New Commission for United Kingdom's Evangelical Alliance
At a service in Manchester, England, on October 17 the new General Director of the Evangelical Alliance, Rev. Joel Edwards, gave a barnstorming speech in which he challenged and directed the Alliance to "stand together in unity" around the non-negotiable essentials of its faith, and to involve themselves fully in the renewal of the nation.
The service was held to dedicate Mr Edwards as the head of the Alliance, which acts as an umbrella body for evangelical Christians from many denominations. He succeeds Clive Calver in the role and will be at the movement's helm for five years.
Since his appointment in June Mr Edwards and his team have been working on the Alliance's Millennium Manifesto, a series of thirty-three pledges which in short form has been presented to Alliance members over the last few days. The pledges commit members to active involvement in the ethical, moral and justice issues of the time and to stepping up their activities to exert a greater influence on those empowered to effect change. Mr Edwards was adamant that a movement such as the Alliance, sticking with its firm Biblical principals, could be a powerful force.
Recognising the new political mood and the principal which Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has dubbed "constructive opposition" and which Tory leader William Hague also endorsed during his conference address in Blackpool, Mr Edwards said that churches too must work in partnership with government. That they should seek to do so, he said, should not alarm members, provided that there was no watering down of the Christian message. Many different moralities were abroad but the death of the Princess of Wales had exposed what Mr Edwards called "a god-shaped hole" in people s lives.
"Her death was a religious event waiting to happen," Mr Edwards said. "Her funeral marked the day when the nation went to church. I ask you: have more people across the globe ever stopped and together joined in saying the Lord s Prayer?"
In this new spiritual climate there was an opportunity for Christians to "snatch the nation's soul back from materialism." The danger, according to Mr Edwards, was that Christians were encouraged to adapt their beliefs to the common mood, and he singled out abortion, euthanasia, cohabitation and homosexuality as issues on which Christians were being encouraged to "go with the flow". This could not happen. "It is not about modernising our message," he said, "even if it may well mean adapting our methods." The gospel as it stands, Mr Edwards insisted, was right for the current age. "It may be inconvenient but it is relevant to the human condition." Society must have absolute moral values, Mr Edwards declared, and while welcoming the new political consensus he said that it could not be left to politicians to provide these values. It was up to the Church to be involved.
Upon his appointment Joel Edwards became one of Britain's most senior black church leaders. Mr Edwards arrived in Britain at the age of eight and found himself one of only two black children at his school in Kentish Town. Racial issues figured in his dedication address last night. Earlier he implicitly criticise the former conservative cabinet minister, now Lord Tebbit, for his remarks at a fringe meeting of the Conservative party conference. Although not mentioning Lord Tebbit by name, describing him only as "a senior politician", Mr Edwards sharply criticised his views on multi-cultural society. Lord Tebbit was, he said "trying to take us back to a 1970s melting pot of cultures. It's a bit of an anachronism and rather misguided."
The Dedication Service took the title "Seizing the Moment", which moniker is also given to Joel Edwards' forthcoming tour of Britain. The Alliance's Millennium Manifesto will, it is hoped, provide the springboard for this project and includes specific provisions aimed at raising the organisation's public profile. Already the Alliance has been pushing Christian perspectives on employment rights and drug issues. Members are being urged to pray, participate and make financial donations to aid the invigorated work of the movement. Again and again not only Mr Edwards, but those leading last night's service, emphasised that the Alliance was embarking upon a new era. "These pledges are a very serious commitment of accountability," Mr Edwards told Church Net UK. "We hope they will affirm it by getting on board where some of these issues impinge and hit or hit their own issues or ministries."
Songwriter Graham Kendrick, who led the service's worship and composed a new song, Say it Loud, for the occasion, described himself as being delighted with the new director's message. "Joel has got his finger on the pulse of where the world is at and where the Church is at and I've got tremendous confidence in his leadership at this time," he said. "That's the kind of person that we need; not someone who's going to get totally sucked into Church politics."
Although warning the Alliance against a preoccupation with internal issues, which his spokesmen deny have been a particular problem, merely one of which they are wary, Mr Edwards has in mind a major restructuring programme to overcome the southern focus of the organisation. Mr Edwards himself is planning to tour the country, visiting some twenty-eight cities, to gauge the mood and needs of Alliance members. There will be a recruitment programme, focusing on Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and among Mr Edwards' own Afro-Caribbean community. Regional assemblies are to be established, piloted in the Midlands and the North of England, to provide a sense of local membership or "ownership", as it is being described. These proposals had been in the works long before the Government had begun work on its own Scottish and Welsh assemblies, it was pointed out. Holding a dedication service in Manchester was part of this project. A second service was scheduled to be held in Westminster Chapel, London, on October 18.
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