Tribute To Joel Edwards

Former Evangelical Alliance General Director, Joel Edwards, passes away

Staff writer  30 June 2021 Christianity Today

Joel Edwards

Tributes have been paid to the former head of the Evangelical Alliance, Joel Edwards, who passed away from cancer on Wednesday morning.

Edwards was a British immigrant from Jamaica and started out as a probation officer, a role he held for 14 years.

In a rich and varied career, he served as senior pastor of Mile End New Testament Church of God and was an honorary Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral.

But he spent the best part of his career as a figurehead for evangelicals, joining the African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance in 1988, and then going on to lead the UK Evangelical Alliance as General Director from 1997 until 2009.

At the time of his departure, he published his book, An Agenda for Change, which sounded the call for evangelicals to be good news people.

“Evangelicals must re-imagine themselves as good news people and ask what that should look and feel like in the world today,” he said.

“And people should recognise us as good news citizens who are integral to our communities and the public square.”

Following his time with the EA, he became director of Micah Challenge, a coalition of Christian development agencies, and he was involved in academia as a Visiting Fellow of St John’s College, Durham.

In 2019, he was awarded a CBE for services to tackling poverty and injustice, and in April this year, he was appointed by the Church of England to establish a racial justice commission that would hold the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to account tackling racism.

In addition to his formal roles, Edwards was a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day and a popular broadcaster, speaker, writer and commentator on race, the Church and current affairs. 

In a letter to friends shared by his family after his death, Edwards bade a “final goodbye” and thanked people for their prayers for him.

“Words cannot express the depth, breadth and height of my gratitude, but I have gone home,” he said. 

“My earnest prayer is that your faith and tenacity on my behalf will not be considered a pointless religious exercise, but that it will have strengthened your faith in a God who is marvellous, mysterious and majestic in all he does: The Faithful One.” 

Current CEO of the UK Evangelical Alliance, Gavin Calver, called Edwards “a hero, friend, predecessor, mentor and encourager”.

“Joel Edwards was an incredible leader, speaker and pioneer. He was an outstanding leader of EAUK,” he said on Twitter.

R David Muir, who served under Edwards as the EA’s former Executive Director for Public Policy, was among those paying tribute. 

“Dr Joel Edwards was not one of our great leaders, for me he was the greatest,” he said.

“His empowering leadership style and graceful interactions with Christians and non-Christians will be sorely missed.

“I have known him for four decades as a friend, pastor, mentor, and boss at the Evangelical Alliance.

“He is the leader who cleared the debris from the runway so that others could fly; he is the leader who could make lame ducks believe they could fly.

“He was a humble servant of the Kingdom of God and the purposes of his Christ. Joel Edwards was a disciple of Christ with a passion for justice, Christian unity, and truth.”

An Interview with Joel Edwards
Christian advocacy is no new idea, said Joel Edwards, and the Church has a significant role to play in the change we so long to see. He reminds us in this interview that “when ordinary prophets rise up …” things can change and will change. Advocacy makes a difference. This interview, though short, is a reminder of all that was so close to Joel Edwards’ heart. He will be sorely missed, but his legacy carries on in the lives of those he influenced to be change-makers in the world. 

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