The UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries announced today (Oct. 29) that Essence L. Ellis, a seminary student at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Conn., has been named its new Rev. Jerry Paul Scholar.
“We are thrilled to welcome Essence to the CHHSM family,” says Michael J. Readinger, CHHSM president and CEO. “Her sense of call to public health ministry coupled with her strong sense of justice is a perfect fit for CHHSM’s call to create a just, caring, and compassionate world. We are excited for the gifts she will bring to CHHSM.”
Ellis, who will receive her M.Div. degree in May 2021, currently serves as secretary of the Yale Divinity Student Government and as treasurer of Yale Black Seminarians. She also serves as a Health and Wellness Ministry Intern for Andover Newton Seminary at Yale, where she works with seminary leaders to ascertain how student engagement in health and wellness ministries might be enhanced through Yale Divinity and Andover Newton mission and programs.
“I’m very excited to work with UCC leaders who are doing ministry work that isn’t particularly parish centered, as I am interested in how the church goes about acknowledging ministry outside of the typical four-walled building,” Ellis says. “All of the CHHSM ministries hold importance for me … but I am particularly interested in affordable housing and services to children, youth and families. When preparing for the interview process, I was really drawn to IFM Community Medicine, Elon Homes, and Lydia’s House for the innovative work they’re doing in their respective communities.”
The Rev. Jerry Paul Scholar Program — named for an honored CHHSM leader who embodied the notion of serving leadership — was created specifically for seminary students who are interested in learning more about ministry in a faith-based health and human service nonprofit organization. Scholars are able to engage with leaders in CHHSM organizations, attend CHHSM Board of Director meetings and its Annual Gathering, and craft their time with CHHSM and possible career paths through monthly conversations with CHHSM staff. Previous CHHSM Scholars also have participated in CHHSM’s Nollau Leadership Institute, which helps participants explore how the role of being a serving leader is played out in their personal and professional lives.
Originally hailing from a Black Pentecostal denomination, Ellis attended Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., where she graduated with B.A. in religious studies. She found that conversations with her professors began to awaken a call to ordained ministry. After her professors encouraged her to follow her call to ministry, Ellis says she “was not convinced, but I began applications anyway, applying exclusively to master of arts in religion programs. After three extended deadlines from Yale Divinity, I knew it was time to stop playing it safe and just go where God was leading me.”
Thanks to a Yale course, “Intersectionality and Women’s Health,” Ellis felt led toward the intersection of faith and health-related issues in local communities. “Bringing public health awareness to the masses via the church is my current call as a servant of Christ,” she says.
CHHSM began the search for a new CHHSM Scholar following the graduation of Scholar Emily Howard earlier this year. After a rigorous search, Ellis was chosen.
“Essence really blew me away at every stage of the interview process,” says the Rev. Elyse Berry, D.Min., CHHSM’s associate for advocacy and leadership development. “She is a person of depth, poise, and passion and is already a leader in the work she is doing at Yale and in the New Haven community. I look forward to further supporting her in her professional and ministerial development and sharing in the many gifts she has to offer the world.”
Ellis says she is looking forward to working with and getting to know the various CHHSM agencies and staff. “I hope that the people I meet through the various CHHSM agencies are able to help me sharpen the skill set I already have,” she says, adding that she also hopes “they will act as professional and spiritual role models that inspire me to follow new pathways.”
“I am grateful for the opportunity,” Ellis adds. “I’m getting into the groove of what I hope my ministry will be like, so I’m excited to explore the extent of my vocational calling with a Council dedicated to the work I’m passionate about.”