at the paper to see what he made. “His score was 480 - which was 20 more points than he needed to pass the GED test,” Smith said.
Shelton quickly shared his good news and heard friends and family scream with joy.
“It took 26 months,” Smith said. “Donnie did not give up.”
He reflected on how his encouraging church members to get educated put him on the road to his own GED. “If you’re going to preach the gospel, you’ve got to live it,” Shelton said.
Cedar Rock Baptist Church honored Shelton with a graduation dinner on Jan. 26. He has since started Second Chance Ministries which meets on McWilliams-Barber Road near Luthersville.
Services are held Sunday at 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and there is time for prayer meeting and singing on Wednesdays at 6 p.m.
Shelton started preaching about six years ago. He remembered his call to preach.
“I couldn’t get any rest,” he said. Finally, he said, “Lord, I surrender,” and he began to get opportunities to preach and serve. “The doors opened up.”
Shelton said his father had instilled in him the importance of helping people. “We preach every day by the lives we lead,” he reflected.
Second Chance Ministries is a new opportunity for the pastor who now had his high school diploma in hand. Second Chance has just 18 members, and Shelton is trusting God to grow the ministry.
“I love what I do. I don’t have to preach. I get to preach,” he said.
Shelton’s faith tells him everyday is an opportunity for a new beginning. His experience in getting his GED showed that new days and new opportunities can lead to unexpected accomplishments.
“I believe everybody deserves a second chance,” Shelton said.