From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Robert Edgar Elected as NCC General Secretary
Worldwide Faith News <email@example.com>
12 Nov 1999 11:39:06
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
Office of News Services
Contact: NCC News, 212-870-2227
50th Anniversary Newsroom - Nov. 8-12, 1999 call 216-696-8490
THE REV. ROBERT EDGAR ELECTED AS NCC GENERAL SECRETARY
Nov. 12, 1999, CLEVELAND, Ohio - Claremont School of Theology President
and former U.S. Representative Robert W. Edgar, an ordained United
Methodist elder who describes himself as an optimist, a futurist and a
coalition builder, today was elected unanimously to the National Council of
Churches' top staff post, that of general secretary.
Effective Jan. 1, 2000, Dr. Edgar, 56, will head the nation's leading
ecumenical organization, with headquarters in New York City and a budget of
some $60 million a year. Through the NCC, 35 Protestant and Orthodox
member communions (denominations) engage together in witness, service and
the search for greater Christian unity.
His election took place during the NCC's 50th anniversary celebration Nov.
9-12, which drew together some 1,000 participants from across the United
States and from several countries for worship, study and visioning of
ecumenism's future at the turn of the 21st century. The new general
secretary (a salaried position equivalent to that of chief executive
officer) will share leadership with Ambassador Andrew Young, installed Nov.
11 to serve in 2000-2001 as NCC president (a non-salaried post).
Yet Dr. Edgar also takes office at a time of intense worry about the
Council's financial and organizational viability. His nomination (by a
25-member search committee) was confirmed by the NCC's General Assembly,
its highest policy-setting board, which also endorsed a plan to radically
restructure the Council, cut staff and budget and give greater
administrative autonomy to the NCC's largest program, Church World Service.
And, as Dr. Edgar himself noted, few of the nearly 52 million congregants
in the NCC's member communions know much, if anything, about the great
legacy and ongoing ministries of the National Council of Churches.
Unfazed, Bob Edgar expressed his confidence in the reservoir of "goodwill
nationally and internationally to see organizations like the NCC achieve,"
and said, "I am a person who can help institutions re-envision
themselves. I have no issue with the history of the NCC but like all
bureaucracies or institutions, simply by nature of how institutions and
organizations work, they often need renewal and refreshment."
The NCC's current fiscal challenge "clouds peoples remembrance of the great
things it has done, and makes fuzzy any vision of the future," he
continued. "I may be able to look more clearly at seeing the opportunities
of the future, asking what systemic changes can be made where the NCC can
be more effective, more connected and more able to leverage its power at
the local and regional level for the good of the church, to do for the
member communions what they are finding it difficult to do for themselves,
to care for needs of people, love neighbor and enemy, seek justice and
improve the quality of life on the planet."
Clearly, Dr. Edgar's achievements during his 12-year tenure as President of
Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, Calif., caught the NCC's eye as it
sought for its new general secretary in anticipation of the Rev. Dr. Joan
B. Campbell's retirement Dec. 31, 1999, after nine years in that post.
"When I came to Claremont," the Rev. Edgar said, "it was just a hiccup
away from going out of business. I led in changing the spirit and image of
the school around, and now people see it as a model of how to salvage
institutions in financial distress."
During this past decade-plus of redevelopment and growth, Claremont has
become what Dr. describes as "the most ecumenical of the Methodist
seminaries." Theological schools of five denominations - Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.), The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United
Methodist Church -- now share the campus, and more than 30 denominations
send students to the school. "We think we do a better-than-adequate job
educating Christians for leadership positions in the church," he said.
Dr. Edgar's whole ministry has been "interdenominational and bipartisan,"
he said, and "my whole life reflects an ecumenical spirit, doing the
unexpected, winning the unwinnable race."
In 1974, he was the first Democrat in more than 120 years to be elected to
the U.S. House of Representatives from his heavily Republican district,
Pennsylvania's Seventh District. "I got elected as a 'Watergate baby,'" he
said, "was re-elected five additional times, then voluntarily stepped down
in 1987 from the House because I believe in term limits."
He ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 1986, won the primary despite the fact
that he was not his party's endorsed nominee, but lost the election. In
spring 1987, as Eugene Lang Visiting Professor for Social Change, he taught
a course on the "Politics of the Future" at Swarthmore (Pa.) College. From
1987-88, he served as finance director for Sen. Paul Simon's presidential
campaign, and from 1988-90 was Director of the Committee for National
Security in Washington, D.C., a national private "think tank."
"I've done a lot of work with Paul Simon and his brother, Art, former head
of Bread for the World, on food and hunger issues, and on environmental
issues," Dr. Edgar said. While in the U.S. Congress, he led efforts to
improve public transportation, authored the Community Right to Know
provisions of Super Fund legislation, fought wasteful water projects and
supported environmental goals.
He also served as chair of the Congressional Clearinghouse on the Future
(1982-86) and as a member of the Select Committee on Assassinations
(1976-78), which investigated the deaths of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
and President John F. Kennedy. He also served the House Veterans' Affairs
Committee and its Subcommittees on Hospitals and Health and on Education,
where he co-authored the new GI bill for the all-volunteer service.
Before he was elected to the U.S. Congress, Dr. Edgar was the United
Protestant Chaplain at Philadelphia's Drexel University (1971-74) and, from
1972-74, served concurrently as associate pastor at Lansdowne (Pa.) United
Methodist Church. During that period he co-founded the People's Emergency
Center, Philadelphia's first shelter for women and children, a project that
became a national model.
Earlier he was pastor of several United Methodist churches in
Pennsylvania. He received the master of divinity degree from The
Theological School of Drew University, Madison, N.J., and the bachelor of
arts degree in history and religion from Lycoming College, Williamsport, Pa.
A member of Claremont United Methodist Church in Claremont, Calif., he is a
member of the United Methodist University Senate and serves on the General
Commission on Communications of the United Methodist Church, both based in
Nashville. He also is a member of the board of directors of Pacific Media
Ministry in San Diego, Calif., and serves on the Advisory Board of the
Skirball Institute for American Values in Los Angeles.
The Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky (Orthodox Church in America), chair of the
NCC search committee for general secretary, commented that the Rev. Edgar's
"fresh leadership will be a gift. Moreover, he brings a passionate yet
lucid commitment to social justice."
As he anticipates new challenges as the NCC's general secretary, Dr. Edgar
said, "My background of 12 years in politics gives me connections with the
political and activist elements across the country. My service in higher
education brings me in touch with the academic community. I spent several
years in the peace and justice community. As a young seminarian, I met
Martin Luther King, Jr., and am passionate about civil rights and human
"At the local level, the ecumenical movement is alive and well. People
break a common bread and share a common cup, they exchange among
traditions, they are interested in a spirituality that doesn't necessarily
have a label. As an optimist, I see a great opportunity to connect to that
local passion from a national level and find ways to really make a
difference. I look forward to working with a lot of people at a variety of
levels on what are the local handles for finding ways for the NCC to be
helpful and appropriate in shaping the ecumenical vision for the
future. Organizing 35 communions and the people in them to take seriously
the covenants of the Old and New Testaments is a challenge I'm ready to
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