It took Marie Edwards longer than expected to reach her pre-determined destination.
As the daughter of a Middletown minister, Edwards, 40, remembers lining up her Cabbage Patch dolls and stuffed animals as a young girl and “playing church.” She was the preacher; the dolls and animals her congregation.
That was a childhood fantasy.
Now it’s an adult reality.
Edwards was ordained as a minister on Aug. 4, giving her family their fourth pastor. She joins: her father, Pastor Michael Bailey; her grandmother, Elsie Bailey; and her uncle Dwight Bailey. She remembers watching her relatives — and others — preach from the pulpit knowing one day that religious responsibility would be handed to her.
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“A weight was lifted off my shoulders and I had this new freedom,” Edwards said about being ordained. “I always knew I was going into the ministry.”
But Edwards, wife of Kee Edwards, a Middletown elementary school principal, and mother of three children, the oldest in college, the youngest in kindergarten, was concerned about her responsibilities at home. Constantly being on-call — the life of a preacher — didn’t fit a mother’s schedule.
“How am I going to be poured into to take care of me when I’m always pouring into other people?” she asked. “That was something that I wrestled with for a long time.”
Two years ago, Edwards, 21st century program director at the Community Building Institute in Middletown, graduated from Kingswell Cohort. It’s a 12-month “intense training” where those who want to live mission in their every day life are trained, said Jeri Lewis, community development, mission and discipleship director at Kingswell.
“This means they want to take what they learn and mix in what they’re called to do by God to serve the community in ways that unify us all,” Lewis explained.
Throughout the training, Lewis and Edwards met twice a month and discussed the mission in Middletown and Edwards’ call to the ministry. They also prayed together and encouraged one another.
“Marie is the perfect example of being the church in our community,” Lewis said. “Her heart for children and families in our community is part of the glue in many areas in our city.”
After Kingswell, Edwards spent the last year being mentored and trained by her father, pastor at Faith United Church, and other pastors. Here’s what she learned about herself: She’s more comfortable meeting those struggling in their environment than in the church.
“Ministry for me is not up there in the pulpit,” she said while sitting in the sanctuary. “Ministry for me is outside. When I’m out in the community and I see there’s a need that needs to be met, then if I’m breathing, if I’m still here, then I need to supply that answer. To me that’s ministry. My passion is the work and being the hands and feet of Jesus.”
As the daughter of a pastor — think Ariel Moore in “Footloose” — Edwards realizes her actions are magnified. There were times, she said, when she made mistakes, just like the rest of us. Her father’s title didn’t protect her from being a kid.
Her parents didn’t force her into the ministry. Society provided enough pressure.
“That’s where I had fear,” she said. “I didn’t want people to say, ‘Oh, she just wants to be like her dad.’ My dad is amazing so why wouldn’t I want to be like my dad?”
Pastor Edwards is who she was born to be.
“I’m not going to run from that,” she said.
She was asked what would she change if given one wish:
“It would be instill hope in the hopeless,” she said after a short pause. “Because people are giving up. The heroin pushers have given up on having a legit life. They have given up on their freedom because you’re going to get caught at some point. They have given up on their dreams. When they were kids, they weren’t saying, ‘I want to be a drug dealer.’ The ones who are using have lost hope because they didn’t want to be meth and dope heads.”
Edwards knows about dreams. Just ask her dolls and stuffed animals.