Chinese delegation visits Church Center to learn about charitable work

July 31, 2011

Deputy Minister Zhang Lebin of China's State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA), along with 23 Chinese religious officials, visited the Episcopal Church Center in New York Aug. 1 to learn about how the church engages in charitable work.

In her welcoming remarks, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori quoted the late Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, who once said, "the church is the only institution in society that exists to serve non-members."

"As Christians" she added, "Our work is to care for those beyond ourselves."

In recent history, the Chinese government has been responsible for providing for its citizens, said Peter Ng, the Episcopal Church's officer for Asia and the Pacific, but in recent years the government has encouraged churches to again step into that role.

Through an interpreter, Zhang said he "understands and appreciates the friendship the Episcopal Church has with the Chinese churches" and that over the years a "special friendship" has developed between the Episcopal Church and the Chinese government's office of religious affairs (SARA).

"We would like to deepen and strengthen the relationship," he said, adding that it will benefit the Chinese churches as they expand their programs.

The Rev. Matthew Heyd, director of Trinity Wall Street's faith in action; the Rev. Canon Benjamin Musoke-Lubega, head of Anglican Partnerships for Trinity; the Rev. Margaret Rose, the Episcopal Church's co-director for mission; and Mary Beth Sasso, executive director of Episcopal Charities, the charitable arm of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, all gave brief presentations about their work for the delegation.

Rose explained to the delegation how the Episcopal Church's mission office is structured and how it carries out its work.

One of the struggles, she said, is that the church believes that government is responsible for providing citizens with the basics -- access to food, shelter, clothing, jobs -- "a safety net," and is careful not to undertake the work of government.

The debate over raising the debt ceiling dominated the headlines during the delegation's visit to the United States, Zhang said, and then asked whether the church had taken a position on the debt ceiling.

Rose explained that the church didn't take an official position on the debt ceiling, but that the Episcopal Church's Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations works on Capitol Hill to advocate the church's national and international priorities -- referring to resolutions democratically passed during the church's triennial General Convention, which run the gamut from universal access to health care for all citizens to a legal path to immigration for undocumented immigrants to human rights violations in the Philippines.

The church has called on elected officials to make "moral choices" in regard to the budget, Rose added.

Heyd described how Trinity serves its immediate community – running a brown-bag lunch program twice a week to feed the hungry and operating a neighborhood center for students, families, homeless people and others, as well as its involvement with public schools.

Faith, partnership and resources are the three things that "run through all our work," Heyd said.

Trinity, he said, not only provides more than $3 million in grants annually, but also provides space to more than 120 groups, and organizes hundreds of volunteers from various backgrounds.

"In everything we do, we give all we have," he said.

In regard to global partnerships, Musoke-Lubega described how Trinity is partnering with the Episcopal Church in South Sudan, which is one of the largest nongovernmental organizations in that fledgling country, on how to best provide assistance to a church and a country that is growing, but lacks infrastructure.

Sasso, of Episcopal Charities, talked about how her organization, by providing monetary and volunteer support to 80 programs affiliated with Diocese of New York churches, serves more than 200,000 people of different socioeconomic backgrounds -- rural, urban and suburban -- annually.

Forty-nine percent of the charities' $700,000 annual grant budget comes from individual donors and 100 percent of the money raised by donations goes directly to fund programs, not to fund administrative costs.

"More than two years of high unemployment and other challenges have most affected people on the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, where the need continues to grow," she said.

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