After six days of intense discussions on migration, the conflict in Sri Lanka and climate change, of common prayer and practical efforts to make the voice of the churches on these issues heard at the United Nations, the UN Advocacy Week of the World Council of Churches (WCC) ended with good results on Friday 21 November 2008, say its organisers.
“The week was a success because we matched our celebration of gospel values like justice and care for creation with concrete action and a demonstration of unity, since there was real commitment to interregional collaboration,” said the Rev Christopher Ferguson, who heads the United Nations liaison office of the WCC which organized the event.
As participants mapped out their follow-up to the week-long meeting in New York, African Christians pledged for example to search together with churches in Asia for ways to make their governments work towards a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.
Similarly, representatives of European networks wanted to engage more with partners in the Pacific in order to link the islanders' experiences of climate change with those of the Sami people indigenous to Scandinavia's northernmost areas.
Recognizing each other's priorities
It was not self-evident that the 120 representatives of church networks and organizations working on such specific issues as the rights of migrant workers, the affirmation of indigenous culture, youth and gender concerns or climate justice would succeed in addressing common themes together.
“Different parts of the church realized the importance of each other's priorities and discovered the links between those issues. This is a great achievement,” said Ferguson.
For example an indigenous pastor from Latin America expressed his readiness to contribute to the accompaniment of migrants and a Sri Lankan started to think about the need for his church to pick up on the issue of climate change. The participants also discovered how exposure to Christian activists from a variety of backgrounds could inspire them in their ongoing work.
For instance, Dr Maake Masango, a professor at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, said that he wanted to use information shared by indigenous participants from Ecuador on the rights of nature in their country's constitution as material for a theological curriculum on climate change.
So the advocacy week met the criteria for true ecumenism outlined by Rev. Dr Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, in his opening address: “Christians advocating for justice without an understanding how this deepens our fellowship are not truly ecumenical; neither are Christians who pursue eucharistic fellowship without deep concern how it deepens our involvement with the world.”
Reaching out to the United Nations
The discussions on how to make the voice of the church heard were put into practise at several occasions of direct interaction with people working for, or representing their governments at, the United Nations.
The visits to missions of UN member states, during which participants promoted the International Migration Convention, exemplified the importance and the limitations of church advocacy at the UN. One representative of a country that experiences both emigration and immigration on a larger scale said he would welcome the church standing up for a signing of the convention, which protects the rights of migrant workers. With xenophobia increasing in the population, his government would not achieve this step without a push from civil society and church organizations.
Dr Robert C. Orr, the United Nations assistant secretary-general for strategic planning and policy coordination stroke a similar note in his keynote address, which marked the end of the advocacy week: “In times of crisis, people tend to look inward, and seek to protect their own families and communities. You need to help people fight this instinct, because we can only cope with this crisis if we look outward and all work together.”