In Remembrance – Elward Ellis

Elward Ellis
Gordon Govier
May 14, 2012

InterVarsity staff and friends of Elward Ellis were saddened to learn this week of his death from an automobile accident. Elward joined InterVarsity staff in 1980, and for seven years he served as InterVarsity’s first Director of Black Campus Ministries (BCM).

The fatal accident occurred Saturday morning, May 12, 2012. According to reports, Elward was alone in his car at the time. The loss of his presence is felt by Dr. Dawn Swaby-Ellis, his wife, and Jonathan, his son, as well as the congregation of Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia, where Elward served as pastor.

Total commitment to the gospel

Elward Ellis grew up in Newark, New Jersey, and attended Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he helped start an InterVarsity chapter. He attended InterVarsity’s Urbana 67 Student Missions Conference and was a key leader in recruiting black students to attend Urbana 70 through a film that he wrote and produced.

Tony Warner, InterVarsity’s Associate Regional Director for the Southeast region, met Elward around the time of Urbana 70. “He was always very serious about connecting his faith with his personal life, the complex social issues in the world, and his love and commitment to his family,” Tony recalled. “We have partnered together on many occasions, and I witnessed his compassionate heart, his great love for Christ, his passion for reaching all people, his great honesty, his gift in communication, and total commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Many InterVarsity connections

Elward Ellis & John PerkinsAs a student Elward attended many InterVarsity conferences. After leaving our staff he maintained his connection with InterVarsity as a frequent speaker at student and staff conferences. He was a student leader when he attended Gordon Conwell Seminary, and he continued to be a leader in the black community as he pursued his passion for seeing more black students become involved in the worldwide mission of the church. In 1987, when he left InterVarsity, he helped lead a conference in Atlanta aimed at challenging and inspiring African Americans in world mission.

You can hear Elward Ellis introduce Tom Skinner in this audio file from the Atlanta '88 Congress on Evangelizing Black America, preserved in the Billy Graham Center archives.


  • Wednesday, May 16, in Decatur, Georgia, a viewing was held at Gregory B. Levett and Sons, including a Time of Reflection led by friends and colleagues.
  • Friday, May 18, in Newark, New Jersey, a wake was held at Calvary Gospel Church, 17 Lyons Avenue, with a formal ceremony from 7:00-9:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 19, in Newark, New Jersey, 9:00 a.m. funeral at Calvary Gospel Church.
  • Saturday, June 2, back in Atlanta, there will be a memorial service at the Fairfield Baptist Church, 6133 Redan Road, Lithonia, GA 30058, beginning at 2:00 p.m. Gifts to the Pastor Ellis Memorial Fund may be sent to Crossroads Presbyterian Church, 5587 Redan Road, Stone Mountain, GA  30088.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Obituary

This article will be updated as more information and remembrances are submitted.

Elward in Kenya


Steve Hayner - President of Columbia Theological Seminary, InterVarsity President from 1988 to 2001:

"Elward was dearly love here in the Atlanta area as a pastor (at Crossroads Presbyterian Church), mentor, consultant, and visionary. He had a remarkably broad ministry and a heart for the whole global Church."

Bill McConnell - Retired, former staff with InterVarsity and the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students:

"In 1986, when I was on furlough from Brazil, I stopped in Madison to discuss joining InterVarsity's Missions Department.  Having a high school aged African American daughter, I was concerned about plopping her down in the middle of then very white Madison. I talked to Elward.  He was very reassuring, relieved my concerns, and became a source of encouragement to the family ever since.

"In 1992, as Elward was preparing his Destiny '92 conference in Atlanta, he needed last-minute office help, and our second daughter, Debora, was available.  She spent two weeks in the Destiny office, and lived with Elward, Dawn and Jonathan.  Elward called her "his little white angel", and when I asked later how Debora fit in with the team, he replied, "No lumps, no bumps."    Debora remembers Dawn cooking bland foods, thinking that a white girl wouldn't care for their normal fare.  Then it came out that Debora grew up in Brazil and the next meal was spicy jerked chicken!    My gratitude to Elward and Dawn for their care for Debora knows no bounds."


