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Toward Columbus: Millennium Development Goals, poverty eradication high on Convention's agenda
Danforth will keynote Presiding Bishop's Forum on June 15

By Matthew Davies
4/13/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  Five resolutions affirming the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be presented to legislative committees of the Episcopal Church's 75th General Convention at its June 13-21 meeting in Columbus, Ohio.

The proposed legislation will call on the Episcopal Church to make the MDGs a mission priority for the coming triennium and ask that all dioceses and parishes commit 0.7 percent of their annual budgets for the realization of the goals.

Alex Baumgarten, international policy analyst in the church's Office of Government Relations (OGR), said that the church needs to be fully committed to the MDGs because "the world's problems are interconnected, just as all humanity is interconnected."

Through his work in Washington, DC, and beyond, Baumgarten is at the forefront of upholding official Episcopal Church policy on the MDGs and related issues, and urging constituents to support the church in its commitment to global justice and reconciliation.

Three of the resolutions (A008, A009 and A142) will ask the convention to support the creation of a line item in the church's budget that allocates no less than 0.7 percent for work that funds international development goals, while also recommending that all dioceses establish a global reconciliation commission dedicated to mobilizing Episcopalians toward the achievement of the MDGs.

Another recommendation will ask that September 11 be designated as a special day of prayer, fasting and giving in the Episcopal Church toward global reconciliation and the MDGs.

Resolution A010 will ask convention to "receive and affirm 'Call to Partnership,'" the communiqué presented to the United Nations Summit on September 13, 2005, by ecumenical participants at the Consultation of Religious Leaders on Global Poverty.

It will also request that the Episcopal Church call upon governments to pursue the MDGs through significantly increased official development assistance to poor countries, debt cancellation, and fair and open trade policies.

In a related move, the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion has proposed Resolution A164, entitled Continued Attention to the Millennium Development Goals. It would have the convention urge continued participation in and advocacy for the MDGs, and the giving of at least 0.7 percent of diocesan, parish and individual financial resources to international development work "as a sign of the Episcopal Church's understanding that participation in the Millennium Development Goals is an expression of the hunger of this church for far deeper communion with all of God's beloved."

Supported by all 191 U.N. member states, the MDGs—an eight-prong declaration originally fostered in September 2000—has at its core the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger by the year 2015.

Among its other goals are achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, and ensuring environmental stability.

The eighth goal calls for a global partnership for development supported by all nations that would deal with issues such as fair trade, developing countries' debt problems and provisions for affordable, essential drugs.

The MDGs give concrete and specific direction to confronting the problem of global poverty, said the Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, director of the church's Office of Peace and Justice Ministries, "and because they are developed by governments themselves through the UN, they give us an advocacy tool by which to hold governments accountable."

"Our work mandated by previous General Conventions has focused on getting our government to tackle the challenge of poverty worldwide," he added. "I think that's where we are most effective and where truly measurable success will be found."

Baumgarten believes that the churches of the world have a great deal to offer toward the achievement of the MDGs.

"As Americans, we can lift up the witnesses of our partner churches in the developing world that are contributing vital ministries of reconciliation, development, and peacemaking to the lives of their nations," he said. "Moreover, we can accompany those churches in their journeys—through resources, advocacy, and prayer—in ways that offer genuine partnerships to governments and other civil-society partners."

Previous action

In 2003, General Convention first embraced the MDGs in Resolution D006, "recognizing that funding for nutritional, education, health care, and development programs is essential to achieve not only the MDGs, but also for recognizing the dignity of all human beings."

Furthermore, in resolutions A001 and D033, the 2003 convention challenged all dioceses and congregations to contribute 0.7 percent of their annual budgets to fund international development programs.

Since 2003, "many dioceses and parishes have taken very seriously the church's call to engage in working for the MDGs" and more than 50 dioceses are currently contributing 0.7 percent or more of their incomes for MDG-related programs, Baumgarten explained.

Many bishops, clergy, and laity have also joined the advocacy movement for the MDGs, Baumgarten added, endorsing The ONE Campaign as one of the most simple, yet critical ways through which "people can engage across faith lines in a broad movement to end poverty in our time."

Baumgarten anticipates a "major re-dedication" to the work of the MDGs at the 2006 General Convention. "Resolution D006 from the last Convention has given the church the backing it needs to be one of our nation's foremost religious campaigners for the MDGs," he said. "Even since then, however, the MDG groundswell in the Episcopal Church has only grown, and I would expect that to be reflected in the Convention's work."

The Episcopal Church has been dedicated to the realization of the MDGs through Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) running MDG-related programs worldwide, as well as the Office of Women's Ministries working with the Anglican Observer at the U.N. and Phoebe Griswold to bring together women from across the Communion each year who are working on MDG initiatives, Baumgarten explained.

The Episcopal Church's Office of Anglican and Global Relations is working to coordinate MDG partnership with other provinces of the Communion, and OGR and the Office of Peace and Justice Ministries engage in MDG advocacy to the U.S. government and within the wider international community.

The 2006 General Convention will be asked to affirm the work of the church's officers, dioceses, congregations, baptized members, and ERD in undertaking and supporting partnerships for global development in impoverished countries.

Utilizing the help of organizations such as ERD, Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation and the Micah Challenge will be important toward achieving the MDGs at all levels of the church by 2015, resolution A142 acknowledges.

"The last three years have seen key advances on debt cancellation, HIV/AIDS funding, and U.S. strategies to help orphans and vulnerable children in the developing world," Baumgarten said. "None of this—and none of the future work we have to do—could happen without the dedicated grassroots MDG movement among people of faith."

Further information about the U.N. Millennium Goals can be found online at: www.un.org/millenniumgoals/goals.html.

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Danforth will keynote Presiding Bishop's Forum on June 15

"The Presiding Bishop's Forum: Toward a Reconciled World," a special event of particular relevance to the MDGs, is slated for June 15 in Columbus and will feature as guest speaker the Rev. John Danforth, Episcopal priest, former senator from Missouri and former US Ambassador to the United Nations, who will present "The Right Church at the Right Time: a Challenge to the Episcopal Church."

Other speakers will include Jenny Te Paa, "ahorangi" or dean of Te Rau Kahikatea, an indigenous constituent of the College of St. John the Evangelist in Auckland, New Zealand; Malaika Kamunanwire, Episcopal Relief and Development's director for communication and annual fund; and Baumgarten, who will speak about advocacy and how it relates to a mission-based view of Communion.