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Life in Service

June 1, 2018 | By Anne Kniggendorf (SF97)

John Edgerton (SF04) has been a fixture at Old South Church in Boston since 2013.

The Rev. John Edgerton (SF04) is an associate minister at Boston’s historic Old South Church.

The 348-year-old house of worship is also known as “church of the finish line” because it’s just a quarter of a block from the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Samuel Adams was a member and Benjamin Franklin was baptized there in 1706.

Like the leaders that preceded him, Edgerton has engaged with members of the surrounding community in hopes of improving the quality of life since his installation in 2013.

“The notion that Christian faith ought to be lived out in a public way and in service to the cause of justice, that’s very much part of who the church is; that’s always been who we are,” Edgerton says.

He discloses, almost apologetically, that discovering what discipline he loved most at St. John’s took him nearly four years after graduation. Ultimately, his time with Søren Kierkegaard during the senior essay writing period proved so profound that it influenced the course his life would ultimately take.

Edgerton chose to write on Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling during the month all seniors are on hiatus from regularly scheduled classes. It was digging so deep into the text that he says filled him with the most joy he’d felt at St. John’s.

Old South Church is nearly 350 years old.

“Kierkegaard in particular makes the case for understanding and encountering God in those areas of paradox where you’re holding in tension two things which are contradictory but both inarguably true,” Edgerton explains. “That encounter with paradox is where one finds and encounters God, one who is beyond human understanding. If God were to be beyond the human person, then one would expect to encounter God only in those areas that are beyond our own capacity to fully reach.”

He says it was liberating to him to search for spiritual and religious truth without claiming to understand a doctrine.

So, he decided to study theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School and quickly saw that his time at St. John’s had well prepared him for that area.

Moreover, he understood that in the capacity of a clergyman he might be able to liberate others similarly to how he felt liberated by Kierkegaard.

“An encounter with a living and dynamic God is something worth helping people have in a way that other ways of understanding were not particularly interesting to me,” he says.

Edgerton leads United States Senate in prayer days after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

And because his church is especially interested in publicly living out its faith, he’s also learned a great deal about the minutiae of policy-making across politics and real estate. When a developer in Boston wanted to build a tower of luxury apartments near the church, he stepped up and advocated for members of the community who struggled to find any housing at all.

Edgerton largely credits his St. John’s education with having won a $6 million public benefit for those experiencing housing challenges. For the first time, Boston would have a dedicated pot of money that the city could use as a seed for a citywide home ownership strategy among communities of color. The fund will put $3 million toward preserving historic buildings and the other $3 million will go to a pilot program that will make home ownership more affordable.

“Without the capacity to read and understand things from a lot of different angles, we wouldn’t have been able to get what we got out of that,” he says. “I went into this thinking about it like a community organizer and also wound up having this work out because I read like a Johnnie. People underestimate the importance of reading.”

See Rev. Edgerton lead the Senate in prayer on April 25, 2013.