We ended Christian Unity Week at Judson University on Friday, October 10. The final message was given by one of my dearest friends on earth – Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth. Fr. Ellsworth, pastor of Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in Warrenville, Illinois, has been my friend since the 1980s. He came to Wheaton, from a pastorate in Kent, Ohio, to serve as senior pastor of the First Baptist Church. We have shared many times of ministry, and growing friendship, over the last twenty-five plus years.
Fr. Ellsworth and I have built a relationship over meals, prayer, conversations about theology and church, as well as special family events. We have celebrated birthdays, weddings and times of grief. We have given unique gifts to one another that we both value deeply. The intimacy of our friendship is something I treasure very, very profoundly. When Fr. Ellsworth began his private journey toward the Orthodox Church some years ago I knew of his direction long before it was made public. We entered into much healthy and engaging dialogue. Both of us learned a great deal. When we were together, and I made it known to a group of friends, that I was not going to follow my friend into the Orthodox Church some wondered if our relationship would last. At this point Fr. Ellsworth was the chairman of the ACT3 board of directors. It could have been a tense moment but it was not.
The night we openly discussed our friendship I will never forget what Wilbur said to the people present. “Some of you will say John and I cannot be best friends in the future because we will not be in the same church communion and the differences will be too great. They will drive us apart.” He concluded, “I have only two words for you: watch us!”
I remember this like it was yesterday. It became the guiding Spirit-given word for a relationship that is stronger than ever before. We often laugh about our journey and pray even more. Though I cannot be communed in Fr. Ellsworth’s congregation, since I am not Orthodox, this is not a personal point of pride or argumentation. It remains a sadness but it does not truly separate us as Christian friends.
As all four of us reflected on the Christian Unity Week at Judson – Fr. Baima, Fr. Ellsworth, Chaplain Lash and I all agreed: “This worked so well because we took the time to build a great level of trust and love between us. This was not simply about three ministers coming in and preaching during a unity week. It was about three dear friends serving Christ together!”
This is my greatest take-away: friendship is where we should always go if we want to love and seek unity in Christ.
Fr. Ellsworth’s excellent sermon on Luke 24 can be heard in the embed below.