What is the Church Center for the United Nations?
The Church Center for the United Nations (CCUN) was established in 1963 to symbolize and strengthen the churches’ dedication to the things that make for peace. Located directly across the street from United Nations (U.N.) headquarters in New York City, this 12-story building has served as a vital hub for the work of the ecumenical and nongovernmental community toward a vision of peaceful and prosperous coexistence among nations while recognizing the human rights and dignity of all people.
How Did it Come to Be?
With great foresight and in a cooperative Christian spirit, Methodists took the lead in the early 1960s to establish CCUN. Born out of dreams to expand their capacity and access to the U.N., increase understanding of the work of the U.N. and give larger voice to the concerns of the churches in international affairs, the center marked an important milestone to years of ecumenical support for the goals of the U.N. as set forth in the U.N. Charter.
At the consecration ceremony, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk stated, “We need to hear the voice of enlightened public opinion; we need to feel the pressure for reason in the midst of turbulent events; we need evidence of broad support for our largest goals and purposes. … This new center here on U.N. Plaza is a heartening symbol of your devotion to the U.N. But it is more than a symbol, for it is a place of action and a multiplier of action.”
Thanks to the steadfast determination and commitment of United Methodist Women, who now own and operate the building, CCUN continues to keep faith communities connected to the U.N. Today, CCUN is known to be an ecumenical powerhouse, positioned to exert a positive influence on the affairs of the world’s peoples and nations.
What Does This Building Have to do with the Mission of the Church?
Located in the center of the chapel, Jesus’ exclamation “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace” from Luke 19:42 is etched into the wooden Bible stand. These words in the heart of the chapel serve as a constant reminder of why the faith community is present across the street. In the charter of the U.N. is the deep prayer that its existence would “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Founded by Methodists, today the chapel offers an interfaith space for advancing God’s peace in the world. As a Christian ecumenical space, through action and representation it intentionally welcomes all of the world’s religions including Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikh, Hinduism, Shinto and others, building together a common space for reflection and action.
In the 21st century, CCUN continues to focus on uplifting the voices of God’s people before the most representative intergovernmental body in the world. CCUN’s emphasis on people-centered development, peaceful resolutions to conflict and upon human rights continues to express the deep belief that one day swords will be turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, and nation will not lift up sword against nation, and neither will they learn war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).
A Door to the U.N.
CCUN is home to many denominational offices to the U.N. as well as to other religious and secular nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in consultative relationship with the U.N. The staff of these offices serve as communication links between their constituencies, U.N. officials and government representatives by exchanging information, providing resources and working to achieve shared goals. CCUN’s prime location puts resident NGOs, whether church-based or secular, in a key position to advance our common values of peace and justice. Key successes in the ecumenical advocacy agenda at the U.N. have included:
- Decolonization efforts and welcoming of new nations to the U.N.
- Adoption of the Law of the Sea Treaty.
- Adoption of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Migrants.
- Creation of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples.
- Advocacy regarding women’s role in peacemaking through Security Council Resolution 1325.
- Adoption of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
These and other ongoing efforts include advocacy for:
- An equitable global economy.
- Implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.
- Peace in the Middle East and Palestinian sovereignty.
- Nuclear nonproliferation and peacemaking.
- Sustainable development and climate justice.
- Human rights.
- Women’s human rights and gender equality.
- Racial justice through the World Conference Against Racism.
- Migration and development policy and migrant human rights.
A Ministry of Hospitality
Beginning in the years of decolonization, CCUN began making space available to individuals and groups who came to petition the U.N. for human rights and self-determination on behalf of their communities. These petitioners have included Nobel Peace Prize recipients Rigoberta Menchu Tum of Guatemala and Jose Ramos Horta of East Timor as well as representatives from liberation movements in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Amplifying Marginalized Voices
During U.N. conferences such as the Commission on the Status of Women and the Permanent Forum on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, CCUN plays host to visitors from around the world from many religions, languages and ethnicities. It is here that scores of women, representatives from indigenous movements and others are able to gather and have their voices heard and amplified through the collaborative efforts of this community and the numerous side events, briefings and strategic conversations with governmental officials, U.N. personnel and NGOs
Ecumenical and Multifaith Collaboration
The organizations that have offices in CCUN and others who have a presence heighten their effectiveness by regular interactions with one another. Often coming together in working groups by issue, they monitor the work of U.N. agencies and member states and also seek to strengthen the commitments of governments during the drafting process of U.N. resolutions, outcome documents and conventions as well as the reviews of those documents and nations’ progress.
A Place to Learn and Become Engaged
Since its inception, CCUN has been a center of learning. For groups from across the country and around the world, CCUN has served as an entry point to learn more about international conflicts, globalization, poverty and other pressing issues through educational seminars. Today this focus continues through the United Methodist Seminar Program, which offers custom-designed, interactive seminars on complex social issues from a perspective of faith.
A Place for Research and Study
On the concourse level is the Ecumenical Women’s Resource Center. Along with the collected material of longtime friend and volunteer Kay Fraleigh, a leader in women’s global advocacy, CCUN is home to the Esther W. Hymer Collection. The donation of Ms. Hymer’s lifetime collection at the age of 96 to the resource center filled in some missing foundational documents of the women’s movement and helped make the Ecumenical Women’s Resource Center a treasure trove of documents detailing NGO work alongside the U.N. work for the advancement of women since the U.N.’s inception.