Chi Lives: getting laughs for the lord | Calendar | Chicago Reader

Chi Lives: getting laughs for the lord 

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It's a sweltering Sunday afternoon in the Sanctuary Church of God in Roseland. Assistant pastor Allen Edge is wearing a minister's black suit and collar despite the stifling temperature. He seems to be everywhere at once--he greets the congregation, distributes programs, and tests the microphone.

"Hallelujah!" he says.

"Hallelujah," the crowd responds.

"Hallelujah!" Edge says again.

"Hallelujah," the crowd replies with feeling.

Getting people involved is the mark of a good preacher. During the church's Youth Day celebration--a showcase for youngsters trained to spread the word--Edge makes it clear he takes the young people seriously. "Whatever God put them on the earth to do, we must encourage them to do it," he tells the crowd. A hint of his other career slips into his oratory. "I'm a youth too," he jokes. "I stopped at 16. A lawyer drew up the papers."

Besides being a minister, Edge is also a stand-up comedian, actor, and director. A native of Corinth, Mississippi, who came to Chicago with his family in 1963, Edge first got a taste for theater when he joined a drama group as a junior at Hales Franciscan High School in 1969. He earned a bachelor's degree in theater at Columbia College in 1978 and cofounded his production company, Transitions Edge, a year later. Edge worked as a mailman for ten years while he established himself as a performer, working with Kuumba Theatre, Steppenwolf, and ETA Creative Arts Foundation. He also did stand-up at various comedy clubs. He's opened for Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, and others, and he appeared in a commercial for Empire carpets several years ago.

Though he now heads an outreach program for Channel 38, the local Christian TV station, the 43-year-old Edge is a relative newcomer to the ministry. He was an altar boy but stopped attending mass while a teenager. He started going to church again in 1979, spurred on by his wife Martrice. After the couple joined Sanctuary in 1984, he was unexpectedly corralled into teaching a Bible class. To prepare, he studied the Bible, watched religious TV shows, and listened to tapes of various ministers. "Once I got into it, it was like Lay's potato chips," Edge says. "I couldn't eat just one." Last year he was ordained as an elder in the church and appointed assistant pastor. This month he'll start teaching theater and stand-up comedy at the church.

Some might question whether comedy is an appropriate sideline for a man of the cloth, but Edge says stand-up is similar to ministry. "It is more than 'ha, ha, ha,'" he says. "It moves people's spirits. The Bible says laughter is medicine to the heart." After one of his performances, a woman told him that he'd lifted the spirits of a friend who had recently lost a relative. "Stand-up comedy prepared me to be a preacher," he says.

Edge will serve as master of ceremonies and perform stand-up and dramatic monologues from the Book of Proverbs in "Hidden Treasures Revealed!," a program of born-again performers including singer-songwriter Lenear Royalty, Christian rappers G.L. Juice and the Preacher, and Reverend Alfred Wheeler and the Gospel Ensemble. Martrice Edge and Dalvalie Friend will perform a scene from Edge's play I See Jesus. "Hidden Treasures Revealed!" will be held at 8 PM Saturday at the Sanctuary Church of God, 11354-60 S. Michigan; admission is $7. For more information call 773-933-0105. --Michael Marsh

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Allen Edge photo by Nathan Mandell.

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