Retired United Methodist Bishop Marion Edwards, age 71, passed on to his heavenly home on Jan. 24, 2011, at Columbus Georgia Hospice House after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He had retired to Hamilton with his wife of 48 years, Linda Layfield Edwards, whom he met at Young Harris.
He was also survived by a daughter, two sons and four grandsons and a brother, Rev. Billy Edwards, also a Methodist minister and former district superintendent.
A native of Springfield, Bishop Edwards, the second son, was reared by his father and mother in a Christian home. His parents were the late William (Billy) Green Edwards Sr. and Madonna Winifred Rentz Edwards, a carpenter and a homemaker.
Marion grew up next door to Charles Hinely of Springfield from six grade through high school. Charles, who considered him a special life-long friend, visited him shortly before his passing. He said they picked right up where they left off when they saw each other, having only talked or corresponded for 40 years.
Marion was a big boy with as Charles said, “better than average conduct and manners. He was happy go lucky, strong but still gentle.” He did what all his friends did enjoying Boy Scouts, camping and cooking. Even then he liked to help younger scouts work on getting badges by camping and teaching them showing that leadership was where his life would be directed. He enjoyed squirrel hunting, fishing, swimming in “Sam’s Hole” (a local place on the creek about a mile from his home) and loved to play Monopoly.
As a young man he worked part-time in the B&R Grocery Store. Back then early in his life not everyone had a car, including the Edwards family, so when rides were available, he double, triple or quadruple dated with others when a group could get a car to go as far as Savannah.
When opportunities came up, Marion participated in activities like debate team and was a very good speaker. He attended Effingham Academy in Springfield until his last year and graduated from Effingham County High School in 1957, in the first class to graduate from the consolidated school. Classmates and friends say he always had great concern for others.
Bishop Edwards was a graduate of what is now called Georgia Southern University and Candler School of Theology at Emory University, where he earned a masters degree in divinity as well as a doctorate. He was ordained elder in the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church and began his ministry at Fort Valley Methodist as youth pastor. He served as pastor in churches both small and large in a variety of locations throughout the South Georgia Conference. He was district superintendent of the Waycross District at one time.
His last pulpit was St. Luke in Columbus, where he served as senior pastor for eight years before he was elected bishop of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, based in Raleigh, in 1996. Until his retirement in 2004, he oversaw the work of hundreds of churches and church related programs across eastern North Carolina.
It is of note while at St. Luke’s he encouraged the congregation to devote half of its financial resources to spiritual nurturing and evangelism and the other half to local and global mission work according to an article in the South Georgia Advocate penned by Allison Kennedy of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.
Serving two terms as director, from 1988 to 1996, of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, he also served as honorary chair and executive coordinator for the capitol campaign for the Russia United Methodist Seminary in Moscow. As a founder, the chapel in the Moscow Seminary is named for him and his wife Linda.
A long time friend and former assistant to Edwards, Rev. Belton Joyner was quoted in an article by Allison Kennedy as saying, “He never met a mission he didn’t like. He had a great energy for mission.” Rev. Hal Brady of St. Luke’s was quoted in the same article saying, “Bishop Edwards represented the very best the Methodist Church has to offer, and he will be greatly missed.”
During his service in North Carolina, Bishop Edwards helped organize cleanup and disaster relief for Hurricanes Fran and Floyd. The Marion Edwards Recovery Center, Inc., or MERCI, founded in Goldsboro is named in his honor and still serves today. The current executive director of MERCI, Charlie Gray wrote about the bishop he never met from talking with others who knew him saying, “The United Methodist Church took a hard lump in the heart his week. We lost a preacher — we lost an advocate for mission — we lost a bishop…. Bishop Edwards was loved and respected…. He was highly effective in stirring the right stuff in people that empowered them into action. That in itself is a gift. If you are a leader and no one is following – you are just walking brother. Bishop Edwards was able to get folks to walk behind him. I also learned he did not take himself too seriously. He was a big man in a big position but seemed to keep that stuff in proper perspective. This is best portrayed in a story told me by a pastor friend. It seems that when introduced in a service before a large crowd, the newly appointed Bishop tripped and fell flat on his face. Story goes that he sprang to his feet and announced: ‘it appears that I have stumbled into my new appointment.’ Well…he got up and did he get up. He … led our North Carolina Conference through some very challenging times. He understood the need outside the walls of our church was his greatest calling.”
Bishop Edwards was recognized for his leadership in 2002, for establishing the MERCI Hurricane Relief Center, by North Carolina Gov. Michael Easley presenting him with the state’s highest honor, “The Order of the Long Leaf Pine.”
In retirement after 2004, until his illness, Bishop Edwards continued to serve the church as members of several boards and agencies and as Bishop-in Residence at United Methodist related LaGrange College. He was trustee of seven colleges and universities and a member of the Board of Visitors at Duke Divinity School, the denomination’s Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the University Senate.
Rev. Helen Berenthien, a pastor associate of the bishop also quoted in Allison Kennedy’s article wrote, “The first word that comes to mind when I think of Marion is compassion. He was a very focused man in terms of really wanting to stay with a project and for it to do well and succeed. He had a bulldog tenacity. One project that comes to mind is the Russian Seminary. He was the bishop assigned to raise funds for the seminary and he knew that by raising the funds, it would enrich the kingdom of God.”
In a 2009 interview with the Ledger-Enquirer, Bishop Edwards said, “The older I get, the less I know. You live life under the illusion that you have a corner on the earth and you’ve got the answers. And as a minister, you’re in a calling of preaching and counseling and pastoral care, and you’re in the business of helping people through life’s dilemmas. It puts you in a position of having all the answers, theological or otherwise. I’m humbled by the fact that I don’t have all the answers.”
After research and several conversations with friends who knew him and kept up, I conclude that this distinguished man, who came from humble beginnings, had many gifts. He never put his talents under a basket. No parent, spouse, child, grandchild, associate, friend or pastor could have ever been left a better legacy than his. He led a good life as an example beyond measure, loved God with a life of service, loved his family and left this world extending to the global level far better for his influence and actions.
This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: email@example.com