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NCC delegation returns from Moscow peace mission

3/6/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: A head-and-shoulders photograph of the Rev. Robert Edgar is available at http://umns.umc.org/photos/headshots.html.

By United Methodist News Service

An ecumenical delegation that visited Moscow March 4-5 urged the Russian government to continue searching for a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis.

Sponsored by the U.S. National Council of Churches, the delegation include the Rev. Robert Edgar, a United Methodist pastor and the NCC's chief executive; the Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, Orthodox Church in America and a former NCC president; and the Rev. Keith Clements, chief executive, Conference of European Churches.

"We're just urging good allies to be good allies … by not letting the United States do something inappropriate," Edgar told United Methodist News Service in a March 6 telephone interview. In this case, the Russian officials and U.S. church leaders are in accord - or as Edgar put it, the Russians are "on the same hymn that we're on."

The Russian Orthodox Church hosted the visit. Two officials from its department of external church relations, the Rev. Vsevolod Chaplin and the Rev. Andrei Elisseyev, accompanied the group during an hour-long meeting with three high-level representatives of the Russian government. They were Alexandr Manzhosin, first deputy chief, foreign policy department, Alexandr Saltanov, deputy minister of foreign affairs, and Yevgeny Primakov, former prime minister and new special envoy to Baghdad.

Delegation members also met with Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, president of the Russian church's department of external relations.

At a March 5 news briefing in Paris, France and Russia announced they would block a new U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing force against Iraq. Edgar said he believes the Bush administration will withdraw the resolution "if there's any chance of a veto."

Other NCC-sponsored delegations have visited government officials and church representatives in Berlin, Paris, London and Rome. "I'm still optimistic about this whole effort," Edgar added about the NCC's peace initiative in Europe. "I think President Bush would be ill-advised to go to war without large multinational support."

He believes the delegation visits were important. "The fact that we met face-to-face with (German leader Gerhard) Schroeder, with (Britain's) Tony Blair, and with the pope makes it clearly worthwhile," he said. People in those nations now know "the United States is not talking about war with the unanimous support of its people."

The next steps for NCC-sponsored action to promote peace may include prayer vigils at the New York consulate offices of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, according to Edgar.

He also hopes to make April 4 a day of prayer and reflection. On that date in 1967, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a "definitive speech on war" at Riverside Church in New York, Edgar said. A year later, to the day, King was assassinated.

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