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Miracles in Mesa: Outreach and Creating Zion at the Easter Pageant

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What began as a new calling in stake communications transformed into touched hearts and a feeling of Zion for one Latter-day Saint couple prompted to share the Mesa Temple Easter pageant with those of other faiths. 

Having earned the reputation of the world’s largest outdoor Easter pageant, “Jesus the Christ” has been put on by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1977. Thousands of people from all over the world flock to the Mesa Arizona Temple grounds every year the two weeks prior to Easter.

Mesa natives Abram and Ashley Ellsworth were among the many attendees of the pageant this year. They keep busy with their 6 children, Abram managing a real estate media company, Ashley finishing up her last year at ASU studying social work, fostering young children, and serving not only in their stake but also other denominational churches local to the Mesa area.

May be an image of 6 people, flower and outdoors
Abram and Ashley Ellsworth with their children.

Abram had been serving in the high council of the Mesa South Stake for four years, with one of his assignments being communications. The Mesa South Stake’s boundaries cover the heart of Mesa, which is home to multiple non-profit organizations and over a dozen churches of different denominations. Abram was in attendance at an area leadership meeting in late 2022 where it was made clear that someone needed to be called specifically to serve and build relationships with those in the community outside of The Church of Jesus Christ, focusing more on interfaith outreach in Mesa. Abram was released from High Council and was called to be the “Stake Communication Director,” with Ashley serving alongside him as “Stake Communication Specialist.”

“If anyone reading this feels inspired to do more interfaith outreach in your area, do it. And, where appropriate, mention your interest to your stake leaders. Like President Nelson said, ‘Good inspiration is based upon good information,”’ Abram said. “There are lots of relationship bridges that are worth building all around us.” 

Abram and Ashley got to work in their new callings, researching local non-profits and churches, their missions and ministries, when they held worship meetings and Bible studies, and other information that would help them in their efforts. They prayerfully choose the churches and organizations they attend and aim to attend two a month, while still faithfully attending their home ward the other Sundays. Abram explained “Building bridges of friendship, like building a real bridge requires vision, intentional planning, and effort. Our prophet has asked us to become the people worthy of a Zion society, where Christ can dwell with us. Well, then we should each start doing so, one relationship at a time. Zion includes all the pure in heart. It’s naive to assume that our church membership has the monopoly on heart purity.”

Having attended nine local churches so far, Abram and Ashley have enjoyed learning and fellowshipping with their members and pastors, also attending some Bible studies. One thing they have noticed is that while these churches’ beliefs don’t always match up with Latter-day Saint doctrine, they share many truths and have a great focus on our Savior Jesus Christ. Upon attendance, they introduce themselves and inform that they have a home church.

“We just want to know what they are about, and seek only to add to it or collaborate… to support their ministry on a wider community level.” Abram and Ashley also aren’t seeking to convert. “We do not want to be viewed as competitive or lurking wolves, trying to steal another pastor’s sheep. We have one Shepherd, Jesus Christ,” Abram explained. Abram and Ashley’s outreach has also included service with local non-profits, one being Resurrection Street Ministries, in which they helped coordinate over 150 donations of turkeys from their stake to feed homeless veterans.

Abram Ellsworth and Bill Berry of Ressurection Street Ministries with their collection of turkey donations

Every year, Mesa is home to the well-known Easter pageant, which is held on temple grounds. The pageant serves as a beautiful portrayal of the story of Easter, illustrated through live acting, beautiful music, and a script composed almost entirely from the King James Bible. This year in preparation for the Mesa temple’s Easter pageant, the pageant director called on local area leadership for assistance in inviting those who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ to attend. It was also asked that area leadership seek inspiration to pick someone not of the Latter-day Saint faith to offer an opening prayer, in front of the thousands that attend every night.

After a lot of prayer, Abram felt inspired to extend an invitation to give the opening prayer at the pageant on the night of April 6th to Pastor David Wade of Mount Calvary Baptist Church (reportedly the oldest church in Mesa.) Pastor Wade is someone Abram and Ashley quickly came to admire upon their attendance at local Mesa churches. Abram knew Pastor Wade was the right person to ask, and he graciously replied, “It would be my honor.”

Abram and Ashley Ellsworth, Mesa South Stake Presidency, and Pastor David Wade

Pastor Wade arrived at the pageant in his Sunday best, ready to give the opening prayer in front of over 12,000 people. He gave an unforgettable prayer, blessing all past, present, and future pageant participants, and all who are walking with God. Throughout the pageant that night, Pastor Wade would quote the happenings right out of the King James Bible, as well as catch video clips of the pageant on his phone, sending them out to hundreds of people with “This is really something!” and “You’ve got to see this!” Abram and Ashley’s hearts were warmed by the enthusiasm and faith their friend Pastor Wade showed at the pageant that night.

They were also joined by their close friend Michael Soto, who serves as a leader of ONE Community, a local LGBTQ+ non-profit organization whose mission is to achieve equality for all while preserving religious liberties.

Pictured left to right: Michael Soto, Ashley Ellsworth, Abram Ellsworth, Pastor David Wade

Abram shared a beautiful testimony of his and Ashley’s service in their stake communication callings so far: “It’s one thing to attend a church gathering with just you and your normal group, and that’s all great and important, but gathering (to commemorate Christ’s mission at the Easter pageant for example) with groups that I traditionally had not spent quality time with, has brought a level of spiritual satisfaction not felt nearly enough since serving as a full-time missionary decades prior. It’s miraculous to me. It’s life-changing. I feel like I know Christ more personally now thanks to this spiritual stretching – beyond the comfort zone so to speak.”

The 2023 Mesa Temple Easter pageant served as the center of a very successful effort to integrate other faiths into the largely Latter-day Saint community in Mesa, AZ – but this is only the beginning for the Ellsworths and their interfaith service. “We’re only a few months into this, [we’re] just getting started. We hope to continue building bridges so our community truly does become more Zion-like.”

Featured Image | Scott 

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Brenna Hoffman
Brenna Hoffman
Brenna resides in Los Angeles with her husband and two small children. She is a stay at home mom and works as a photographer and writer. When she's not chasing around her littles, she enjoys watching '90s sitcoms with her husband, shopping at Target, and eating anything with marinara sauce.

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