Go-to guy: The Reverend Alvin Edwards

Alvin Edwards thought he cussed too much to be a preacher. But that bad habit didn't stop him from going into the ministry, running for City Council, and serving as Charlottesville mayor.

Now, after more than two decades as a preacher, he admits, "It's still something I have to work on."

Meanwhile he's become versed in other tongues, and he writes his sermons using his own translations from the original Greek and Hebrew. "I'm better at Greek," he says.

Although Edwards has shepherded a flock at Mt. Zion Baptist Church since 1981, coming to Virginia wasn't exactly on the radar for the Joliet, Illinois, native.

In fact, ending up a pastor wasn't on his radar, either. "My goal in life was to make money and to be an industrial engineer," he says. Instead, thanks to two influential pastors at the church he attended as a youth, he went to seminary in Richmond and then commuted up to George Mason University to earn a PhD.

Although he's no longer an elected official, his leadership role is undiminished, particularly vis-à-vis race relations. When white UVA students were assaulted by black Charlottesville High teens, or when Daisy Lundy was attacked, aghast citizens turned to Alvin Edwards.

Why is that?

Edwards demurs at first, then says, "I'm involved. I have credibility. I call a spade a spade."

He served as mayor from 1990 to 1992 and doesn't particularly miss being in politics. His claim, "I have a lot to do," is an understatement. He dashes into a meeting late after dealing with some final details at the new $2.5-million Mt. Zion site on Lankford Avenue. Its inaugural service has been pushed back to July 27, and he's dismayed to notice that there are already fingerprints on the freshly painted walls.

Meanwhile, developer Gabe Silverman has purchased the old Ridge Street church, which dates from 1867. Does Edwards worry about his former sanctuary becoming a venue for secular activities?

He laughs. "For me, the people are the church. That's just the building we worship in. What he does with the building is his prerogative."

Age: 51

What brought you here? Mt. Zion invited me to be pastor in July 1981.

What's worst about living here? It's not 50 miles closer to D.C. I don't like to drive.

Favorite hangout? My bedroom and my office

Most overrated virtue? Trying to solve everything

What would people be surprised to know about you? People think I have a public persona, but I'm very shy. I'm an introvert and quiet.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I'd be a better steward of my time, balancing more time with my wife and children.

What accomplishment are you proudest of? The completion of the new church

What do people find most annoying about you? Straightforwardness

Whom do you admire? Perry Bennett in Rockford, Illinois, the youth pastor at my church. And Bill Cosby. He would not accept an honorary degree until he finished his doctoral. He did it while working, and I've always admired him.

Favorite book? Makes Me Wanna Holler by Nathan McCall

What subject causes you to rant? Unfairness. To know discrimination still exists among people who swear there is none

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? The potential to make a difference in the lives of others

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? How people allow politicians to snow them. Politicians say all they're going to do. Don't they realize they have just one vote?

What do you drive? 1993 Lincoln Town Car

What's in your car tape player right now? Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul

 What's your next journey? Detroit, Michigan, to lecture 1,200 13- and 14-year-old kids for a week

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? In junior high, a teacher was bending over. I had a pencil like I was going to stick her in the behind, and the principal walked in.

What do you regret? That my mom died of cancer at 62, and she was not around when I received my Ph.D.

Favorite comfort food? Seedless green grapes

What's always in your refrigerator? Orange juice, bacon, sausage, eggs

Must-see TV? Wheel of Fortune

 Favorite cartoon? When I was younger, Superman or Spiderman

 Describe a perfect day. Get up with devotions. Go for a swim. Eat breakfast: sausage, bacon, eggs, and grits. Go to the office. Fix everybody's problems. Spend time getting ready for my sermon. Spend time with my wife and children. Watch a little TV and call it a night.

Walter Mitty fantasy? A drummer. I've always wanted to play drums.

Who'd play you in the movie? Sgt. LaTroy Durrette. He's played me before.

Most embarrassing moment? I'm always embarrassed when people say I've done a good job or been a blessing to them.

Best advice you ever got? Proverbs 3:5-6. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not to thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your path."

Favorite bumper sticker? "My child is an honor roll student at _____."