[National Council of Churches press release] National Council of Churches leaders and staff expressed shock and sadness April 23 at the sudden death of the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, who served as NCC general secretary from 2000 to 2007.
NCC President Kathryn Lohre expressed the council’s condolences to Edgar’s family and many friends.
“He is universally remembered as a man of tireless commitment and boundless energy,” Lohre said. “We are finding it difficult to grasp the sudden loss of this fine church leader.”
“He was a superb communicator of the moral perspective the churches could bring to critical issues in our society,” said Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC associate general secretary, Faith & Order and Interfaith Relations.
Kireopoulos worked closely with Edgar and traveled widely with him, including to areas of Indonesia flooded by the devastating tsunami of 2004.
“He liked to summarize the urgent ministries of the Council in a single sentence: ‘Peace, Poverty, Planet Earth,” Kireopoulos said.
Cassandra Carmichael, who Edgar brought to the NCC’s Washington office to direct the eco-justice program, remembered Edgar as a tireless proponent of justice issues.
“There was no greater advocate for persons living in poverty or facing discrimination of any kind,” Carmichael said. “He was fully committed to eliminating the causes of climate change, and he thought of this planet as God’s magnificent creation.”
The Edgar years at the NCC were filled with challenges that included the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the War in Iraq, the acceleration of global warming, tsunamis and earthquakes, Hurricane Katrina, and crushing worldwide poverty and human rights abuses.
The first challenge Edgar faced as general secretary was the international debate over a Cuban child, Elian Gonzalez, to decide whether the boy should be permitted to live with relatives in Miami, or with his father and grandmothers in Cuba. Citing humanitarian reasons, Edgar said Elian should be returned to the custody of his father in Cuba. The NCC and the Cuban Council of Churches proposed to serve as intermediaries to facilitate the boy’s return home.
In addition, Edgar’s first days on the job in 2000 were consumed by a crippling financial crisis in the NCC that challenged all the skills he had honed as a community organizer, member of Congress, and seminary president.
He brought to his job a prodigious appetite for hard work, an informal style, and a lifelong commitment to the goals of peace, justice and the relief of human suffering. If he felt the stress of the job, he rarely showed it and he often deflected it with a lighthearted joke and occasionally – as his colleagues recalled fondly today– a painful pun.
At the end of his eight-year tenure, the financial emergency had ebbed but the conditions that caused it – including the financial exigency of many of the NCC’s contributing communions – were still in place.
Perhaps his most useful bequest to his NCC successors, colleagues recalled, was a buoyant Christian faith that is contagious enough to infect others with a joyous optimism for whatever the future holds.
When Edgar departed the NCC in 2007, the Council posted this retrospective of his career.