Retired United Methodist Bishop Marion Edwards, 71, who led the denomination’s North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference for eight years, died Jan. 24 at Columbus (Ga.) Hospice House after a battle with cancer.
He was remembered as an ardent supporter of mission work by those who knew him.
“Bishop Edwards brought a passion for mission, and he led the denomination’s campaign for the establishment of a seminary in Russia,” said Bishop Alfred Wesley Gwinn Jr., current leader of the North Carolina Conference.
“In addition, he will be remembered for providing care for thousands left homeless after a devastating hurricane and subsequent flooding right here in eastern North Carolina soon after his arrival.”
“He never met a mission he didn’t like,” said the Rev. Belton Joyner of Bahama, N.C., a longtime friend and former assistant to Edwards. “He had a great energy for mission. The conference disaster response center was named after him.”
Funeral services are set for Jan. 29 at St. Luke United Methodist Church in downtown Columbus, where he served as senior pastor from 1988-96. He was elected to the episcopacy in 1996 and led the North Carolina Conference until his retirement in 2004.
Edwards, who was diagnosed with cancer in the pancreas and lungs in August 2009, spoke with a reporter from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer several months later about living with the illness and the “worldwide support” he had received.
“I pray for healing but I can only do that within the will of God,” he said then. “I’ve told people, ‘I’m not afraid to die’ but of the process of dying, even though I know I’ve got a home in heaven.”
Edwards was “a great bishop of the church,” said Bishop Paul Leeland of the Alabama-West Florida Conference. Leeland, who was Edwards’ assistant before becoming a bishop himself, cited his friend’s personal and pastoral influence as the episcopal leader of North Carolina. “He had a tremendous sensitivity for the pastoral oversight of his conference, both for lay and clergy.”
Edwards endeared himself to many people during his eight years in the conference, Gwinn said, and he is remembered for his humor and compassion.
A native of Springfield, Ga., Edwards was a graduate of Georgia Southern University and Candler School of Theology at Emory University, where he earned both a master’s degree in divinity and a doctorate. He was an ordained elder in the South Georgia Annual Conference. As a pastor, Edwards served Georgia congregations of all sizes and in a variety of locations and was district superintendent of the Waycross District. At St. Luke’s, he encouraged the congregation to devote half of its financial resources to spiritual nurturing and evangelism and half to local and global mission work.
His interest in mission outreach also was shaped by his two terms as a director of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, from 1988 to 1996, and his roles as honorary chair and as executive coordinator for the Capital Campaign for the Russia United Methodist Seminary.
The bishop’s leadership of the North Carolina Conference’s involvement in hurricane and flood disaster relief led the conference to name its disaster warehouse – Marion Edwards Recovery Center Inc., or MERCI – in his honor. Edwards also was recognized for his leadership in 2002, when North Carolina Gov. Michael Easley presented him with the state’s highest honor, “The Order of the Long Pine Leaf.”
“I think the breadth of his ministry expressed itself with the equal balance of social concern, evangelism, concern for individuals, concern for the church as a community, concern for the connection – all that, kept in a wonderful balance, made his ministry very effective among us,” Joyner said.
Edwards was a trustee of seven colleges and universities and was a member of the Board of Visitors at Duke Divinity School, the denomination’s Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the University Senate.
He is survived by Linda Layfield Edwards, whom he married on June 9, 1962, and their children and grandchildren: MaLinda Edwards Watson, her husband, Ron, and their three sons, Taylor, Josh and Cooper in Houston; Will Edwards and son William in Fortson, Ga.; and Wesley Edwards in Washington, D.C.
*Bloom is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Kathy L. Gilbert, a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, contributed to this story.