Best Humanitarian: Rev. John Edgar

Erica Thompson

Rev. John Edgar’s path to ministry and service began when, at 12 years old, his curiosity led him into a United Methodist Church in St. Louis, Missouri.

“It was there that God got ahold of me, and I became deeply involved as a young teenager,” Edgar said. His passion remained even after his family relocated to Yellow Springs, Ohio. But when his family moved again during his senior year of high school, Edgar stayed behind and lived with a Methodist pastor, the late Rev. Jack Theodore.

“I just wanted to be like Jack,” Edgar said. “He is still my ideal of what pastoral care looks like: to have a pastor's heart, to truly care for the people around him.”

Nearly 50 years after declaring his candidacy for ordained ministry at 18, Edgar is still following his mentor’s example. Edgar has achieved great results serving the South Side neighborhood for more than 15 years as the founding pastor of the United Methodist Church for All People and executive director of its affiliated organization, the Community Development for All People.

“While I've always enjoyed being a United Methodist pastor, I’ve also always tried to figure out how that relates to not just personal holiness, but social holiness,” Edgar said. “What's it look like to work for positive transformation of the community?”

It looks like a free store that might serve 150 families on a given day, a new fresh market that distributed 1.5 million pounds of food this past year and $80 million worth of affordable housing funds through public and private partnerships.

“There were people who dreamed of the vacant, blighted houses being fixed up again,” Edgar said. “So every vacant house, we argued, was an asset, not a liability. … We are committed to creating a sustainable, mixed-income community on the South Side.”

The diversity of the neighborhood “energizes” Edgar, who preaches to an equal number of black and white congregants, which is rare within the United Methodist Church.

“And two-thirds of the people who worship here have income below the poverty level,” he said. “That's even more unusual.”

Recently, Edgar advocated on behalf of low-income community members who stood to lose benefits like food stamps and housing vouchers during the extensive government shutdown. He penned an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch, hosted a town hall meeting and visited Sen. Rob Portman’s office in service of the cause.

“In our own small way, but coupled with small efforts in thousands of spots around the country, we think that it did contribute to the awareness,” he said.

Edgar’s commitment to inclusivity also extends to the LGBTQ community. He vehemently disagrees with the recent vote by church leadership to maintain restrictions on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriages.   

“That's the opposite of who we are,” Edgar said. “Our vision is that that mistake will be corrected … and that we will be fully inclusive.”