Presiding Bishop Charles H. Ellis III, who is entering his third year as the leader of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW), spoke with The Christian Post on Monday from the denomination's 97th annual Summer Convention in New Orleans about unity in the church, helping families in New Orleans and the fight to give women the opportunity to become bishops.
The theme of this year's convention is "Endeavoring to Keep the Unity," and Ellis has borrowed a slogan – "One Band, One Sound" – from the movie "Drumline" to rally PAW members to support one another. Within PAW there are many sub-ministries, or auxiliaries, and Ellis says it is easy for them to forget that they are a part of a larger body.
"That unity theme has really been a rallying cry to get everyone to support each other and not operate autonomously as separate auxiliaries or groups," he said.
One way to help encourage unity, he said, is to take the conference – which is expected to be attended by over 10,000 people this week – to a place like New Orleans, where many people are in need and church members can set aside their differences for the sake of helping others. The 2012 Summer Convention is the first that has been held in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005.
"There's still some areas of New Orleans where it still looks like Hurricane Katrina happened last week or last month," said Ellis. "So if there's any place that we have got to let our love be felt, and it has to be from the heart ... it's got to be in the city of New Orleans."
As the senior pastor of Greater Grace Temple in Detroit, Mich., Ellis has seen how businesses and individuals have struggled with their finances in an area of the country that was hit particularly hard by the economic recession. And when individuals struggle financially, he said, one of the first things they stop putting their money toward is donations to nonprofit organizations like the Red Cross, The Salvation Army and even their local churches.
"The first thing they cut back on is benevolence ... those kind of nonprofits are the first to catch it when the economy is not doing well. So it's been very challenging," said Ellis, who estimates that church giving is down about 30 percent at PAW churches nationwide.
But that hasn't stopped him from encouraging the denomination to give back to churches and individuals in need. During last year's annual convention in Orlando, for example, PAW gave away about $50,000 to pastors, churches, and bishops who were in need of aid due to health problems, natural disasters and other issues.
This year, PAW wants to leave a lasting legacy in New Orleans before the week is over. In addition to doing evangelism throughout the city and giving away clothing to the needy, the organization is also giving away a home, which was built in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity and the Pentecostal Church of the Apostolic Faith (PCAF), to a local family in need.
"We've tried to change that mentality that the organization doesn't just take, but it gives back," said Ellis.
Last year's convention in Orlando marked the first time PAW broadcast a live service from the event on national television, and they will do it again on Thursday. Ellis will speak about Pentecost and "moves of God" during the telecast, and although his sermons preached at Greater Grace Temple are broadcast daily on The WORD Network, he says broadcasting from the convention is special because it shows "a broader church" with PAW members in attendance from around the world.
Looking toward the future, one thing Ellis said the PAW will continue to work on is giving women an equal opportunity to join the ranks of the denomination's leadership. Just a few years ago, PAW leadership voted to allow women to become bishops, but Ellis believes the odds are still against them.
"Will we offer access and opportunities in jest? Or will we actually offer real hope and opportunities of individuals being elevated, especially when they're putting in the work and they're being used by God in a mighty way, just as many of the men and the brothers are?" he asked.
The PAW annual convention will continue through Saturday, Aug. 11. Thursday's service will be broadcast from the Morial Convention Center and will air live at 9 p.m. ET on The WORD Network.