Bishop Marion Edwards, retired as a United Methodist bishop and pastor, died early Monday morning, January 24, at Columbus Hospice House. His most recent pulpit was at St. Luke United Methodist Church, where he served from 1988-1996. He was bishop of the North Carolina Conference, based in Raleigh, from 1996-2004.
He was 71.
“Bishop Marion Edwards was a banner-carrier for God – a man who was deeply loved by his family, St. Luke Church, the South Georgia Annual Conference, the Raleigh episcopal area, the Southeastern Jurisdiction and the whole church,” said Dr. Hal Brady, senior pastor of St. Luke UMC. “Bishop Edwards represented the very best The United Methodist Church has to offer, and he will be greatly missed.”
He is survived by his wife, Linda Layfield Edwards and their three children: sons John Wesley (“Wes”), William Marion (“Will”) and daughter MaLinda; and two grandsons.
A native of Springfield, Ga., Bishop 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, Bishop Edwards served Georgia congregations of all sizes and in a variety of locations and was district superintendent of the Waycross District. At St. Luke UMC, he encouraged the congregation to devote half of its financial resources to spiritual nurturing and evangelism and half to local and global mission work.
Remembered as an ardent supporter of mission work by those who knew him, Bishop Edwards’ 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.
“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.”
When Bishop Edwards retired in 2004, he and Linda moved to Harris County where they built a home. After 40 years of living in clergy housing, a friend gave the couple a sign that says “Finally.” It hangs at the back door.
One night in June 2009, the couple were at home playing Scrabble when Bishop Edwards became chilled and had elevated blood pressure.
He spent three weeks at St. Francis Hospital, and five weeks at Wesley Woods, affiliated with Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. He had septic shock, then pneumonia, and nearly died.
Doctors found a malignancy in the lungs originating from Bishop Edwards’ pancreas.
“I never smoked. That’s the first thing they asked me,” he told the Ledger-Enquirer for a story in 2009.
Bishop Edwards then went to the Winship Cancer Center in Atlanta. The Edwards decided to coordinate treatment between Emory and the John B. Amos Cancer Center in Columbus. “I’ve been on quite a journey. … I spent 40 years dealing with people going through crises and suddenly you wake up and you’re on the other side.”
Bishop Edwards served churches around the South Georgia Conference until his election as a bishop in 1996. After he returned to South Georgia, he was named Bishop-in-Residence at LaGrange College. Edwards was also 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.
The Rev. Helen Berenthien, minister of pastoral care at St. Luke UMC, was first introduced to Bishop Edwards in 1991. They talked for an hour on the phone, when she was a senior seminarian in Atlanta and he was interested in hiring her as an associate at St. Luke. There was some concern that Berenthien, a former attorney, was 60 years old. Edwards told a friend: “We might get a couple of good years out of her.”
Some 20 years later, Rev. Berenthien still works at St. Luke; and they often laughed about his comment. Rev. Berenthien sat at Edwards’ bedside Friday and Saturday nights at Columbus Hospice House. She, like others, wrote him a letter of thanks and read it aloud to him.
“I will never, never be able to repay him for everything he did for me,” Rev. Berenthien said.
During his years as a bishop, Bishop Edwards helped found a United Methodist seminary in Moscow, where the chapel is named for him and Linda. And in North Carolina, the Marion Edwards Recovery Center Inc., or MERCI, founded in 1999 in Goldsboro, assists with disaster relief. Hurricanes Fran and Floyd followed on the heels of his arrival in North Carolina; and he helped organize cleanup and relief efforts.
Bishop Edwards 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 Leaf Pine.”
“The first word that comes to mind when I think of Marion is compassionate,” Bishop James King of the South Georgia Conference said in a statement. “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 support for this seminary and he knew that by raising the funds it would enrich the kingdom of God.”
In his 2009 interview with the Ledger-Enquirer, Bishop Edwards said: “The older I get, the less I know. You live 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.”
Services were held on Saturday, January 29, at St. Luke UMC.