Updated January 2006
Countries and Partnerships
One of our ecumenical partners, the Coptic Orthodox Church’s Bishopric for Public, Ecumenical, and Social Services (BLESS), held its triennial Round Table meeting in Sharm ash-Shaikh, Egypt May 15-16. The area executive attended for the first time, not having been able to attend three years ago. The meeting was an opportunity to see the important results of the work of BLESS in Community-Based Development, primarily in Upper Egypt, and to hear the reports of various staff persons. BLESS is doing important work, and this work should continue to be supported. Not only are basic human needs addressed, but an important by-product is better interfaith relations. In a time of increased tensions, the significance of such efforts cannot be underestimated. The staff also had an opportunity to comment on current political realities in Egypt, including the fall elections, and provided very informative insight on a number of topics.
Partnership with the Union of Evangelical Churches was manifest in several ways during the current period. Two visits by representatives from Germany offered Global Ministries the opportunity to introduce a wide variety of the UCC and Disciples’ work to partners, as well as to engage directly and personally with German partners. The relationship with the Union of Evangelical Churches is especially important because of the historical ties of its predecessor, the Evangelical Church of the Union, and the UCC, embodied in kirchengemeinschaft, or “church communion.” During this period, the Rev. Peter Weigand, Secretary for the Americas of the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD), of which the UEK is a part, visited Cleveland for the first time on April 4-5. He was to have been part of a delegation that visited two years ago, but for health reasons couldn’t come. Rev. Weigand made a special effort to visit on his way to a meeting in Latin America.
A second visit was that of the Rev. Dr. Peter Steinacker, president of the Evangelical Church of Hesse and Nassau, and the Rev. Hans Steubing, acting ecumenical and international affairs officer. The Hesse and Nassau church is a regional church in Germany that is a new member of the Union of Evangelical Churches, becoming a charter member when the UEK was formed. It had not been a member of the EKU, and has decided it would like to pursue participation in the kirchengemeinschaft relationship. The visit on June 21-22 was fruitful and, as a result, it is expected that deeper ties will be formed.
The UCC’s UEK Working Group met at Andover Newton Theological School May 5-7, and a primary item on the agenda was the celebratory colloquy of the silver jubilee of kirchengemeinschaft scheduled for November 2005 in Berlin. The UEK has invited a delegation of 30 UCC persons to be present and discussion of roles and composition of the delegation was an urgent matter. Other discussion included updates on partnerships from throughout the various settings of the church, and a discussion of the meaning and importance of the kirchengemeinschaft relationship in today’s context.
While in Syria for the Middle East Council of Churches Partners’Meeting (see below), the area executive had the opportunity to visit Hafer, a village to which Global Ministries contributed to enable the digging and installation of an artesian well. The well is up and running, providing water for irrigation and drinking to this village 90 miles northwest of Damascus, once an agricultural village now suffering from drought conditions.
With the horrendous series of bombings in London, Global Ministries and leadership of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ sent condolences to the United Reformed Church, hoping that the core issues of justice and economic equality would be addressed to stem the tide of terrorism. We learned that one of the bus bombs in London actually exploded half a block from the United Reformed Church’s national office, but none of the staff was hurt.
Arab Group for Christian Muslim Dialogue
From April 15-May 1, the Church World Service Middle East Forum (which the area executive convenes) hosted a delegation of Christians and Muslims from the Middle East. Two groups of four delegates (two Christians and two Muslims each) toured Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, before coming together and being joined by others in Washington, DC. The purpose of the visit was for members of the Arab group to share with people in churches some of the interfaith realities of the Middle East not widely understood in this country. They also aimed to share some of their experiences with interreligious coexistence as a possible model that could be applied in other contexts. In Washington, the focus was more on policy and partnerships. Meetings with Churches for Middle East Peace, as well as denominational office heads, Congressional aides of the House Foreign Relations Committee, and faculty at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies comprised part of the program. Overall, the delegation was well received and positive feedback was shared by many. However, at this time there are no plans in place for a repeat visit.
Middle East Council of Churches
The regular Partners’ Meeting of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), our regional ecumenical partner, was held in Sayadnaya, Syria, from May 9-12, and the area executive had the opportunity to represent Global Ministries. In addition to an overview of the programs of the MECC, the agenda included updates from partners and historic and political contexts affecting the council’s work and ministry in the region. The most important point of discussion was the reality that the MECC is still in a transition stage, and is seeking to define its role at a time when the ecumenical movement is not as strong worldwide as it once may have been. To that end, an extraordinary General Assembly will be held by Middle East church leaders to discuss the MECC’s structure and role in November, and more about the MECC will be clear at that time. Even so, important programs and work continue.
United Nations and Ecumenical Global Advocacy
In 2005, one of the priorities for ecumenical education and advocacy at the United Nations (UN) has been the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs provide an international commitment and strategy to reduce poverty and create a more sustainable and secure human community. Upon the urging of Philip Woods, Global Ministries partner board member from the United Reformed Church (UK), the Common Global Ministries Board at its April 2005 meeting, passed a resolution to “Recommend the Millennium Development Goals for Study and Action.” The program associate has been engaged in several ecumenical initiates to raise awareness about the MDGs and to encourage the U.S. and international community to meet the development objectives by their target date of 2015.
The Church’s mission to the poor and marginalized complements UN and NGO work on sustainable development. The program associate worked with partners at the UN and at the Riverside Church in NY to organize a conference on May 22 exploring this intersection between the Church’s mission and the UN’s development programs. “The Church and the UN” was held at the Riverside Church to focus attention on the issue of poverty and related concerns. The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Riverside’s senior pastor, and Professor Jeffery Sachs of Columbia University, author of the best-seller The End of Poverty and Director of the Millennium Campaign, were keynote speakers at the well-attended forum. Many members of the ecumenical and NGO community in attendance expressed support for similar events in succeeding years.
The year 2005 has been pivotal in assessing progress toward achieving the goals, since world leaders gathered for a Millennium Summit in mid-September during which the MDGs were high on the agenda. The Ecumenical Working Group at the UN has been active in lobbying the international community to remain committed to international development as key to creating a more secure and hopeful future for all peoples around the world. The program associate and the two Union Theological Seminary interns working with the UN, Margaret Blamberg and David Fraccaro, have worked closely with the Ecumenical Working Group in advancing the Millennium Development Goals, together with more and better international aid and trade, as essential to shaping a more fair and just globalization.
The program associate also has continued to work on just trade issues through the UCC Globalization Coordinating Committee, the Church World Service Education and Advocacy for Human Rights and International Justice Program Committee, and through MESA, the working group formed to follow-up on the January 2004 North American consultation on globalization and just trade, whose declaration, already endorsed by the CGMB in November 2004, was endorsed for study by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at General Assembly in July. The program associate, representing Church World Service and Global Ministries, participated in the MESA annual consultation in Ottawa, ON, May 21_22, together with the UN intern Margaret Blamberg. They will both be involved in planning and hosting the 2006 MESA consultation to be held in the U.S. in the Spring of 2006.
An important emphasis of ecumenical efforts for global economic justice will be focused on water rights and access in 2005-2006. The Global Ministries Global Education and Advocacy (GEA) Team held a retreat in Cleveland, OH on May 26. The team agreed to a water advocacy campaign under the name “Race for Water,” which was initiated at General Synod and General Assembly in the summer of 2005 and will run through 2006. The campaign will include visibility elements; educational, worship and advocacy resources and opportunities; and will culminate with Global Ministries’ co-sponsoring the production of a documentary on water to be produced by the UCC and aired on ABC network television in the fall of 2006. The program associate is a member of the production team for the documentary.