Category Archives: Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations

The Until We Meet Again Tour – 29 July 2016, part 2

The Until We Meet Again Tour involved an evening walk from the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations to New York City Center. There my son Sean joined me to see God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, a musical based on the Kurt Vonnegut novel of the same name. James Earl Jones played the role of Kilgore Trout.

During the intermission, I noted to Sean that once again I had chosen a play that might be described as non-traditional. He replied that at least this one had a somewhat linear plot. He further noted that this was the first collaboration by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken with the result that the music and lyrics were well done.

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Filed under Family, Music, New York, Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations

All people have voices

On 11 March 2016, I spoke about the work of advocacy at the orientation for the Presbyterians attending the 60th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. I was asked to post a portion of my remarks and did so on the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations blog. I reprint the words here with the permission of the blog editor (who happens to be me).

All people have voices.
The task of advocacy has nothing to do with giving voice to the voiceless, because
all people have voices.
Some people have voices we choose not to hear.
Some people have voices we ignore.
Some people have voices we force to the margins.
Some people have voices we oppress, repress, suppress.
Some people have voices we have silenced, sometimes for a long time, but
all people have voices.

The work of advocacy leads us
to uncover the voices of our sisters and brothers whose voices we ignore, drive to the margins, suppress, or silence
to hear the voices of our sisters and brothers
to listen, truly listen, passionately listen to the voices of our sisters and brothers
to heed the voices of our sisters and brothers
and then to work with our sisters and brothers whose voices we ignore, drive to the margins, suppress, or silence
to amplify the voices of our sisters and brothers
to bring the voices of our sisters and brothers to the halls of privilege and the tables of power
to invite and call and challenge all people, particularly privileged, powerful people, to hear the voices of our sisters and brothers
to demand that all people, particularly privileged, powerful people, listen, truly listen, passionately listen to our sisters and brothers whose voices we ignore, drive to the margins, suppress, or silence because
all people have voices.

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Filed under Human Rights, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations

Move the stone

The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations hosted a seminar for a group from the University of Baltimore Law School. One of the speakers was Shulamith Koenig no relation although interestingly her husband’s family and my father’s family both appear to have lived in what is now Austria and at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, founding president of the People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning. In her presentation, Shulamith said:

IMG_1791I walk down the street and
fall over a stone.
Everyone picks me up.
No one moves the stone.
By all means pick me up.
But someone
please move the stone.

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Filed under Friends, Photo, Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, United Nations

Child of God, citizen of the world, ambassador for Christ

Smylie - 2016-01-16 Bulletin_Page_1A memorial service was held today at the First Presbyterian Church in Englewood, New Jersey, for the Rev. Robert F. Smylie, director emeritus of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. Bob, who served God and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at the United Nations for almost 30 years, died on December 19, 2015. 

I had the privilege to know Bob as a colleague and a friend. I had the honor to speak today at the service. Here is what I said:

In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul tells the followers of Jesus that we are ambassadors for Christ. All of us. Wherever we may be, we are ambassadors for Christ, sharing the message of reconciliation: God loves us and desires us to love God and love one another. In Christ’s name, we proclaim that message in our words and our living.

For those who have had the privilege to serve God and the church at the United Nations the servant role of ambassador is clear. The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations represents the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) – represents the Church of Jesus Christ – within the UN community. There we serve as ambassadors for Christ.

In his ministry within the UN community and in his living, Bob Smylie served Jesus Christ and the Presbyterian Church as an ambassador in many ways. Ambassadors play a key role as bridge builders: building and nurturing and paying attention to the relationship between the state and the government they serve and the state and government where they are posted.

Bob went about building bridges with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.

Bob built bridges between faith in Jesus Christ and the global neighborhood. He affirmed the separation of church and state but he knew that our faith in a sovereign God of all of life compels us to engage in public issues—to apply our faith as God enables us to the concerns of the day in our communities and in our country and in that community of nations that is the United Nations. Bob reminded the church and the UN community that the UN was created to pursue peace and security; the church proclaims and pursues God’s concern for peace and justice.

Bob built bridges between theological reflection, ethical analysis, and public policies. He had a gift, a well-honed gift, that allowed him to “synthesize what was going on in the world and look at it through a reformed theological lens” in the words of Sara Lisherness, director of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Dean Lewis, who first hired Bob to work for the Presbyterian Church, highlighted Bob’s capacity to articulate a “clear vision of what was needed to move toward solutions from a sound theological foundation.”

