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Some of life’s best lessons are learned outside the classroom

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More than 450 students and faculty from a Nashville high school gathered in the backyard of their beloved professor to worship with him and support his battle against cancer.

More than 450 students and faculty from a Nashville, TN high school gathered in the backyard of their beloved professor to worship with him and support his battle against cancer. Photo courtesy of Christ Presbyterian Academy.

Photo courtesy of Christ Presbyterian Academy

More than 450 students and faculty from a Nashville, Tenn. high school gathered in the backyard of their beloved professor to worship with him and support his battle against cancer.

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Worship does not have to happen inside church walls to be beautiful. An unforgettable moment, filled with love, prayer and fervent worship of God, happened on a lawn, just below the window of someone too sick to leave his room in Nashville, Tennessee .

Students and faculty from the high school wing of Christ Presbyterian Academy gathered outside the home of Mr. Ben Ellis to support their beloved teacher in his fight with esophageal cancer. Ellis has taught Latin and Bible at the school since 2008.

Ellis succumbed to his illness Friday morning, September 16, after battling an aggressive form of the the cancer since 2015.

"Holy Spirit"

The students and faculty sang to their teacher the song "Holy Spirit," written by Brian & Katie Torwalt.

Francesca Battistelli's performance of "Holy Spirit" won the 2016 Grammy Award for the Best Contemporary Christian Music Peformance.

[Chorus:]
Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord
Your presence, Lord

On September 10, a crowd of more than 450 stood in his back yard and sang the worship hymn "Holy Spirit" to him as he looked through his opened bedroom window. Despite being weak from his cancer treatments, Ellis worshiped and sang along with his students.

"It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my entire life," said Nate Morrow, Headmaster of Christ Presbyterian Academy. Morrow added "He (was) one of the kindest and intentionally loving people I've ever met in my life."

John Wesley would say this beautiful moment was filled with both prayerful worship and compassion, and would help create a well-rounded spiritual life for the participants.

To Ellis, it was both a joy and a comfort. "It overwhelmed me that God would fill that many students with that much love. At that moment, I felt that I was not alone," he said in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" program soon after the students sang.

During the GMA interview on September 13, Morrow said that Ellis "is a man who loves like Jesus loves. He loves lavishly, he loves intentionally, and he has taught us all how to love better. This was a way for all of us to love him back."

"It was so special," said Ellis' daughter Betsy, a student at Christ Presbyterian Academy, about the event. "It was amazing because we didn't necessarily serenade him, we got to worship (our Lord) with him," Betsy continued. "Worship has been important for my Dad and my family through this whole journey. I knew that I had 450+ people who are walking beside me and who love me. It was just a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ for me."

"It was a moment," said Morrow, "where we got to all be part of love and action that was one of the greatest lessons that I and I think all of us will ever learn, and it didn't happen in the classroom."

Speaking for the school after Ellis' passing, Morrow said this about the beloved teacher: “He left these words for us, spoken over the students at his house, and I share them with you to guide us now. He said, ‘I love you. I believe now more than ever that God is good, and that He is with us. I am full of hope, peace, and joy. I wish all this for you. Look to Jesus to know, to believe, and to be filled.’”

*Christopher Fenoglio is managing editor for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications.  He may be reached at cfenoglio@umcom.org, 615-312-3734. This blog was first published on September 16, 2016.