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Columbia Theological Seminary students spend week with the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations

Group focuses on the church in a world of displaced persons

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Doctoral students from Columbia Theological Seminary have spent the week attending a seminar at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. (Photo by Sue Rheem)

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations has played host this week to a group of doctoral students from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. The ten students and faculty have been taking a week-long seminar course entitled “The Church in a World of Displaced Persons.”

“They’re learning about refugees, migrants, and internally displaced persons. They’re also getting firsthand knowledge on what the United Nations is doing to address the issue and the UN organizations involved,” said Ryan Smith, PMUN director. “We usually offer the seminar with Columbia every two or three years. This is the seventh time they’ve joined us in New York.”

Smith hopes the group will come away with a better understanding of how the church engages in international advocacy and connect the work in New York to their home congregations.

“On Tuesday, the students heard from the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, UN relief agencies working with Palestine refugees, and more,” he said. “We had a Skype call with Lucy Janjigian, a Presbyterian artist whose family was displaced during the Armenian genocide and the incredible amount of work she’s been involved with through her art.”

Doctoral students from Columbia Theological Seminary led chapel service during the week-long seminar at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. (Photo by Sue Rheem)

The students also met this week with representatives from the United Methodist Church, the World Council of Churches and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“It’s exciting for the UN ministry to engage with the seminary and train church leaders on the work of the church as well as international advocacy,” said Smith. “I hope this gives the students a good foundation to build on.”

Mark Douglas, professor of ethics at Columbia, is serving as faculty for the seminar. He taught a similar course at the ministry offices 10 years ago but felt it was important to address now.

“The current issues that are broiling the U.S., the explosion of concern about displaced persons as well as dramatic changes in how faith-based organizations and the UN are engaging this issue has transformed the landscape,” he said. “The course has been fabulous and the presentations have been dynamic. We are getting multiple perspectives on an entire syndrome of issues.”

Douglas hopes the students develop a theology of displacement and discover what it means to be displaced.

“Secondly, I hope the wisdom they take from a theology of displacement shapes the way they, as church leaders, go back to their churches and think more carefully about displacement and how to engage,” he said.

From New York, the students will continue their studies at the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. next week. Douglas says each student will be required to set up a meeting with their congressional representative or staff member to talk about displaced persons and learn about the power limits of public engagement.

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