‘Visionary leadership, personal kindness’
Baptists have paid tribute to the Revd Dr Joel Edwards, the former General Director of the Evangelical Alliance who died on Wednesday (30 June)
Dr Edwards CBE led the Evangelical Alliance from 1997–2009, after previously working as a probation officer, church pastor and general secretary of the African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance. On leaving the EA he became International Director for Micah Challenge and a Commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. He was a frequent contributor to Radio 4's Thought for the Day feature. His death from cancer was announced via a personal letter on his Facebook page on Wednesday, 30 June.
He worked closely with many Baptists over the years, including our Justice Enabler Wale Hudson-Roberts. ‘He was a giant of a man,’ said Wale, ‘who impacted the souls of many, many people.’
Baptist minister Israel Olofinjana became the director of the EA’s One People Commission earlier this year. In this tribute he describes how Joel was a hero who would become ‘a friend, senior colleague and mentor.’
‘He was one of the people I sought advice from when I was informed I had the job as the Director of the One People Commission of the Evangelical Alliance,’ said Israel. ‘I knew he would have a fatherly counsel for me as someone who has navigated that space before me. His advice was timely, encouraging, refreshing and prophetic. Some of the insights he shared with me are proving really useful as I develop my strategy for the role.’
Joel was a ‘versatile, rich, nuanced, thought-provoking speaker,' Israel continued, able to speak both at Spring Harvest and a Black Pentecostal church convention. In addition he was a preacher, teacher, theologian, writer, broadcaster, humanitarian, philosopher, father, husband, uncle, mentor, role model, influencer, activist, academic and a prophet.
'We will miss Dr Edwards for his immense contributions to church, society, theological discourse, advocacy work, humanitarian work and as a global ambassador of Christ.'
David Coffey, Baptist Union General Secretary 1991-2005, was another friend who worked closely with Joel.
‘I was privileged to know Joel Edwards and valued his encouraging friendship, especially in the early years of my service as General Secretary,’ David said. ‘I can remember walking with him around Lake Derwentwater when he was contemplating applying for General Director of the Evangelical Alliance. He was well aware of the enormous challenges that awaited him if appointed to this significant position of evangelical leadership, not least the fierce exposure in the public square of representing Christian counter-cultural views on the issues of the day.
‘I was delighted when he was appointed as General Director, the first Pentecostal minister to hold this position, and I observed the countless occasions when he appeared in the media as an advocate for the views of the evangelical constituency. I recall accompanying him to meet with BBC executives prior to a controversial programme being broadcast on BB2. Joel was courageous in presenting his concerns and courteous in his questions to the representatives of the BBC.
‘He was widely respected beyond the church and served fruitfully as a commissioner for the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. We served together as inaugural members of the Religious Advisory Council for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
‘I am greatly saddened that his recent appointment as chair of the Church of England Racial Justice Commission will never be realised. He would have excelled in this role bringing his years of wisdom and experience.
‘His published letter of farewell reflected the essence of Joel’s life. It was filled with a confident faith in his eternal destiny, a gentle pastoral concern for others, and a clear witness to the Lord he called The Faithful One.'
Jonathan Edwards was Baptist Union General Secretary during the latter years of Joel's time leading the EA.
He said, 'Baptists have every reason to be grateful for the life of Joel Edwards. He understood where we were coming from and was always a warm friend of the Baptist Union. Leading the Evangelical Alliance requires considerable courage and grace, and Joel exhibited both to a remarkable degree. On a number of occasions we needed to speak together about difficult issues and I was always blessed by his clear thinking, his warmth and his boldness.
'We praise God for all the blessings that we received through Joel's friendship and support.'
Derek Tidball, a former tutor, director of studies and Principal of London Bible College, was another Baptist to have worked closely with Joel.
He said, ‘The year group to which Joel Edwards belonged as a student at London Bible College produced several key leaders, including Steve Brady and Ian Coffey. But when Joel graduated he confessed he had no idea what he was going to do next. God had other ideas. After time as a probation officer he became a minister in the New Testament Church of God and served throughout his life as an inspirational preacher and significant leader and role model.
‘He was appointed to lead the Afro-Caribbean Evangelical Alliance, as it then was, before succeeding Clive Calver as General Director of EA, in 1997. He was an obvious choice and his appointment was enthusiastically confirmed by the EA Council. His passionate and visionary leadership led to the empowering of the four nation's EAs, the integration of ACEA and the One People Commission. His commitment to being one in Christ embraced all but was especially discerning in terms of ethnic relationships and the integration of the vibrant black churches and their networks.
'So many other things happened under his leadership including the Faith and Nation Commission and navigating the atonement controversy of the early Millennium. He was great at encouraging others and built a significant team of gifted people at the EA.
‘His gifts were recognised beyond the Christian world with regular contributions to the BBC and being appointed a commissioner for the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. He was further recognised in the award of CBE. Late in life he completed an earned doctorate at Durham University.
‘When he left his role at EA after eleven years, his passion for wholistic mission found further expression in his leadership of Micah Challenge.
‘His life was too full and fruitful to be condensed to a few paragraphs. As one who worked closely with him down the years I will remember his visionary leadership but also his personal kindness. Typically, knowing his time was short, he penned a letter that was made public this week, which was full of gratitude and encouraged us to remain established in faith, looking to the Faithful One.’
Summing these reflections up, current General Secretary Lynn Green said, ‘I am sure that I represent many, many Baptists when I say how saddened I was to hear of the death of the Revd Dr Joel Edwards.
‘Joel was a truly influential Christian leader and one who ministered across many church traditions as he served in different role.
‘Joel was a great communicator and visionary with a huge heart for unity and justice, together with the boldness of a prophet to give voice to the imperatives of the Gospel. He was a friend to Baptists and our Baptist Union - we are particularly grateful for his involvement and commitment to The Sam Sharpe Project; for his speaking at some of our Baptist Assemblies and other Baptist events; and for the wise and constructive way he worked with many in our Union, including former General Secretaries David Coffey and Jonathan Edwards who have both spoken warmly of their partnership with Joel when he led the Evangelical Alliance.
‘More recently a friendship developed between Joel and Baptist minister Israel Olofinjana, who became the director of the Evangelical Alliance One People Commission earlier this year. Israel has described how Joel encouraged and mentored him, and the prophetic insight he imparted, always in a spirit of humility. It's clear from the recollections of Israel and others that an encounter with Joel Edwards enriched their own ministries as well as that of the wider church.
‘It is for these reasons and more that Joel’s faith and legacy will continue to be an inspiration to us all.
‘As Baptists Together we give thanks for Joel’s rich life and witness and we continue to pray for his loved ones as they grieve in the days ahead.’
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