Perhaps this came through most clearly in Bob’s work that helped shape the social witness policies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). There he was something of a Triboro bridge builder. He brought togehther current issues, rigorous academic insights, and faithful discipleship to create policies that allowed the church to engage in ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.

For the first part of his career, Bob worked from 475 Riverside Drive and commuted to midtown Manhattan to engage the UN community. When the new Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) moved its national offices to Louisville, Bob was left behind in New York to create what is now the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. He helped build the bridge between different styles of ministry.

Bob built bridges within the church – strengthening relationships between national level programs, mid-councils, academic institutions, committees, congregations, and individuals. He built bridges with UN programs and agencies and NGOs such as the US Fund for UNICEF. Through his career he built bridges with the U.S. government and Mission to the United Nations. He built bridges with the ecumenical and interfaith community in New York. Within that community he is remembered for his faith and integrity and for his excellence.

Bob built bridges between people of different ages. He was an amazing mentor to those who served as staff or interns. People who learned from Bob about ministry and living as followers of Jesus now serve as ambassadors for Christ within the church and outside the church. Through his engagement with and support of younger people, Bob helped build Christ’s diplomatic corps.

Today give thanks for the life and faith and witness and love of Bob Smylie: child of God, citizen of the world, ambassador for Christ. During the years of violence and oppression in Central America, the church developed a custom to remember those with whom they had shared life. Every time they gathered at table to break bread and share a cup to receive the body of Christ they would call out the names of those saints from their church who had been tortured or murdered by the military death squads.  And then as each name was called out, the whole congregation would respond, “Presenté” meaning they are present with us. They are physically gone, but in the wondrous mystery that is the Communion of Saints they share the journey with us. Forever.

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, where Bob served for some twenty of the years he worked for the church, picked up the custom and began using it during staff meetings and at conferences and other gatherings. Today as family of Bob, colleagues of Bob, and friends of Bob, I invite you to join me.

The Rev. Robert F. Smylie.

Presenté!

Thanks be to God.

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Filed under Friends, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations

Choose welcome

Here’s a piece written by Ryan Smith, my colleague at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations about responding to the call of the Rev. Gradye Parsons to “chose welcome” in relation to refugees. 

Our Stated Clerk, the Reverend Gradye Parsons invited Presbyterians to take a selfie with a banner saying “We Choose Welcome,” responding to fear of Syrian refugees. This week, my colleagues at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville joined together in the chapel to choose welcome themselves.

As I sat in my office in New York, across the street from the United Nations, I thought about welcome. I thought, as Rev. Parsons reminded us of the innkeeper not welcoming Mary and Joseph. I thought about our recognition of World AIDS Day and was reminded that it wasn’t until 2009 that HIV/AIDS status was no longer something that could block entry or green card status here in the United States.

I watch the flags float in front of the United Nations and am reminded that the UN, an intergovernmental body’s own Charter begins with “We the peoples…”

I am reminded that we are all “we the peoples.” No matter where you are born, where you live, what faith you practice, who you love, what race you are, or so much more. We the peoples are determined (as the United Nations Charter reminds us) “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small…” “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours…”

So we choose welcome!

The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations joins others in the faith community in advocating justice and peace within the United Nations system, including with governments from across the globe. The United Nations Charter sets the goal to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetimes has brought untold sorrow to mankind…”

While we have not seen a third World War, the succeeding generations of the authors of the United Nations Charter have seen war, conflict, strife. We know that right now, the UN estimates that more than 60 million people are displaced by violence and conflict. Presbyterians join ecumenical, interfaith and secular partners in advocating here at the United Nations, the one global roundtable.

A refugee himself, John Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion said, “We are not to reflect on the wickedness of men but to look to the image of God in them, an image which, covering and obliterating their faults, an image which, by its beauty and dignity, should allure us to love and embrace them.” We should love and embrace all, no matter who they are or where they are from.

In this Advent season of anticipation and hope, I am thankful to be part of a community who today, across the street from the United Nations, joined Presbyterians in affirming “We Choose Welcome!”

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Filed under Current Events, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, United Nations

Walking for the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations

march_flyer_5_sm[1]_page_1_medium250The Presbyterian Women’s Gathering begins this week! On Saturday, June 20, there will be a march for Justice and Peace that will benefit the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations and CARE. I will be walking!

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Career move?

As the Presbyterian participants in the 59th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women gathered for an orientation, I discovered that I had to hand write two name tags.

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Do I have a career in font design?

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Filed under Current Events, Friends, Photo, Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, United Nations