First Bryan Baptist Church honors longest-serving pastor with posthumous window dedication

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — A cherished photo selected by a local pastor’s widow has been converted into a lasting part of First Bryan Baptist Church’s history.

The place of worship, recognized as one of the oldest Black churches in North America, honored the late Rev. Edward Ellis with a stained-glass window dedication.

The former pastor led the church for 26 years beginning in 1985 but continued to serve as pastor emeritus following his retirement. Ellis was First Bryan’s longest-serving pastor.

He devoted over 50 years of his life to the ministry and died in June 2020 at 87 years old.

First Bryan commissioned local artist and Aurora Stained Glass owner Jon Erickson to paint Ellis’ portrait and dedication plate on one of the church’s stained glass windows. 

Erickson created the work over a two-week period. Last month, he installed it on the existing window within a matter of hours. 

“It’s very humbling, and I’m just very thankful to God for the opportunity for him to be placed here,” said the esteemed pastor’s wife, Lillian Williams-Ellis, who has been a member of First Bryan for more than 30 years.

“We know that while he’s here, he will be here as long as there is a church here for the church to see and for our grandchildren, our children and for generations to come,” Williams-Ellis said, adding, “We’ll be able to come and see him and learn of him and the things that he did while he was pastor here.”

Her husband now joins the church’s previous pastors in being remembered with a stained-glass portrait. However, Ellis is the only pastor honored in this way who did not die during service to the 233-year-old church.

“All the other pastors that are in the windows have the same circumstance: they died in service,” said First Bryan’s current pastor, Rev. Christopher J. Pittman. 

“It’s just an honor to have him there, and he put in years of service and actually never stopped serving,” Pittman said. 

Williams-Ellis, who selected the photo of her husband from her home, says she feels Erickson did an “awesome job” creating the stained-glass portrait of the late pastor.

“I think when I saw it at first, I was looking at him as he was before he passed away, but he captured him when he was well,” Williams-Ellis said. “The more I look at it, the more I appreciate what he did.”

She hopes her husband will continue to be remembered for the work he did for the community and individual families while serving as pastor.

“He was very kind, loving and gentle to everybody, even the youth,” Williams-Ellis said. “He was just a wonderful leader in every way.”

First Bryan Baptist Church was originally organized in 1788 by Andrew Bryan, a slave who was permitted to purchase the land through his owner.

Including Ellis and Pittman, 20 pastors have led the historic church thus far.

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