Church of the Brethren general secretary among church leaders at consultation on Syria, held in Armenia




General secretary Stan Noffsinger (at right) with a Russian Orthodox representative at a consultation on Syria held in Armenia on June 11-12, 2014. Fr. Dimitri Safonov represented the Moscow Patriarchate Department for Interreligious Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, while Noffsinger was one of the American church leaders to attend the gathering.
Photo courtesy of Stan Noffsinger

General secretary Stan Noffsinger (at right) with a Russian Orthodox representative at a consultation on Syria held in Armenia on June 11-12, 2014. Fr. Dimitri Safonov represented the Moscow Patriarchate Department for Interreligious Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, while Noffsinger was one of the American church leaders to attend the gathering.

Recognizing the failure of the Geneva 2 talks four months ago and the ongoing violence and human calamity in Syria, church leaders and representatives from the region, Europe, and the United States gathered in Etchmiadzin, Armenia, to address the challenges for faith communities in the crisis in Syria.

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In the group that gathered June 11 and 12 was Stanley J. Noffsinger, Church of the Brethren general secretary. Noffsinger was one of the American church leaders who attended the Jan. 22 meeting on Syria held at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva, Switzerland, at the invitation of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The church leaders gathered in consultation at the invitation of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, in cooperation with the World Council of Churches.

Communique calls for humanitarian aid, end of arms and funding for conflict

In a communique released by the group on Thursday, June 12, they called for restrictions on funding humanitarian aid in Syria to be lifted, for an end to the flow of arms and funding to all parties to the conflict, and for withdrawal of all armed foreign fighters.

Conferees pointed to the current regional humanitarian assistance addressing the needs of refugees fleeing Syria, and they called for “further cooperation among the different churches and church agencies” working there.

They acknowledged the Jan. 22 meeting on Syria held at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva where church leaders said in a message to Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations-Arab League joint representative for Syria, that they were convinced there is no military solution and there needed to be an “immediate cessation of all armed confrontation and hostility within Syria” ensuring  that “all vulnerable communities in Syria and refugees in neighboring countries receive appropriate humanitarian assistance” and that “a comprehensive and inclusive process toward establishing a just peace and rebuilding Syria” should be developed.

In Armenia they also called for “the immediate release of the two Archbishops from Aleppo, His Eminence Boulos (Yazigi), Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo and Alexandretta, and His Eminence Mor Youhanna Gregorios (Ibrahim), Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, as well as Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, and all captives and those unjustly imprisoned.”

The leaders gathered on the eve of the Centenary of the Armenian and Syriac Genocide and prayed for justice and peace. The group included representatives from the Middle East Council of Churches, the WCC, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, and the Community of Sant’Édigio.  Participants came from Armenia, Germany, Italy, Lebanon, Norway, Poland, Russia, the UK, and the USA.

Read the full text of the communique at www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/other-meetings/communique-from-church-leaders-on-situation-in-syria .

Commitment: There is no military solution

In a telephone interview from Armenia, Noffsinger commented on the outcomes of the consultation and the importance of the church leaders’ communique. “As we met news of the insurgency going into Iraq from Syria added extra urgency,” he said. “It was very important that this meeting take place in the region. There was great gratitude that this meeting was held in Armenia.” Armenia borders on Iraq from the north, Noffsinger noted.

“The meeting was critical responding to the events of this week as the violence in Syria moved over the border into Iraq.”

The events in Iraq are “of grave concern,” Noffsinger said.

The church leaders reiterated the commitment originally made in January, “that there is no military solution,” Noffsinger said. “There is a realization that this is a costly and a more difficult path,” he added. “There was a strong voice at the meeting that peace must be for everybody in Syria and Iraq. The concern was for Muslim and Christian neighbors.”

The consultation discussed the fact that some areas are receiving humanitarian assistance and are making progress toward peace, which indicates that there can be good results when international players work toward that goal. But there are nations with influence in the region that are simply following their own agendas instead, he said.

He commented that although the consultation was very positive, the church leaders in the region are feeling “weariness” and “discouragement” about the lack of progress since the Geneva 2 talks. Now, even more people are being affected by the violence originating in the Syria conflict, and there is a mounting refugee crisis.

In addition to attending the consultation, the trip to Armenia afforded Noffsinger a chance to meet with Orthodox leaders from Syria and from Armenia. They shared their personal concerns about the serious consequences that the Syria conflict has had for their faith communities. “Voices of tremendous faith” expressed the need to stay the course and find a way to bring peace, Noffsinger said.

For more information

The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, by the end of 2013 it had 345 member churches representing more than 500 million Christians from Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican, and other traditions in over 140 countries. The WCC works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway. Find out more about the WCC at www.oikoumene.org .

For more about the work of the general secretary of the Church of the Brethren, go to www.brethren.org/gensec .

-- This report includes information from a World Council of Churches release.

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