new Ryan Express
'68 believes God took him into the ministry by gunpoint in 1994. Now,
Edmon is taking the gospel to his neighborhood by storm.
pastors don't experience their come-to-Jesus moment looking down a gun
But the Rev.
Eddie Edmon '68 of Tacoma's Jesus Holy Rock Missionary Baptist Church
was actually held by one of Edmon's friends, but the way the 53-year-old
preacher sees it, God pulled out the firearm in 1994 and told the salesman
to quit ignoring a calling he had dodged for nearly 30 years.
he was getting the almighty jack-up for a lifestyle that had strayed from
his religious upbringing to one of poverty and drugs.
my attention then," Edmon said. "He said, 'Are you ready to preach or
his run-in with the revolver, Edmon felt there was something God wanted
him to do. He grew up in Fort Worth, in a household centered around daily
he entered TCU as a pre-ministerial student -- one of the first nine black
students to enroll. It was a "dream come true" for his family. In the
'60s, there was much pressure on black youths to excel in sports or academics
and to achieve "firsts," Edmon said.
know if I could live up to what was expected of me," he said.
had been voted student council president and outstanding male student
at Fort Worth's I.M. Terrell High School, soon faced challenges to his
beliefs and to his schedule of juggling school and work as a salesman
at the Berry Street Montgomery Ward.
he failed the university's required religion class. And as a student of
color, Edmon felt he had no one to talk to about his failure.
student, to me, shouldn't be flunking God. It messed with me my whole
life," Edmon said.
to philosophy and sociology in hopes of becoming a social worker. And
though he was well-received by white students, Edmon often felt out of
place, not only as the lone black student in class, but also in life experience.
Discussions in a geography course covered nations some students had visited
"I felt really
left out being in the presence of students who had experienced things
that seemed phenomenal to me," Edmon said.
TCU for four years, never earning a degree. He was then drafted for Vietnam.
After receiving a medical discharge from the Army, Edmon spent the next
several years with "one foot in the church and one foot in the world."
He owned a Corvette.
He rode in
a motorcycle club. He sold most everything, from potato chips to men's
clothing to copier machines. He fathered two daughters and played alto
saxophone in an eight-piece band. And he ignored a woman preacher's vision
that he had been given the gift of evangelism.
on the way to hell," he said. "I was having a good time on my way."
worse after Edmon moved to Tacoma in 1992. After a year, he was evicted
from his apartment and was using crack. It was then that Edmon experienced
his baptism by gunfire.
St. John Baptist Church on Easter 1994 and became an ordained minister
two years later. He also became the church's evangelism director. He used
St. John's van to pick up people at Tacoma's Rescue Mission and bring
them to services. He brought so many people to St. John's that the pastor
of New Life Missionary Baptist Church asked Edmon if he wanted to take
over his storefront location in Hilltop when New Life moved to another
Holy Rock Church held its first service in July 1998.
notorious Hilltop district, many businesses on Martin Luther King Jr.
Way, including Edmon's church, have windows scarred by black iron bars.
service, someone entered the vestibule and stole a bike Edmon had intended
to repair and give to a child.
To his small
congregation, Edmon is pastor, janitor and choir, his saxophone providing
the only live music during services. His disability check pays the church's
rent, and he works three other odd jobs to pay the utilities and for his
apartment upstairs. He's lucky if the monthly collection totals $40.
But he finds
satisfaction working with the homeless and the luckless. And by living
in the hard-scrabble neighborhood, he can remind people to change their
people who need somebody to reach out and say, 'Hey, brother, I'll help
you,' " he said. "They still need to hear God loves them."
recent Sunday service, Edmon greets his members. Slight and wiry, he walks
easily for a man who's had two hip surgeries. He wears a jacket, autumn
yellow shirt and royal blue tie with gold embossing. His lapel pin reads,
Because I care. As usual, a small black fedora covers his smooth
is tidy, Edmon's church has no dress code. He knows the homeless may shy
away from congregations where members wear expensive clothes.
care what you wear," Edmon says during the service."I
just want you to change your heart."
Rock's high ceilings are cavernous, and the white walls are made of plywood
and drywall. High on the left wall are murals of Africans and African-Americans.
Orange cushions on the eight pews clash with the red carpet.
is more conversational than studied. He stands only feet away from the
front row, inviting members to share testimonials. He peppers his comments
with "praise the Lord." Of the 16 people at the service, three had been
found by Edmon at shelters earlier in the week.
people from the shelters in his aging gray Cadillac. His license plate
reads, "2-Peace." One churchgoer is the woman who took Edmon in when he
was evicted and on crack. In front of her sits a man who met Edmon while
getting a meal at the Mission. He sells "millennium crosses," plastic
crucifixes that light up, to churches.
An hour into
the service, a short woman with grizzled gray hair and a deeply creased
face comes in. Edmon welcomes her as she marches to the front pew, and
she looks like she's been drinking. After the service, she hurries out,
members are few, Edmon figures 150 people have passed through Jesus Holy
Rock in the last year. "One Sunday, it was just me and five Muslim brothers
on the front row," Edmon said.
he waited for people to flock to his church the first year. Now he's determined
to use his skills as a salesman and an evangelist to do what he does best
-- go out and bring people in.
like I'm in competition with any other church," he said. "There's plenty
of sinners out there."
Jacquie Maupin '91 writes for the Tacoma City Paper in Tacoma, Wash.
This revised article originally appeared in that publication.