When John Edgar was growing up, his family did not go to church. He doesn’t remember prayers being said. Yet, at age 12, he found his way into a United Methodist church in St. Louis, and his life was altered.
The Rev. Edgar, whose son David is on the Loomis Chaffee faculty and is the assistant theater director, visited the Norton Family Center for the Common Good on Monday, November 6, to speak to students about his path in ministry, which has been about connecting with people in the community for the good of all.
His parents moved around a lot, and when he was about to enter his senior year in high school, they were moving again, this time from Yellow Springs, Ohio. He didn’t want to go, and he and his parents agreed he could stay in the home of the Rev. Jack Theodore of the United Methodist Church in that small town.
“It was really transformational for me,” the Rev. Edgar remembered. “During that year, I felt, ‘I really want to be like that guy.’ Back in those days in the United Methodist tradition, when you turned 18 you could publicly announce your intention to become an ordained minister, and that is what I did. There were some twists and turns, but I never let go of that idea.”
And for that the world is a better place.
One of his goals for his talk, he said, was to “encourage the students to think about what kind of communities they want to live in and what kind of communities they want to create. A lot of my work in ministry has been in inner-city neighborhoods trying to create sustainable, diverse communities. And that does not happen accidentally but intentionally.”
The Rev. Edgar is the founding pastor of the United Methodist Church for All People in Columbus, Ohio, billed as the most diverse United Methodist congregation in the nation in terms of the intersection of race and social class. The church grew out of “the message of unconditional love offered by the Free Store and the atmosphere of hospitality it created,” according to the church website. That store for slightly used clothing opened in 1999, just a piece of the puzzle in trying to create a sustainable and diverse community. Food, shelter, clothing, and transportation are among the needs of all people.
Eventually the community opened a market offering free and fresh produce for a healthier lifestyle in what had been a drive-through liquor store. A bike shop opened to provide a transportation option for those who rarely could afford another way to get around. The nonprofit Community Development for All People, created in 2003, was at the center of it all, including multiple housing initiatives. There are now children's programs and arts programs. It is, after all, about building something sustainable.
As the Rev. Edgar told the students, when the first duplex was being renovated in what would eventually become more than $100 million worth of affordable housing, no one had much expertise. That did not stop them. They had a vision, and that vision is part of the book the Rev. Edgar wrote called A Front Porch for All People, whose description calls it “inspirational guidance for any reader who yearns to live in a sustainable mixed-income community — and cares enough to do something about it.” The forward to the book also thanks the Rev. Edgar’s wife, Sue Wolfe, for being “my partner and soulmate through the entire journey of building a front porch for all people on the South Side of Columbus, Ohio.” It also credits David for early editing on the book.
As the Rev. Edgar told the students, one of his beliefs is that “scarcity is a false myth. There is enough of every good gift for every good purpose if people like you and I simply take what is entrusted to us and use it for the common good. That is the big idea.”
The Rev. Edgar also advised the students seeking to make a change to never start with what is missing, but to start with what is there. Always present are people, and they are the greatest asset, he said. People on that front porch. People living in a diverse, sustainable, mixed-income community.
“In our churchy language,” he told the Columbus Monthly in a 2021 article, “we think that looks like the front porch to the kingdom of God. And in other language, it’s just this place where everybody is welcome, everybody has a chance to thrive.”