Monday, March 2, 2009

The Anglican Observer to the UN

February 28, 2009

I’m just back from my first meeting of the Advisory Council for the Anglican Observer to the United Nations. We met at Lambeth Palace so that we could have some time with the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the past I have been a skeptic about the need for such an office, but am now thoroughly convinced of its value with the right person in the job. (And I was impressed by Hellen Grace Wangusa, the current Observer See: The meeting itself was pretty grim. We are essentially a fund raising body with little obvious ability to do the job and the meeting is heavy with staff people from various church agencies who seem pretty concerned about issues of process and clarity about who is responsible for what etc (i.e. turf) rather than celebrating the work and telling the story. It is not that such issues are unimportant in the great scheme of things, just that we don’t need to bring people across the Atlantic to watch them being worked out. Our chairman did a good job of keeping us on track while being responsive to needs to adjust the agenda from time to time and the result was a group who will try and make a basic fund raising appeal effective in the short term. There was conversation about the longer term but no action at this meeting.

The real value of our time together was hearing reports from Ms. Wanagusa who is based in New York, and from Trevor Davies the volunteer who leads the work of a committee in Geneva. They have engaged significant work addressing issues of economic protectionism, --a particular concern of the Archbishop’s as a detriment to the poor; the status of women through a project called the girl-child; sustainable community; the support of making interreligious dialog a cornerstone of the UN’s work toward peace; and the development of a real network of health care providers. During our time with the Archbishop he was engaged in the conversation, thoughtful, supportive of the office and the work that was being done. He recognized that providing a voice for the voiceless in the Councils of the World is relational and requires constant work in order for channels to be open. He called it the tough work of ‘keeping feet in doors’ (i.e. keeping doors open) so that when conversation needs to happen, such as when he is preparing a major statement about Zimbabwe, he has a way to solicit advice on one hand and influence proceedings on the other.

Stories: 1. In 2008, the UN observer was able to work through South Africa (a member of the Security Council) to enable 135 members of an Anglican Synod to escape soldiers who had surrounded them in Boga in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Once freed, the local Bishop was supported in raising funds to provide a compound for refuge and safety until they could return to their homes.

2. One year after attending an Anglican funded gathering for the Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), a number of women from the third world in some of the most impoverished situations imaginable requested training for themselves and others in economic literacy and advocacy.

3. After painstaking work over a long period of time, building coalitions and working with others, the committee in Geneva were rewarded with the scheduling of a two day debate on ‘the Culture of Peace’. One of their own, Dr. John Taylor spoke representing Congo about interreligious dialog. They are now working for this to be an explicit and formal focus of UN work for a decade.

These stories are the tip of the iceberg for the potential of the Anglican Communion, especially in the person of the Archbishop of Canterbury, having access and voice to the councils of the world on behalf of the poorest who are often betrayed by their own governments.

In the past year many of the donations form individuals and dioceses were in the range of $100. If you would like to support this work send a check to the Anglican Observer Office c/o DFMS, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

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