Photos: Middle, with John Perkins; bottom, with Masai tribesmen in Kenya. All photos, twentyonehundred productions.


I first met Elward when we were both students involved with Inter-Varsity, him at Shaw and me at UNC-CH. We shared some conferences and a summer leadership camp together, as well as Urbana 70. Elward and his fellow IV members had a tremendous impact on me, both in their example of personal godliness as well as their patient but steadfast leading of us clueless white folks into the deep waters of racial awareness and inter-racial brotherhood. The insights and sensitivities he helped share have remained with me through all these decades since, first during my three staff years with IV as editor of the national newspaper, The Branch, and later, and more significantly as editor of a small community newspaper in Spring Hope, North Carolina, a town whose racial population as almost evenly mixed, and in prison ministry, where so many of the men I now call brothers are African Americans (or, as Elward kept insisting during school, "black.") Our lives moved in different directions and I had always wondered about his life. I am saddened to learn only at his death what had happened to him, but praise God for his years of ministry and example, and I look forward to seeing him once again in God's time. Ken Ripley, UNC-CH '72, IV staff, 1972-1975, and editor of the Spring Hope Enterprise since 1975
The world is definitely a far better place having been blessed by Elward's presence and ministry, though now we feel distressed and impoverished by his departure. In the early years of my spiritual journey, upon the numerous occasions when Elward's orbit and mine intersected, I came away not only impressed, if not awed, but also deeply challenged and moved. As a fellow student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Elward's stature was exceeded by his kindness, wisdom, leadership and love. As a fellow IV staff worker, Elward's vision, humility, giftedness and God-filled eloquence set the bar for Kingdom effectiveness. Approachable and amazing at the same time. What a model of servant-leadership, of a shepherding pastor, of a bold and winsome prophet, of someone who embodies the grace and goodness of the gospel. LORD, thank you for lending Elward to us for his life span. Thank you for working in his life so that he was thoroughly your child, your leader, your ambassador. Thank you, for the lasting difference Elward has made, on Your behalf, in our lives and in your world. LORD, delight in your time with him now, as we look forward to joining the party in Your time. Doug Whallon, former IV Staff and currently Pastor of Discipleship and Community at Grace Chapel, Lexington, MA.
I am thankful to the Lord for bringing Pastor Ellis in to our life. He was my Pastor, while I was in Atlanta working on my doctoral program. As I was very new to a culture the Cross Road Church, where Ellis was the Pastor became my family. I started to understand this big man in every sense; with a big heart which could accommodate all brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of nationality and color- white, black, brown or yellow. I always experienced warmth in his big hugs when ever we meet. He welcomed us to his home for dinner; a home away from home. Even after our return to India my wife and daughters cherish good memories of our relationship to Ellis, Dawn and Jonathan. Thank God for the meaningful and purposeful life of Pastor Edward Ellis. Rev Dr Sunny C John, Principal, Jubilee Memorial Bible College, Chennai, India
A Reflection on Elward's First Memorial Service! Attended the first memorial service for brother Elward in the ATL on Wednesday evening hosted by his congregation and denomination. Young, old, teens, middle aged. Men and women. Girls and boys. Blacks, Whites, Asians, Latinos. The highly esteemed (Bishop George McKinney, Pastor Crawford Loritz) and the lowly. The educated and not so literate. Church people and homees. Students. Various denominations. Jam packed. Standing room only around the entire parlor. And the people kept coming. A joyous, lively celebration and reunion of saints as Elward laid before us. A small glimpse of what heaven will look like. No races. No divisions, no separations, no ideologies. Just Christ's love among us. We were all there paying tribute and homage to this great man of God who touched our lives powerfully, deeply. The great diversity of people in attendance alone is evidence of the life he lived and the legacy he has left behind for us to follow. What a great privilege it has been to know him. What an honor to be among this group of witnesses whose presence testified to the life and legacy of this dear brother in Christ. Thanks, Elward, for leading the way! Praying earnestly today and tomorrow for Dawn, Jonathan and his Newark family for the official services and final committal to the ground. And comforted to know that we all will join Elward, Alex Anderson and all the saints in a glorious reunion at the feet of Jesus around the mighty throne of God! PRAISES! Dr. Carolyn P. Parks, Duluth, GA
