Anglican observer asks tough questions

Published December 1, 2009

Hellen Wangusa (left), Anglican observer at the U.N., meets with Henriette Thompson, director of Partnerships, General Synod.

Hellen Wangusa, Anglican observer and personal representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury at the United Nations, is a soft-spoken woman.

She asks sharp, tough questions, however. And she finds ways of making the Anglican voice heard.

When she visited the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod offices in Toronto at the end of October, she explained the Anglican Communion does not have official observer status at the U.N. This limits access and influence “…so you have to use other methods to influence the entities and decision making at the U.N.”

Wangusa, a Ugandan and daughter of an Anglican priest, previously worked as the national women’s co-ordinator in Uganda, was a founding member of the African Women’s Economic Policy Network, worked for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and in 2007, accepted the Anglican Communion appointment to the U.N.

Wangusa told General Synod staff that while the MDGs are an important part of her work, they are a tool, not a goal. She warned that if Anglicans “get caught up working with this tool…we won’t have a gospel to preach come 2015, and come 2015 for sure the MDGs will have a place on the shelves.”

Wangusa says that Anglican values transcend and challenge what is crafted into the MDGs. One of the goals, for instance, is to halve extreme poverty by 2015. “Nowhere in the Bible are we told to work with a fraction of the people or the body,” she said. “It contradicts our faith and our theology and the basis for which we are here.”

Wangusa also works with the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. In 2003, the Anglican Communion Office at the U.N., began inviting Anglican delegates to participate in the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). This year, 17 Canadian women travelled to New York for the 53rd annual meeting of the CSW. Wangusa has been expanding the focus, bringing delegates to other commissions. These include a sustainable development commission that is examining climate change and agriculture in Sudan, Somalia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Wangusa said the church should have a more prophetic role than it does now. “The more I look at the way we work as a church, the governments are setting the pace and we are following,” she says. “When do we become the light? When do we lead?” And those are questions, I haven’t been able to [answer] but I am hoping generations hereafter will be able to address because we need to do that.”


  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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