Prayers and Declarations for Peace and Support in Ukraine
GBCS board hears reports on advocacy, engagement and the unfolding crisis in Ukraine; commits to strengthened mission for global peace and justice.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
In the middle of the Lenten season, United Methodists all over the world continue to advocate for peace in Ukraine and focus on what it means to be better Christian neighbors as pandemic restrictions loosen.
During the Spring virtual board meeting on March 24, directors of the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) received reports about the Russia-Ukraine war and its impact on European countries
Kari Solveig Hay of Norway and Tilman Sticher of Germany, who serve on the European Methodist Council, shared their perspectives about the unfolding war, the European response and the humanitarian migration crisis from Ukraine.
Northern Norway shares a 123-mile border with Russia. All crossings on the lengthy border between Norway and Russia are closed to travel and to trade. “I had gained good friends and fellowship with our Russian neighbors crossing the border many times,” says Solveig Hay. “Now that’s gone.” Since the invasion Solveig Hay said she and others “are still in a state of confusion and shock; they were not prepared, never expecting to have a war about land in Europe again.” Tensions are high and Solveig Hay admitted that even her neighbors Sweden and Finland are considering talks with NATO for the first time in their history.
Tillman Sticher lives in Germany 700 miles from the Ukraine border, Kyev is approximately 1,000 miles away. Sticher said energy prices are on the rise. “Even though Germany depends on natural gas from Russia, many people believe in boycotting Russian natural gas anyway,” declared Sticher. “The consequences of this war go far beyond the incredible suffering of the Ukrainian people. It will impact all of us for a long time.”
In the first month of the war, more than 200,000 refugees from Ukraine arrived in Germany, and many more are expected. “The willingness to help is big in Germany, for example all Ukraine refugees can travel by train and local public transport systems for free,” said Sticher. But not all refugees are welcomed into European countries as Ukraine residents of African origin are often detained in European immigration facilities.
In Norway, more than 5,000 Ukrainian refugees have been accepted into the country. Norwegians have opened their homes to refugees and part of a network of support raising money for food, clothes and transportation.
United Methodists in Russia
The United Methodist Church is considered a minority Church in Russia. That dynamic creates a difficult situation for Bishop Eduard Khegay of the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference in Moscow, Russia. “We are all concerned for Bishop Khegay,” said Solveig Hay. “My hope is that as peace makers, our United Methodist Church in Russia can still offer a common arena to openly talk and worship during this overwhelming crisis.”
GENERAL SECRETARY’S REPORT
In her report, the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, general secretary, told board directors that after two years of working through pandemic restrictions, the agency will open the United Methodist Building on April 4, 2022. She noted that “the agency’s legacy, impact and future remain strong.”
“Our programming and operations will continue to focus on Peace, poverty, health, climate, migration and immigration through a racial equity lens as we officially open our building on Capitol Hill” she told the directors.
Rev. Henry-Crowe said building security measures are in place and mask protocols will remain in common areas. The lobby has been refreshed as well as other areas of the building. In addition, inoperative analog audio-visual equipment has been replaced with new digital audio-visual tools in three conference rooms to improve face-to-face meetings and virtual conferences.
New agency staff was also announced by Rev. Henry-Crowe. “We are pleased to add four new staff members who are replacing open positions, she said. “We know these new team members will strengthen the mission and work of the agency.”
Jeffrey Corey is the new Director of Communications. Holly Metcalf is the new Director, Peace with Justice. Kendal McBroom is the new Director, Civil and Human Rights and The Rev. Camille Henderson-Edwards is the new Director, Economic, Health and Gender Justice. All bringing years of experience and specialized backgrounds.
Rev. Henry- Crowe and other faith leaders from the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE) met with the U.S. House Select Committee to build bridges and offer input for climate justice legislation. Rev. Henry- Crowe said United Methodist Bishops in conferences that were represented by a Congressional committee member were notified of the meeting to create a connection with their local representative and provide support.
The latest addition of Justice Talks Webinar series attracted close to 500 virtual participants in February as the hour-long session focused on United Methodist Social Principles.
The General Secretary reminded the board of directors of the support and advocacy efforts the agency is providing to Ukraine and for world peace.
John Hill, Deputy General Secretary presented program updates on key issues including climate justice, voting rights, health care and peace.
“We are working to hold countries accountable to their commitments made at COP26 back in November 2021 both to reducing emissions and providing international climate finance.” he said. The organizing team continues to build and support a network of grassroots advocates, while the education team developed a climate justice seminar series available online.
“Among the issues that has generated the most traction for United Methodists is protecting voting rights,” said Hill. The GBCS Advocacy team mobilized thousands of United Methodists in 46 states in support of voting rights legislation. “Although the federal legislation is stalled, GBCS will continue its advocacy and equip United Methodists to ensure fair access to the polls in upcoming elections.” Hill told the Board.
Amid the Pandemic GBCS continues to focus on global vaccine equity and access to affordable equitable care. Hill highlighted our recent celebration of the 12-year anniversary in the U.S. of the Affordable Care Act, which GBCS was instrumental in helping to pass and protect. Current work includes a focus on closing coverage gaps and addressing racial disparities in access and treatment.
Peace and Migration
Working the past two months, GBCS focused on ways in which The United Methodist Church can respond to the invasion in Ukraine and the unfolding humanitarian crisis.
“In addition to the focus of international activity of the United Nations, there are national policy connections, both economic and energy policy, as well as immigration and migration relief,” noted Hill. “However, there is a disparity in response and welcome for migrants from predominantly Black countries and GBCS is advocating for policies that uphold the rights of all migrants.”
Jeffrey Corey is the Director of Communications for the General Board of Church and Society