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PC(USA) sends delegation to UN social development commission


Three of the delegates hail from the Presbytery of New York City

By Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

The first day of the U.N. Commission on Social Development. For the first time, a delegation from the Presbyterian Ministry at the U.N. is participating in the commission. Courtesy of Presbyterian Ministry at the U.N.

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations has a delegation participating in the U.N. Commission on Social Development, which runs through Feb. 21.

For the first time in recent memory, the Presbyterian delegation will include members from outside the U.N. ministry office. The group is made up of three members of the Presbytery of New York City, two staff members and a Young Adult Volunteer.

“We’ve been trying to envision a new initiative for our office, for our ministry,” said Sue Rheem, the ministry’s mission specialist for international advocacy. “And one of the things that we know we could do is equip church leaders for international social justice issues.”

In addition to sending a delegation, the Presbyterian Ministry at the U.N. is cosponsoring two events on Friday related to the 57th annual commission:

“Prison reform has been an important topic for the Presbytery of New York City, so we thought, ‘There’s an opportunity here,’ ” Ryan said of bringing a delegation to this year’s Commission.

Presbyterian Ministry to the U.N. staff Sue Rheem, Carson Smith and Ryan Smith with Presbyterian delegates to the U.N. Commission on Social Development Chibueze Okori, Brenda Berkman and Charles Atkins. Courtesy of Presbyterian Ministry at the U.N.

In previous years, the Presbyterian Ministry at the U.N. has focused on bringing delegates to the annual Commission on the Status of Women, which is next month and will include a 20-person Presbyterian delegation.

“One of the perspectives that we can bring to the U.N. system is a faith voice interested in social justice,” Smith said. “By bringing in local leaders, they can talk about the work that their congregations are doing to the international community so folks can see that it really is faith communities who are moving and changing the world from their local perspective.”

The Commission on Social Development delegates are:

Charles Atkins has been the chair of the New York City Presbytery’s Justice Ministries Committee since 2016; chaplain supervisor at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility in Yardville, New Jersey; and teaching elder at French Evangelical Church in New York City. He recently received his Ph.D. on research centered on the relevance of religious practice in American prisons.

Brenda Berkman is a ruling elder at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City and serves on the Justice Ministries Committee of the New York City Presbytery. Berkman is also a pioneering New York City firefighter, having filed the 1982 lawsuit that resulted in the first women being hired by the New York City Fire Department. She was a first responder at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and became the first openly gay person to be named a White House Fellow.

Chibueze Okorie is a lay minister at the Church of Gethsemane in Brooklyn, which was created by and for incarcerated people, formerly incarcerated people, their families, neighborhood people, and people who feel called into ministry with the poor.

According to its website, “the Division for Inclusive Social Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs monitors national and global socio-economic trends, identifies emerging issues, and assesses their implications for social policy at the national and international levels.”

The Commission on Social Development is one of 10 functional commissions, along with the Commission on the Status of Women, that are part of the Economic and Social Council of the U.N., according to Smith. A functional commission is a decision-making commission developed around a certain topic.

The commission is working on five resolutions related to issues including youth, people with disabilities and social and financial inequality.

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