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01 September 2008

Edwards' lasting vision

Edwards' lasting vision

"How will you fill Clive Calver's shoes?" someone asked Rev Joel Edwards as he announced his new role as general director of the Alliance in 1997. "Actually," Edwards replied, "Clive has taken his shoes with him."

As the Alliance's first black Pentecostal general director, Joel navigated a new route into re-branding the Alliance and re-positioning evangelical witness in the 21st century. And he has certainly left his own legacy, facilitating an evangelicalism that has journeyed more deeply into the public square, creating partnerships and engaging in the times without losing its soul.

According to board member Robert Amess, that legacy is both "unique and unrepeatable". And he remembers the early days. "When we interviewed Joel for this position," he says, "we had conviction that he had the gifting to establish an ambassadorial role, which he has undoubtedly done. Joel has grown into the statesman he is today and will leave a distinguished mark on us all."

One such mark will be Joel's ability to uphold unity in diversity. Seeking to close the distance between the right and left of evangelical constituencies, he believed that unity would be the key to spiritual and social transformation.

Through leading initiatives on evangelical mission, social engagement and societal values such as respect and tolerance, Joel has presented Christ credibly in the media and in Parliament by blending grace and truth.

"Joel Edwards' legacy is both unique and unrepeatable"

As a regular broadcaster on Radio 4, a member of the Black Christian Leaders Forum, chair of the Churches Media Council and co-founder of Micah Challenge International, he campaigned for government action against poverty, rallied the Church to respond to rising violence in the UK and brought attention to evangelicals in secular spheres.

An early passion

Joel's concern for marginalised peoplestarted from an early age. As an immigrant from Jamaica at the age of 8, he experienced poverty and discrimination first-hand. And in his 20s, as a student at London Bible College, he observed that unity only makes sense in the context of diversity. "There is value in evangelical distinctive," he says. "I learned at LBC that a heart transformed by the cross of Christ is no excuse for detachment from the world for which He died. "Furthermore, after spending 14 years as a probation officer with the Inner London Probation Service and 10 years as minister of a New Testament Church of God in East London, Joel's work confirmed on a daily basis the claim of scripture that we are all made in God's image and we are all fallen at birth regardless of age, gender, race or class.

"It's very easy for the Church to co-exist with society as opposed to being embroiled in its pain," he says. "Experiencing this suffering changes the way we pray and the way we preach and alters our view of the world from a stained glass window."

When Joel came to the African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance as general secretary in 1988, he demonstrated the transforming power of Christ in communities and built bridges between ACEA and churches in the UK. Four years later he went on to become UK director of the Evangelical Alliance.

In his 11 years as general director, Joel was awarded an honorary doctorate from St Andrew's University, received the title of honorary canon at St Paul's Cathedral and was appointed a commissioner for the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

After his resignation, Joel will continue to work towards positioning faith in the public square as a member of the International Religious Advisory Council to Tony Blair's Faith Foundation. This role will complement his new position as international director of Micah Challenge in tackling issues of global poverty, specifically the Millennium Development Goals.

As the time comes for Joel to depart, he not only leaves the Alliance with a legacy of upholding unity in diversity but imparts a renewed vision for the future: An Agenda for Change.

"People should recognise us as good news citizens who are integral to our communities and the public square," he says. "Our future as evangelicals is to be at the heart of long-term spiritual and social transformation for our society."

Nicole Holmes

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