Elward was a dear brother and role model over the years going back to the early 1970’s when I was active in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as a student leader. At that time, our New York City area committee organized forums and conferences with Elward as speaker/ workshop leader. He continued as a pioneer, a prophet, and an agent of reconciliation, all the while with a heart for global evangelism and mission. Whenever we had contact over the years, he was a great influence in my Christian life. He both challenged and encouraged to me in my own ministry. I thank the Lord for the blessings of that friendship. -- Ron Mitchell
So many of us in Pittsburgh are so saddened by this news. Elward "stood in the gap" as pastor for a critical season at Friendship Community Presbyterian Church and returned just recently for our 50th Anniversary Celebration. I met Elward in 1990 at Urbana where he was recruiting and training African-American students for overseas mission work. He was passionate, inventive, and kind. He would not get boxed in by categories. He was a signpost-holder for me early in my journey into urban ministry, deploying young people for Kingdom work, and cross-cultural communication. I thank God for his hard work and witness. Bryan Perry
We are deeply saddened by the news of Elward's passing to glory. In particular, we grieve with Dawn and Jonathan. I first met Elward in the mid-1960's --I was a student at NC State University in Raleigh when Elward was at Shaw. Later, on associate staff of IVCF led me to more opportunities to work with Elward. I remember fond memories of coming with Elward to Blacknall Presbyterian Church and the significant impact he had to direction of the church. More recently, he spoke at the Blacknall Adult Retreat....he was one of the best speakers that the Adult retreat has had...and we have been privileged to have excellent speakers. It was then that we met Dawn. His work will have lasting impact in this area. I am sure that he was greeted with the words, "Well done! Good and faithful Servant".
In the late 70’s when I began 11 years on IV staff in Maryland, the IV-Black Campus Ministry roster was pretty small. There were men and women like Barbara Brown, Doreen Fox, Alex and Felicia Anderson, Paul Gibson, Bob Hunter and Fred Williamson. We gathered at least yearly to simply fellowship with one another, think through our ministry to Black students together and especially to help each other “hang in there” in our various ministry locations. We dreamed and prayed together asking God for an American evangelical church and specifically an InterVarsity, that would address more swiftly the changing racial demographics. Then InterVarsity hired this large man with a large heart: Elward Ellis. He was charged with the task of bringing cohesion and developing a movement among us, helping us realize that we were pioneers of what God wanted to do in IV and for the church at large. He helped coordinate black student conferences across our individual regions. The campus staff did the grass roots work on our campuses while he was interfacing with directors and supervisors in the Madison headquarters as well as some of IV’s big doners around the nation. Slowly but surely change occurred. Now IV is known as a leader among evangelical parachurch ministries, not only in ministry to African Americans but in the general sphere of multi-ethnic ministry. Brother Elward was the key visionary leader that God used for that season of IV’s life. Whether he was hanging out at the table in a row house here in Baltimore or when the lights were turned on and he was ministering to God’s people “under the anointing” at a campus, camp or church, he was a man of utmost integrity, always professionally prepared, culturally connected, theologically precise and honestly...just a fun guy to be around. My wife Terri and I mourn with Dawn and the entire Ellis family. We thank God for His life and testimony. May he now rest in peace as he praises our King face to face. Rev. Stanley J. Long Co-Pastor, Faith Christian Fellowship, Baltimore MD
I spent the summer of 1979 on an urban mission in Pittsburgh with Elward. That experience cemented a long and respectful friendship. We met up in ensuing years at the Jubilee Conference and CCO training events. He befriended my sister when she first moved South and helped connect her to his old Newark friends at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga. I already miss him! He was a great leader-- a Moses really--and yet, didn't take himself or his ministry overly seriously. I remember holding hands, laughing and singing together outside a white suburban restaurant while being harassed by white teens. They didn't like seeing a mixed group of black and white, male and female, enjoying one another's company. Elward held his head up and laughed the loudest. You get the last laugh now, my old friend.
