WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, (RNS) -- The Rev. Bob Edgar reaches into his pocket and pullsout a business card. The size of the card is striking, more than twicethe size of a normal card, with a detailed listing of his office phonenumber, home number, cell phone number and personal e-mail address.

For Edgar, the general secretary of the National Council ofChurches, the cards serve as a sort of portable notepad. He scribblesnotes on the back and puts them in his left pocket, and then when he'sdone with the card, he folds it and moves it to his right pocket.

Asked if the size and cost of the cards is the reason for the fiscalwoes at the ecumenical agency, Edgar grins and chuckles.

"If anything's going to save the National Council of Churches,"Edgar says, "it's going to be those cards."

He's only half-joking.

For Edgar, the cards represent an attention to detail and anetworking prowess that have propelled him from a Methodist circuitpreacher to 12 years as a liberal-leaning congressman, a decadestabilizing a troubled California seminary and, finally, to head of thebeleaguered NCC.

As the NCC gathers in Atlanta Wednesday through Friday for its annual GeneralAssembly meeting, all eyes will be on Edgar's nearly year-long tenure atthe helm of the 51-year-old organization. For both Edgar and the NCC,it's been a year of ups and downs, success and frustrating failure.

Most give Edgar high marks for helping to balance the agency'sbudget and reign in its finances. He has quieted critics in memberchurches and helped to refocus the NCC's vision in a changing ecumenicallandscape.

"Part of his task is to help us stay on focus and look at some ofthe hard stuff we have to do, and with some creativity look to thefuture with some excitement," said the Rev. David Perry, ecumenicalofficer for the Episcopal Church. "He's worked really hard at that."

But perhaps Edgar's most difficult task still lies ahead. Edgar hasbecome the leading proponent of the call to bury the NCC -- which today is comprised of 35 mainline Protestant, historically African American Protestant and Orthodox denominations -- and resurrect it as an entirely new body with the sought-after participation of Roman Catholics, Evangelicals and Pentecostalists.

When talking about a revamped NCC, Edgar gets visibly excited. Hesits up in his chair, leans forward and quietly pounds a clenched fiston his chair.

"Our primary vocation is not to save the National Council ofChurches," Edgar said in a recent interview. "Ourprimary vocation is to strengthen and inspire the ecumenical movement."

Edgar's tenure at the NCC began with a baptism by fire of sorts inthe Elian Gonzalez case. Just weeks into his new job, Edgar was ferryingthe Cuban boy's grandmothers back and forth to Cuba and facingunrelenting news media attention.

When the Elian case subsided, Edgar faced problems within the NCC,with a deficit that quickly grew from $4 million to more than $6million. Member churches began to withhold their money until Edgar gotthings into shape.

"This is the hardest job I've ever had," Edgar said. "About everyother day it's the most fun I've ever had, but it's the hardest job."

Edgar managed to shape a balanced budget and convinced memberchurches to help repay the deficit. Still, the council faces projectedshortfalls next year and may have to cut more staff.

NCC observers say Edgar has had to draw on every skill he gained inthe halls of Congress and behind the pulpit.

"Understanding the political dynamics of organizations has been areal asset for him as he's walked into the challenges we face," said theRev. Daniel Martensen, ecumenical liaison for the Evangelical LutheranChurch in America.

Not everyone is so convinced. The Rev. Parker Williamson, editor ofthe conservative Presbyterian Layman newspaper and a frequent critic of the NCC, saidhe respects Edgar's intentions, but thinks he will ultimately beunsuccessful in luring Evangelicals and Catholics toward a newecumenical table.

"He's looking for a lifeboat," Williamson said. "He sees the RomanCatholics, he sees the Evangelicals and he'd like to get a piece ofthat. But politically, he's thinking organizationally. Evangelicalsdon't think that way. It doesn't take long to see that they are shipspassing in the night."

For Edgar personally, the past year has been a time of intensereflection and deepening understanding of his walk with God.

Edgar says he is humbled by the responsibility and realization thathe is trying to overcome 2,000 years of Christian division in order tobring people together. If Methodists or Presbyterians can barely agreeamong themselves, it's a wonder the NCC can agree on anything at all, hesaid.

In his 30 years from the streets of Philadelphia to the halls ofCongress, Edgar says he has undergone a significant amount of "egodisarmament," at which point he recites his lengthy resume. Still, everyday, Edgar finds himself humbled in prayer, taking inspiration from theprophet Isaiah's words: "Here I am, Lord. Send me."

"God doesn't call the best and the brightest to do the act ofcreation or recreation," Edgar said. "I never would have picked any ofthe prophets or the disciples. My faith says that God is calling common,ordinary people to do extraordinary things."

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