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Church group at crossroads – New leader rethinks goals

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WASHINGTON – The Rev. Robert Edgar, new leader of the National Council of Churches of Christ, says he has no illusions about the tough times the council faces.

The council, the nation’s largest ecumenical Protestant organization, has lost members to more conservative churches and ended last year with a $3.2 million deficit, The Associated Press reports.

The group has attracted widespread attention recently for its efforts to get 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez returned to his father in Cuba.

But Edgar, a former congressman and seminary president, has built a reputation for overcoming odds, AP reports. After his election to Congress in 1974 from suburban Philadelphia, he often defied the wishes of the political establishment in such areas as the environment and veterans’ benefits.

Ten years ago, when he became president of Claremont Graduate School of Theology in California, it was having trouble meeting its payroll.

During his tenure, the school’s endowment increased from $3.8 million to $21 million.

In his newest position, Edgar takes on a role in an organization known more for its liberal political stances than for its religious work.

But Edgar told the AP that the council is “ready to rethink itself and its mission.”

He said the council’s most important work includes fighting hunger, supporting women’s rights and reproductive choice and improving racial relations.

The council, formed in 1950, consists of 35 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations with 52 million members in the United States.

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