50 Years of Peacemaking at the Church Center for the United Nations
Following World War II and the Korean War, United Methodist Women recognized the need for a place to work on behalf of peace. Ideally, it was to be situated near the newly formed United Nations. The only parcel of land available sat directly across the street from the U.N., at the corner of East 44th Street and First Avenue. In 1963, United Methodist Women dedicated the 13-story building it built and owned, naming it the Church Center for the United Nations (CCUN). Five decades later it still stands, devoted to peacemaking.
Over the years, regardless of religious affiliations, this building has been home to countless groups working on peace and justice issues. On October 9, United Methodist Women, staff, and many who have worked there celebrated the building’s 50-year anniversary.
A place of hope
During the commemoration, Ms. Peggy Billings, 19 years with the Women’s Division, recalled the days when the building’s mimeograph machine was an important tool, along with the petitioners’ desk and phone, for the work on issues of decolonization and the impact of war on women and children. Another important program that came from the CCUN was the Hospitality Program that helped arriving international UN staff navigate entry into their new American culture.
Rev. Robert McClean served on a number of inter-religious agencies in his 25 years at the Church Center. He told how CCUN was the only New York City building where management supported equal pay and gender equity for women and men of its custodial staff, members of Union 32J.
Rev. McClean also informed those in observance, “After Vietnam, the focus turned to decolonization. Now, the issues include climate change and environmental issues.”
Former East Timor President H.E. Jose Ramos-Horta is a legend at the Church Center. He determinedly worked for the independence of his country from Indonesia at the Center. During the celebration program, he reminded the packed room about the “hope this place gave to people in fighting for freedom, justice and social transformation.”
Also on the program was Cora Weiss, offering vision as she looks toward a “world without war.” Ms. Weiss, a 41-year tenant of the CCUN, was among the civil society drafters of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. This veteran of struggles for civil rights, women’s rights and peace said, “Nothing happens without a dream.”
Among the other dignitaries included in the program were: Ms. Lakshmi Pur, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women; Dr. Roma Bhattacharjea from the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, United Nations Development Program New York; and theologian and activist Rev. Marta Benavides.
During the program, Mr. Mark Miller and the Drew Ubuntu Pan-African Choir, and dancers Heather White Godfrey and Melvin Miller provided additional inspiration.
“The building was the hub of activities of civil society, a source of inspiration, hope, determination and nourishment to continue the struggle,” recounted Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former Bangladesh representative and recent Senior Special Advisor to the U.N. General Assembly President.
A tireless advocate for peace, women and children, he added, “We have to work together. We can’t think individually. This building is a symbol of a place where people come together.”