I thought the world of Rev. Elward Ellis. As a student at Morehouse College, he often stopped by my dormitory to encourage me in my spiritual walk. I was among the first college student he met as he began his seven years tenure as Director of Black Campus Ministries for Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship, Rev. Ellis was an outstanding spiritual leader among college students because he knew how to relate to students as well how to encourage them. After continuing my education at Tuskegee University, Rev. Ellis and I again was re-acquainted as he began to help developed the Christian fellowship at Tuskegee University. The word of his death is just shocking as I consider the great work this dynamic leader of God has made to my life and the thousands of other lives in which he touched. The tremendous contribution he made to my life will forever be remembered. May his family members be encouraged to know that this man touched many lives and made this world a better place because he lived. We will forever remember you Elward Ellis.. Tony Hall
Elward was my brother, teacher, co-conspirator and friend. When he was IV's BCM director, Nina Lau-Branson and I were trying to start IV's Asian American ministry. Elward listened, coached and encouraged us. As we birthed multi-ethnic training within the IV movement, Elward was integral to the team -- creating, conspiring and dreaming. I remember when Elward first met Dawn - he was totally smitten!! This strong man simply melted as he described her to us. Fast forward to many years later, we were both at a national multi-ethnic staff gathering in Atlanta. As we looked out on a room filled with staff from many nations and ethnicities, he held my hand and we both wept. He said to me, "Look what God has done!" Well done, good and faithful Elward. May you enjoy fellowship forever with your Father and Lord whom you served with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And may the Holy Spirit be a strong comforting presence to Dawn and Jonathan in these days of grief and sorrow. Jeanette Yep, IV staff, 1977-2007 and currently pastor of Global & Regional Outreach, Grace Chapel, Lexington, MA.
well-said tribute about a most unusual and wonderful person. thank you, Jeanette
In February, 1980, as a junior at the University of Virginia, I felt led to have a low-income housing ministry in Pittsburgh. Trusted counselors reminded me that God did not call lone rangers, and urged me to pray for a group of people in Pittsburgh with the same vision. After praying for less than two months, Elward was invited to speak to our InterVarsity chapter. It was the first time we’d had anyone from out of state (let alone Pittsburgh!) or anyone black (to my memory, anyway!). Elward came, sang one of his favorite songs (“Deep”), and mentioned that he was pastoring a church in Pittsburgh where blacks and whites were worshipping together. I knew I wanted to check it out. On May 1, three students at Elward’s church (Friendship Community Church) incorporated a new low-income housing ministry called “Breachmenders.” I walked through the door four weeks later. I met the Breachmenders the next week, and went on to run that ministry for 15+ years. I lead worship at Friendship Church to this day, and always remember my beloved big brother Elward when I sing, “Deep,” trying my best to do it the way he did. Friendship Church mourns this tragic loss and awaits the day we’ll be re-united with our Pastor, our brother, our friend Elward.
As I look at the pictures of Elward on this page, it brings back so many wonderful memories of a man I always looked up to and always listened to as one of the wise elders--able to deliver deep truths with that soft voice and that somewhat mischievous smile of his. I followed Elward as InterVarsity's 2nd Black Campus Ministries Director for a few years, and I always felt that he was our Martin -- a trail blazer who, along with folks like Tony Warner, Alex, Barbara and others, paid a great price to bring a prophetic word to a ministry that was worth that price. His work opened up so many possibilities that today has resulted in thousands of black students being prepared for leadership in the Kingdom of God and the world God seeks to reach. Thank you, Father, for the life and ministry of this great man. My prayers will be with his family.
Im saddened by the loss of our dear brother Elward. He demonstrated a sincere love and appreciation for youth and young adults. In a time when christian hip hop was rarely accepted, he embraced the idea and supported several artists I managed. He took it a step further and served as a board member & mentor for our start up music company. Elward was instrumental in saving the life of one of our young men who became rebellous in his walk. He managed to reel him back, by offering a safe haven at Crossroads. Then he gave him opportunities to express & share his faith. It was the turning point in the young mans life. Im grateful to have been associated with a man of God who was pivotal not only in my own journey, but so many others.
