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Long-time Columbus pastor who helped transform the city's south side is retiring after more than 20 years

Rev. John Edgar with Dessaree Watters who works at the Free Store at Community Development for All People (CD4AP)
Debbie Holmes
Rev. John Edgar with Dessaree Watters who works at the Free Store at Community Development for All People (CD4AP)

Rev. John Edgar, 69, helped to transform Columbus’ south side into a diverse community with resources provided for residents working toward a better life. He is now preparing to retire at the end of June, but plans to keep close ties to the neighborhood.

"On any given Sunday when people gather for worship here, it's absolutely remarkable to see this unified body of Christ where there's so much diversity that comes together,” said Rev. John Edgar, Executive Director of Community Development for All People.

Edgar is also the founding pastor of the United Methodist Church for All People on South Parsons Avenue. The community organization includes a free store for clothing and housing items, and a market that offers free, fresh produce to any household earning less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

"We are now able to touch the lives of more than 35,000 low-income folks every year,” said Edgar. “People who come to shop for free clothing and household items in our free store, and people who come to shop in our fresh market."

Increasing affordable housing is one of the goals of Edgar’s ministry. Over the past 10 years, Community Development for All People says it has developed $50 million worth of affordable housing.

"Parsons Avenue itself 20 years ago was seen largely as a dividing line with poor predominately African-American folks to the east of Parsons and then white folks, some of whom were very wealthy in the German Village area, to the west of Parsons,” says Edgar.

Edgar grew up in a middle-class family living in several cities, including St. Louis, Missouri, and Cincinnati. He said the Methodist church appealed to him when he was 12 years old. He earned a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in Sociology at Miami University.

“I just discovered that life is better for me, and I believe for others when diverse folks come together and say, 'It’s all of us or it’s none of us,'” said Edgar. “We’re in this together. We can form an opportunity-rich community where everybody thrives.”

Edgar said he and his wife will remain at their home on the south side. One of his goals is to learn to speak Spanish. He will also keep his eye on expanding efforts to add more affordable housing to the city.

“Part of what I plan to do is, with a slower pace, to just spend more time handing out with folks here,” said Edgar.

The organization’s board is set to vote on a search committee candidate next week.

“It’s been a great run for my wife Sue and I,” said Edgar. “It’s time for new people to take it to places we only dreamed of. And it will be a whole lot of fun to be part of the community that benefits from these ongoing transformations.”

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.