Ecumenical Teams at the United Nations: Sponsored Conferences and Summits
Lerner, Gail, Frado, Dennis, The Ecumenical Review
Following the World Council of Churches' central committee's policy statement of 1995 on United Nations relations, particular attention has been paid to ecumenical follow-up of important world conferences held under UN auspices during the 1990s, and to their respective 5- and 10-year review processes. A decision was made to create ecumenical teams to provide a continuing presence and active lobbying as the conference agendas and draft declarations are shaped.
The creation of the teams is a natural outgrowth of these emphases and reflects a continuing effort on the part of the ecumenical movement, through the leadership of the WCC, in influencing international political arenas. Historical statements of ecumenical social thought provide the basic assumptions behind the contributions of ecumenical teams. To cite two examples:
* In 1948 at the WCC's first assembly in Amsterdam, debate ensued between Czech theologian Josef Hromadka and US lay delegate John Foster Dulles. Among other things, the assembly said, "The churches should reject the ideologies of both communism and laissez-faire capitalism and should draw men from the false assumption that the extremes are the only alternatives." The WCC's continuing search for alternatives to the current systems of economy, finance and trade are living witness to the enduring influence to this statement.
* In the 1960s and 1970s the WCC and the Vatican participated in a Joint Committee on Society, Development and Peace (SODEPAX). SODEPAX emphasized the need to see the whole social picture. Ecumenical thought about development issues has given considerable attention to macro-level factors; this thought includes studies on transnational corporations, critiques of the information and communication industries and their control over the weak, and analysis of such subjects as Western-style medicine, the pharmaceutical industry, debt and the distortion of national priorities by favouring of exports. Then, as now, ecumenical reflection on development must struggle to combine analysis and action which take into account both macro-level forces and micro-level initiatives and realities.
The team methodology, while placing heavy demands on limited staff capacity, has proven its worth in many ways. It has strengthened cooperative relations with other ecumenical bodies, member churches, and among teams of the Council, as well as provided training in lobbying skills for a wide range of people from the ecumenical movement. It has also made a substantial impact on the outcomes of world conferences.
How do the ecumenical teams come together?
The ecumenical teams are made up of diverse groups of people from many parts of the world and from different denominational and religious backgrounds. The WCC sponsors people drawn heavily from the global South, giving priority to women and indigenous peoples. Each person is invited because she/he has a lived expertise on the subject at hand. In addition, the WCC invites representatives of other ecumenical bodies at the UN to join and to participate in the planning process. On some occasions, member churches from other places around the world have sent staff or other churchrelated persons to join an ecumenical team. Each individual brings her/his unique perspective on the challenges facing our world in this new millennium.
Since 1997, we have had ecumenical teams for the Ecosoc commissions on women, social development and sustainable development, and the preparatory meetings as well as the world conferences for Geneva 2000 (social development), financing for development, Rio +5 and Rio +10 (World Summit for Sustainable Development).
How do the ecumenical teams work?
Preparations for each team begin months ahead of summits of other international conferences between concerned WCC staff and organizing partners as well as other potential team members. The latter receive whatever documentation is available prior to the meeting. …