I attended a huge meeting of United States Mission Executives as Associate Director of IVCF Missions and Urbana in 1988. I am Australian and had been in the USA about 4 months. About 250 people were there. On the third night something happened that stunned me. Elward was so gracious in response. The next morning I was so angry I skipped the business meeting. As I walked the grounds I heard Elward's voice behind me: "you're still angry about what happened last night are't you? We spent about an hour talking.". He told me part of his story. Urbana in the 60's and other events...we talked of the Trinity and how the Christian church hasn't much scratched the surface in dealing with how blind we are as we use power... As I now live among 40 nationalities in Sydney Australia, my ministry here finds it's deepest roots in a journey which started in the dehumanizing systems of Communist China but my understanding of Mark 8-10 and the arrogance of seeking power over other persons was first articulated as being found in Christian institutions in that discussion with Elward... I Pray for Dawn and Jonathan, but also for us...we've lost a prophet...
In the '80s, I had the privilege of working with Elward, Ruth, and Jeanette in starting the first efforts a multicultural ministries. Elward was very understanding when I was blind and very affirming when I finally "got it." Elward was a great soul. --David Neff
Elward Ellis was a true friend and brother in Christ. Elward and I have been friends since our teen years. We met through our church youth group called Conquerors Club at Calvary Gospel Church in Newark. While attending Norfolk State University he was a chaplain to me and hundreds of other students on campus. He mentored and discipled us during our college years. He was accessible and extremely creative. He brought in people like Rev. John Bryant, a powerful preacher and Tom Skinner, an awesome preacher and evangelist to help us understand what it means to be a young African American Christian and how that plays out in the workplace and in our churches. His teachings were visual and practical. He could communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the common man and people in prestigious positions as well. His love for people and reconciliation between the races was dear to his heart. More importantly, he wanted all to know the Jesus he so dearly loved. The service will be at Calvary Gospel Church and not at Calvary Gospel Chapel. See information below. Calvary Gospel Church 17 Lyons Avenue Newark New Jersey Rev. Dr. Steven Davis Pastor 973-926-3675 Friday, May 18th viewing- from 4:00 pm -7:00 pm at Calvary Gospel Friday, May 18th testimony service for Elward at Calvary Gospel- from 7:00 pm -9:00 pm Saturday, May 19th homegoing service at Calvary Gospel 9:00 am Saturday, May 19th Interment at Heavenly Rest in East Hanover New Jersey 11:00 pm Rochelle Pleasant- A family friend
Hello and good morning to all my name is Tasha Ellis and I am the neice to Rev. Elward Ellis on behalf of the Ellis family we would like to say thank you for your kind words about my DEAR Uncle Wayne. I am so glad we where able to share him with the world. Once again Thank you!
If you wanted to know the values that guided Elward's ministry, it might have been best captured in this blog post where he describes the five principal areas of his call to ministry: " 1. Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to reconcile human persons to God; 2. seeking to develop and disciple the poor in the US and in the world; 3. working for authentic racial reconciliation; 4. the development of a generation of "Black Christian leaders for the church and its witness in society and the world and 5. Developing strategic partnerships with churches across racial, ethnic, regional or geographical boundaries to advance the kingdom of God." Rev. Elward Ellis in his blog call pastorvision on wordpress. Elward, I have seen firsthand your prolific ministry in racial reconciliation and developing black Christian leaders. I attended Shaw University a couple of years after Elward established the InterVarsity chapter there! If it had not been for Elward, I would never have heard of InterVarsity, let alone serve on staff for 18 years and having the privilege of calling him big brother, mentor and friend! His impact on my life and ministry have been huge! Thank you Elward for taking the risk to leave inner city Newark and come to the south to be shaped by God and to live out your life impacting the world for the kingdom of God! Rev. Fred Williams, Regional BCM Coordinator, InterVarsity