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Do you know that the Anglican Communion is active at the United Nations?

Posted on: September 19, 2023 3:22 PM
Archbishop Justin Welby meets António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations
Photo Credit: ACNS

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, recently visited the United Nations in New York. The purpose of his visit was to show how and why Anglican Churches are responding to issues around conflict, climate change and migration. He established closer relationships with the UN and countries represented there, where their efforts are complementary. He voiced a distinct perspective where injustice is at work, particularly around the treatment of migrants and the legacy of slavery, and he offered ideas and encouragement where the UN is facing challenges. 

On Friday 22 September, Archbishop Justin will host a Question and Answer event for young peacemakers in the margins of the UN General Assembly. It is aimed at interns and junior political officers across the UN system to show the importance of peacemaking in leadership and to demonstrate that Church leaders are open to genuine engagement with young people. 

This connects with the International Day of Peace the day before (21 September) and an event Archbishop Justin will attend later in the day with the Difference Course and the youth programme at Trintiy Church, Wall Street. 

The United Nations is a forum for the world's countries to address major global challenges together. The Anglican Communion has what’s known as “special consultative status”. This means that it is authorised to give feedback, speak out on important topics, or raise questions at UN meetings. “We value the opportunity to speak into global discussions and decisions, and we also work relationally with the UN and the world’s nations in response to crises,” said Martha Jarvis, the Anglican Communion’s Permanent Representative to the UN since March 2023. 

She continued: “I work with a small team across Geneva and Nairobi. Our role is to create a bridge between Anglican mission and major international responses to issues like conflict, climate change, hospitality for people on the move, health, science and more.” 

Martha believes that, overall, the UN has respect for the Anglican Communion. “We are one of only a few organisations that reaches around the world and into communities directly experiencing the issues often discussed by the UN”, she explained.  “We have previously developed partnerships with the UN on responses to conflict, pandemics, migration and child rights, which show good levels of trust and value for the insights Anglican churches bring.”  

However, she also believes that there can be confusion about why the Anglican Communion and other faith groups are part of UN discussions, because the UN is an organisation for states. “But this is also an opportunity to share more about the purpose of the Church, and ultimately the love of God, working to build understanding and relationship. Where there is stronger resistance, the best chance for our voices to be heard is when we join together with others from the Church or as people of faith. That means having strong connections with and a heart to serve other denominations and other faiths as they work on similar issues,” she explained. 

Martha accompanied Archbishop Justin on his recent trip to the UN and described some highlights that were personal to her. “One was hearing how much value many countries and the UN place on insights given by Churches affected by these issues. Archbishop Justin and Caroline Welby amplified the voices of many Anglicans we know who persevere in the midst of great struggles with courage and wisdom, inspired by their faith in Jesus”, she said. “Another was seeing how positively new initiatives coming from the Church were received. This includes the Communion’s ability to reimagine responses to major issues like conflict by including unusual partners in peacebuilding discussions. 

“Travelling with Archbishop Justin makes you realise it is the small things that make an impact and contribute to our witness, as well as the content of meetings. In this context, people notice the humanity with which he speaks and the time he takes to greet people around the edges of the meetings.” 

On 10 December this year, the UN will be celebrating 75 years since the UN General Assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document – formed with much Christian influence – has been hugely influential on all subsequent development in human rights law across the globe; yet today many states are challenging and pushing back against its foundational ideas. 

The Revd Glen Ruffle is the Anglican Communion’s Assistant Permanent Representative to the UN based in Geneva. He said: “The UN is trying to restate the importance of this document, and for us it is an opportunity to stand with the UN, affirming the value of their work in human rights as a framework for expressing God’s love and the dignity of all humans. We hope to show the UN and world the ways in which Anglicans across the world are promoting human dignity and standing against oppression; and to mobilise Christians to engage with the stand for human rights, building relations with the UN and capacity within the Communion.” 

Other initiatives that the Communion team at the UN are highlighting and promoting include the Global Refugee Forum happening in Geneva. This brings together states, NGOs and other stakeholders to work towards solutions to the refugee flows the world is experiencing. 

“We hope to be able to pledge in alliance with other NGOs to increase our support and help given to children who are forced to migrate, and to offer better mental health care for those on the move,” said Glen. 

All year-round Anglicans are advocating for change in how governments care for creation and once a year a small Anglican delegation goes to the UN’s main decision-making event on climate change: COP. “We will be part of efforts to show that our planet matters to God and to God’s Church. We’ll highlight how Anglicans have been at the forefront of efforts to build resilience to climate shocks, that we believe in the need for justice and urgency in managing a transition away from fossil fuels. We’ll also show the Communion’s influence through practical actions and partnerships with ethical investors and green finance, to ensure those with the most support those who have polluted the least,” explained Martha. 

  • You can find out more about our plans for COP-28 and how you can be involved at the Lambeth Conference Phase Three webinar on the Environment and Sustainable Development here