Rev. Brian Ellison will try to quell any doubts about Thomas
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUSVILLE — The Covenant Network of Presbyterians seeks what it calls “an equity still not realized for LGBTQIA+ people” with this three-pronged approach:
- Engaging the church to invite all God’s children into safe and welcoming congregational spaces of affirmation, healing, dignity and purpose
- Educating the church to expand our welcome to LGBTQIA+ people, to affirm their gifts for ordained office, and to uphold marriage equality for all
- Equipping the church to bear witness to justice through advocacy and activism at the international, national and local church levels; speaking a prophetic word in anxious and divided times; and standing with others in fighting hate and oppression against any of God’s children.
This Easter season, one of the ways CNP is furthering its mission is to offer Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) preachers a week off from filling their virtual pulpit on April 11, the Sunday after Easter.
The Rev. Brian Ellison, CNP’s executive director, will preach a sermon called “When Doors are Closed.” It’ll be available for download no later than April 5 and will include a 90-second “Moment for Mission” about CNP’s work, a Lectionary Scripture reading from John 20:19-31 and, of course, Ellison’s sermon.
“In this particular moment, as we continue to gather in homes to worship together on screen, this seems like a positive and generally helpful way to serve the church,” Ellison said. “I know that during the 13 years when I was a pastor, this was the Sunday I was ready for someone else to preach.”
Ellison called the Second Sunday in Easter “an appropriate time to invite sermons and conversations about how we live into this new life that is God’s gift to us in the resurrection of Jesus. I hope the sermon gives a real introduction and challenge to live into that part of the Church’s mission, proclaiming resurrection hope to all God’s people — including God’s LGBTQIA+ people.”
The story of Doubting Thomas “is a challenging passage, one we make a lot of assumptions about,” Ellison said. “We all know the story of Doubting Thomas, but I’m not sure we read it closely. I am more sympathetic to Thomas than the tradition sometimes is. I don’t find his doubts all that unreasonable.”
Ellison said the video offering will benefit from the editing gifts of the Rev. Landon Whitsitt, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City, who will make it “clean and visually engaging.”
Previous sermon efforts have enjoyed “great response,” Ellison said.
“A lot of people are under the impression that the work of LGBTQIA+ inclusion is over or somehow accomplished,” he said. “There are still dozens of presbyteries and hundreds of congregations” not ordaining openly LGBTQIA+ people to positions of ordered ministry, including deacons, elders and pastors, according to Ellison. Nor are they hosting same-sex marriage ceremonies. The General Assembly has given local presbyteries and congregations permission to do all those things, he noted, but did not require them to.
“Winning votes was one thing,” he said. “Winning hearts and minds sometimes takes more time.”
The Covenant Network of Presbyterians “has always bee15n about having the Church move forward together,” Ellison said. “We are unapologetic about the gospel’s call to including, but we try to offer the message in a way that helps people come along together toward that end.”
The April 11 sermon, which can be used anytime, “is a message that everyone should be able to hear,” Ellison said. About 350 congregations have “affirmed that call [with CNP] to be a covenant community. We have great relationships with a wide cross-section of presbyteries and synods. Many have invited us to their space to offer education and engagement.”
Ellison said the Covenant Network of Presbyterians wants to continue offering sermons to faith communities, even as more of them begin meeting in person or offer both an in-person and an online worship experience.
“We have amazing preachers on the board of CNP,” he said, preachers who “we hope will also be able to offer sermons for congregations.”
For Ellison’s April 11 sermon, which he plans to record soon, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Categories: Advocacy & Social Justice, Congregational Vitality, Human Trafficking
Tags: covenant network of presbyterians, covid-19, doubting thomas, inclusivity, john 20:19-31, lgbtqia+, online worship, pandemic, rev. brian ellison, rev. landon whitsitt, second sunday of easter
Ministries: Gender, Racial and Intercultural Justice