Perkins Names 2023 Seals Laity Award Recipients

Two long-serving United Methodist laypersons from Missouri and Arkansas – Dr. Yvette Richards and Shelley Lee – have been selected as the 2023 recipients of the Woodrow B. Seals Laity Award.

DALLAS (SMU) – Two long-serving United Methodist laypersons from Missouri and Arkansas – Dr. Yvette Richards and Shelley Lee – have been selected as the 2023 recipients of the Woodrow B. Seals Laity Award. They will be recognized during worship at the conclusion of the Perkins Summit for Faith and Learning on Saturday, March 25.

“We’re delighted to honor these two exceptional leaders with this year’s Seals Laity Award,” said Bart Patton, director of the Perkins Office of External Programs. “They exemplify commitment and faithfulness in lay service and ministry.”

The Woodrow B. Seals Laity Award is presented annually to a layperson in the United States who embodies the Christian faith and commitment of service to Christ in the church, community and world as exemplified by Judge Woodrow B. Seals, a distinguished layperson whose interest and energy were instrumental in establishing the Perkins Summit for Faith and Learning (formerly the Perkins Theological School for the Laity).

A member of St. James UMC in Kansas City for more than 30 years, Dr. Richards is a passionate and committed servant leader. An alumna of North Carolina A&T, she also holds master’s degrees in Leadership Development and Christian Ministry (from Walden University and United Theological Seminary, respectively) as well as a Doctor of Ministry from United. Dr. Richards served as International Board President of United Women of Faith from 2012-16 and has been a national board member of Black Methodists for Church Renewal since 2017. She currently serves as Lay Education Coordinator of the Missouri Conference’s Northwest District and was an alternate to General Conference in 2020. Previously, Dr. Richards was a board member on the General Board of Global Ministries and has been involved in both the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women as well as the World Methodist Council, where she has served as the Evangelism Committee Secretary since 2016.

“When Yvette moves, she brings others forward,” Noma McKelvy said in her nomination letter. “When she leaves, she identifies those to take the empty seat at the table. She is exemplary.”

Said Rev. Jacqueline McCall, pastor of Discipleship and Ministries at St. James UMC: “I can depend on Dr. Richards to help make things happen. Where there is no leader, Dr. Richards rises to the occasion. Where there is a chief, she happily supports and lifts the vision of the leader. Dr. Richards is fair but assertive, with integrity as her banner.”

A member of United Women in Faith units for 45 years, Lee currently serves as chair of the organization’s Arkansas Conference Committee on Nominations. She enjoyed a 40-year career in public service following a bachelor’s degree from Philander Smith College and a master’s in Public Administration from Arkansas-Little Rock. Now retired, Lee is a member of Pinnacle View UMC where she works in the Food Pantry ministry, sings in the choir, serves as Secretary for the Administrative Board and leads the church’s UWF unit. She also is a Central District Disaster Response Coordinator who, along with her husband, Roy, has deployed a dozen times to assist with response at home and abroad. As a United Methodist NOMADS volunteer, she recently returned from an assignment in south Texas where the Lees helped rebuild homes and worked in the sponsoring church’s food pantry.

“During the time that Shelley has worked with me, she has impressed me with her loyal compassion to serve others unconditionally and her warm and friendly ability to take care of those in need,” said Maybelline Strong, president of the Arkansas Conference United Women in Faith. “She is a very caring and trustworthy individual.”

Said Amy Ezell, director of the Arkansas Conference Center for Communications and a member of the Perkins Lay Advisory Board: “Shelley Lee embodies the definition of ‘Christian witness’ and does not miss an opportunity to share a public act of faith and hope with intentions to awaken the worlds with the hope of salvation.”

The Perkins Summit for Faith and Learning is supported by the Howard-Holbert Endowment Fund, with additional support from the Jackson Lectureship, the Martin Lectureship and the Johannaber Lectureship. The Howard-Holbert Fund was established in 1986 in honor of the late Dr. Virgil P. Howard, who was associate director of the Perkins Intern Program and professor of Supervised Ministry, and Dr. John C. Holbert, Professor Emeritus of Homiletics who served as Lois Craddock Perkins Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology from 1997 until his retirement in 2012.

For more information on and to register for the Perkins Summit for Faith and Learning, visit


Perkins School of Theology, founded in 1911, is one of five official University-related schools of theology of The United Methodist Church. Degree programs include the Master of Divinity, Master of Sacred Music, Master of Theological Studies, Master of Arts in Ministry, Master of Theology, Doctor of Ministry, and Doctor of Pastoral Music as well as the Ph.D., in cooperation with The Graduate Program in Religious Studies at SMU's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.