Connecting Church and World

Lynnaia MainIt wasn’t South Africa, where she would serve as a university lecturer in international relations. Nor was it Paris, where Lynnaia Main would do graduate study in international relations, learn to speak French fluently and work for UNESCO.

No, Main grew up in the rural outskirts of Atlantic City, N.J., where forests, farms and “sand in your shoes” reflected everyday life far more than the nearby Miss America Pageant – or the exotic international workplaces to come.

It was in the very rural setting of her childhood that Main would develop the curiosity about the world, satisfied at first by books and television, which would lead her to her current position as global relations officer for the Episcopal Church. Now it’s the hallways of the United Nations she frequents as she partners with dioceses, parishes and interested Episcopalians in connecting to the world community.

Though the United Nations is often disparaged as a long-winded, exhaustively bureaucratic maze, it’s where Main finds ways to connect the Episcopalians in the pews to the real and compelling stories of need and opportunity around the world.

A lengthy phone conversation with Main convinced me that she has the academic and spiritual background to provide that kind of connection. It was while she was in South Africa, during the time of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when Main found herself in the midst of a personal transformation that would call her to apply her knowledge of the world to the community of faith.

She remembers, in particular, the ghastly story a black Zulu maid told at a Truth and Reconciliation hearing about how her family had been murdered. And yet, when it came to the white murderer who was also present at that hearing and whom she was facing for the first time as she told her story, she found it in her heart to forgive him.

“Jesus met me at a time of need” in my life, says Main. She felt called “to bring my faith into the center” of my life’s work, on issues that reflect the ministry and mission of the Church. “I could no longer imagine making sense of the world – or teaching others about global issues and world affairs – without referring to God as our Creator, Jesus as our Redeemer and Savior and the work of the Holy Spirit in shaping the world. It caused an identity crisis in the secular academic environment in which I was teaching and conducting research.” She began to examine the role of churches in international affairs as a research topic, and after a 10-year period of prayer and discernment during which she returned to the United States, she took up her current position representing the Episcopal Church at the United Nations.

Her call also presented her with challenges. For example, given the diversity of opinion in the Episcopal Church, how does one “representative” speak for the Church to a world organization of 193 countries?

Main’s reference points come from the priorities of the Presiding Bishop, the resolutions of General Convention and Executive Council, and other such official utterances of the Church. But it’s the people of the Church that form the heart of her work. And it’s the words of the Baptismal Covenant that often offer her guidance, as well as the Five Marks of Mission.

Rather than being an obstacle, Main sees the inclusivity of the Episcopal Church as being a strength in addressing key ministry goals dealing with such topics as women’s empowerment, the Millennium Development Goals and environmental issues. Baptized a Methodist, Main was confirmed in the Episcopal Church nine years ago and sees the Church’s “via media” approach to issues as an advantage. “Our Anglican theology shapes our approaches to partnerships and global issues. Diplomats and civil society partners alike respect us as faithful, stable partners with an understanding of the give-and-take needed in negotiations on difficult subjects”, she notes.

Still, it’s tough work when you’re the link between two international organizations – one from the Church and the other from the world body. Main strives to find ways to support those who want to engage locally and don’t have the time or resources to come to New York. She has encouraged Episcopalians to build local dialogue that connects to needs around the world. As she notes, food pantries and domestic shelters are just a few examples of local ministries that reflect the Episcopal Church’s priorities at the UN.

Sometimes it is possible for local groups to make the trip to New York, as Main demonstrated in helping to connect the GIRLs group of St. George’s Fredericksburg, and other Episcopal groups, with the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. A group of visiting international students from the Anglican Studies Center at Virginia Theological Seminary was able to visit the permanent missions of their respective countries during a tour of the United Nations and visit to New York that Main helped to organize. From quizzing young Episcopalians at this summer’s Episcopal Youth Event in Philadelphia about the issues they deem important and explaining to them how they can engage with these issues at the UN, to walking alongside the Episcopal Church’s indigenous missioner and indigenous Episcopalians as they participate in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples and the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, Main keeps her focus on the people, not the bureaucracy.

Whether she’s working remotely out of her Queens home, or offering the ministry of presence in the hallways and meeting rooms at the UN, Main has found a ministry that draws from her interests and expertise – and from her prayers.

She’s come a long way from the forests and beaches of South Jersey.

Interested in connecting with Lynnaia about your own ministry and how it might relate to the United Nations? Contact her at lmain@episcopalchurch.org, 800-334-7626.