Church Center for the United Nations

Church Center for the United Nations

Across New York City's First Avenue from the entrance to U .N .headquarters is a row of office buildings and embassies. Signs along side streets indicate parking is only for diplomats. Automatic-teller machines flash choices of three and four languages in which to transact business.

In the midst of this is a building boldly labeled "Church Center."

The United Methodist Office for the United Nations is in this building, which faces the delegates' entrance to the United Nations. The 12-story Church Center for the United Nations is owned by the Women's Division. It houses Women's Division and United Methodist Board of Church and Society U.N. offices. Also in the building are other denominations' U.N. offices and offices of non-profit organizations that relate to the United Nations.

On the first floor is a chapel named for Sadie Wilson Tillman, a former president of the Woman's Division. From the serenity of the chapel, one is thrust into activity created by people from a variety of nations.

Built in the 1960s, the Church Center was in part inspired by local churchwomen. As Woman's Division work with the United Nations developed and women of the church studied the international organization, it became clear a home for such work would be valuable.

Following a study of the United Nations, North Carolina Conference women, led by Rachel Holcomb of Mount Airy, N.C., began advocating for a place near U .N. headquarters where church representatives could meet. Woman's Division staff had been working toward the same goal.

Methodist General Conference action in 1960 moved the idea forward. In describing the work of the General Board of Christian Social Concerns, the conference agreed:

"In addition to the general headquarters, there shall be a New York U.N. office conducted in cooperation with the Woman's Division of Christian Service of the Board of Missions. In the operation of this office, the Division of Peace and World Order shall represent the board and shall carry the board' s responsibility for staffing and budget."

The southwest corner of First Avenue and 44th Street was chosen; two buildings at the site were demolished and the Church Center for the United Nations (CCUN) built:

Financing for the building came from the Woman's Division through a non-interest bearing loan. Later the Woman's Division acquired a mortgage on the building and provided additional funding. The United Methodist Council on World Service and Finance, with the approval of General Conference, provided $1 million. In 1983, the Women's Division purchased the building.

When the cornerstone of the Church Center for the United Nations was laid Sept. 23, 1962, excitement went far beyond the Methodist community. The keynote address was given by the president of the U.N. 17th General Assembly, Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan. Methodist Bishop Kenneth Copeland presided. Woman's Division, Board of Christian Social Concerns, and National and World Councils of Churches representatives participated in the ceremony.

A year later at the Sept. 22, 1963, dedication, U.N. Secretary General U Thant, U .S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and U .S. Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson spoke.

Denominations and religious groups with offices at the Church Center for the United Nations include the Women's Mission Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Church Women United, Lutheran World Federation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian International Office and the General Conference of Seventh Day Adventists.

Other CCUN tenants are the National Council of Negro Women, Global Information Network, International Women's Tribune Center, NGO Committee on Disarmament, Amnesty International, and Population Communication Office.

The CCUN provides a place for members of the U.N. community to receive the hospitality.

Sue C. Johnson is former staff of the Women's Division.

Posted or updated: 4/30/1995 11:00:00 PM