NEW YORK (UMNS) -- For 40 years, a building across
the avenue from the United Nations headquarters in New York has stood as
a witness to Christian support for efforts in international diplomacy
to advance the causes of peace, human rights, development and ecology.
the Church Center for the United Nations, the United Methodist-owned
building at 777 U.N. Plaza provides 12 floors of office and meeting
space for religious and other non-governmental organizations concerned
with U.N. issues and is a focal point for their activities. A 40th
anniversary celebration is planned Nov. 10.
The history of the
events taking place in the building and the personalities involved has
yet to be written. But, as former World Council of Churches executive
Dwain Epps - who once staffed the council's liaison office in the center
- suggests: "If walls could talkâ€¦!"
In the 1990s, when the
world's attention turned to a series of international conferences - Rio
on the environment, Cairo on population, Beijing on women, and others -
unprecedented numbers of people from non-governmental organizations came
to New York to follow the preparatory committees and try to influence
During the Cold War, a Methodist executive based
in the building, Carl Soule, devoted much of his energies to building
ties with people in Eastern Europe. When the struggles for majority rule
in southern Africa were both prominent and highly controversial,
particularly in the United States, leaders of that struggle found not
only sympathy but also the practical support of a desk and a phone at
the church center. A U.S. financier who now lives in the Bahamas, Sir
John Templeton, visits every year to announce the winner of his
religion-linked Templeton Prize.
The vision for the center
originated with the Methodists, and it was constructed by the Methodist
Board of Christian Social Concerns (now the United Methodist Board of
Church and Society) with financial support from the Methodist Women's
Division. In 1984, the Women's Division, United Methodist Board of
Global Ministries, assumed ownership and full responsibility for its
According to Epps, United Methodist Women deserve
special tribute for seeing the role such a building could play, and for
their willingness to invest a substantial amount of money in this
vision. They put up $500,000 just for the land, a corner lot at an ideal
central location providing a direct view of the U.N.'s General Assembly
and Secretariat buildings.
From the beginning, the building was a
church center, not a Methodist one, and it has served as a place where
the needs of the world community were addressed ecumenically. There,
United Methodists join forces with Quakers, Unitarian Universalists,
Presbyterians, Seventh Day Adventists, Lutherans and other
The religious groups, which receive priority for
rental space, occupy about half the building's offices, and the rest is
used by non-governmental organizations like the International Women's
Tribune Centre, Rotary International, International Peace Academy and
World Federalist Association.
A key person at the center is Mia
Adjali, who was working for the Methodist women when the building was
planned, served on the staff there from the opening in 1963, and today
directs the United Methodist Office, which includes a representative of
the Board of Church and Society.
Born in Algeria to Methodist
missionaries from Norway, she had a special interest in Africa, and
during the period of struggle for majority rule in southern Africa,
helped arrange for national liberation groups to work at the center when
they came to the United Nations.
In the beginning, Adjali said,
the church offices concentrated largely on constituency education, and
that this remains a big part of the work. People come from across the
United States to seminars where they hear church and U.N.
representatives reporting on world issues and how they are addressed at
the United Nations.
But subsequently, more church offices
secured consultative status with the U.N. Economic and Social Council
(ECOSOC), and this enables them to participate in its commissions by
suggesting language for statements, sharing information and presenting
church positions on issues, Adjali explained. The United Nations itself,
she added, has become more open to the views of churches and other
Epps said that although the
churches have not exerted major influence on the United Nations, they
have had some success in shaping that body's agenda and the tone of
debate. "They have kept in the forefront a moral and ethical approach to
global issues that tended to be treated as mechanics," he noted.
center has a chaplain's office, currently unfilled, for people who may
be looking for religious counsel. A chapel on the ground floor, designed
for people of various religions, serves for weddings, memorial services
and commemorative occasions of many kinds.
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Early, a freelance writer in New York, wrote this story for the World
Council of Churches, which originally distributed it.