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Muted anniversary illustrates need for the United Nations


Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations specialist says COVID-19 shows that multilateral cooperation is essential

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Sue Rheem, Mission Specialist for International Advocacy for the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, at work in the ministry offices in March 2019. Rich Copley

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The very fact that it is raining on the United Nations’ 75th anniversary shows why the international body is necessary, the senior staff member at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations says.

“You really do need an institution like the United Nations that, imperfect as it is, can bring nations together to try to work together, even if we don’t all get along,” said Sue Rheem, Mission Specialist for International Advocacy at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. “There isn’t anything else like it.

“The need is even greater now because COVID has shown that we are all interconnected, and we must work together to find solutions.”

The COVID-19 global pandemic has certainly muted the U.N.’s diamond jubilee, which was marked Saturday by events such as more than 150 European buildings and monuments bathed in U.N. blue light at night and observance on Monday in the General Assembly to showcase the work of the U.N. to mark the occasion, and a speech by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in which he renewed his call for a global cease-fire to focus on combatting the COVID pandemic.

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), also marked the church’s historic role in the U.N. in a statement released Monday.

“We give thanks to the Lord God for our ministry at the U.N. and for all of those that have walked alongside the United Nations in times of war and strife these past 75 years,” Nelson wrote. “We ask Presbyterians and all followers of Christ to pray daily for the work that is taking place there and to learn more about how they can help.”

Observance ceremony in commemoration of United Nations Day. Volkan Bozkir (left), President of the seventy-fifth session of the United Nations General Assembly, and Secretary-General António Guterres stand during a moment to collectively reaffirm the commitment to the United Nations Charter during the observance ceremony in commemoration of United Nations Day on Oct. 26. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

In his statement, Nelson noted the Presbyterian Church has been involved with the U.N. “from the beginning,” and the “PC(USA) holds special consultative status through the U.N. Economic and Social Council. This gives the Church a global voice on the issues of peace and security, hunger, poverty and human rights violations. Through the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, we are able to take part in advocacy by meeting with member states, attending conferences, and making oral and written statements.

“The ministry has two important tasks: to inspire and equip Presbyterians for global discipleship following Jesus Christ and to advocate for peace and justice in Christ’s name based on the policies of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at the United Nations.”

The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations is one of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and works closely with many Presbyterian ministries and programs from fellow CPJ ministries such as the Office of Public Witness, to Presbyterian World Mission and the Office of the General Assembly on international advocacy and education.

The 75th anniversary finds the U.N. ministry in a time of transition as director and representative to the United Nations Ryan Smith left last month to become the Programme Executive and Representative to the United Nations at the World Council of Churches.

Facing the COVID-19 crisis, Rheem says there is not the unity in the international response that the U.N. ministry would hope for.

“There’s a lot of squabbling and infighting where we need to coordinate efforts,” Rheem said. “The nations and people who have the greatest need, their needs aren’t being met; whether it’s sharing vaccines or testing or PPE, there’s just a huge need that’s not being addressed.

“The powerful states are going about acting in their own self-interest, so we recognize as a church, as the body of Christ, that we are called to work together and to provide for the least of us, and that Matthew 25 message needs to get out to this community and to the global community as a whole.”

The 75th anniversary also provides an opportunity to look ahead to the future of the U.N. and the U.N. Ministry. For the U.N., Rheem sees work to strengthen multilateralism and a growing voice for women and youth to take part in shaping the future. And she sees the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) having a role in that.

“We can be a bridge between the church and the work of the United Nations and the global community to provide the connections to inform Presbyterians that what’s happening in the world matters here in the United States,” Rheem said. “We are one body, one family and what affects one affects all of God’s people.”

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