WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. Washington Office celebrated its 50th anniversary with an open house and reception at The Hill Center in Washington, D.C. on July 17.
MCC’s Peace Section opened the Washington Office on July 1, 1968, as a Mennonite, Mennonite Brethren and Brethren in Christ presence on Capitol Hill. Originally formed as a “listening post” in Washington, the office now advocates on a variety of issues, from immigration to diplomacy with “enemy” nations.
“One thing that hasn’t changed since the office’s opening is the need to uplift voices in pursuit of justice,” observed Ann Graber Hershberger, board chair of MCC U.S., as she and others encouraged MCC to continue to provide prophetic witness to the U.S. government.
About 70 friends, board members and current and former staff gathered for the evening to celebrate and reflect on the first 50 years of MCC’s advocacy efforts in Washington. Some toured the Washington Office building on 920 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, purchased in 2005, during the afternoon open house. Previously, the MCC office was located in the United Methodist Building, 110 Maryland Ave NE.
In addition to Hershberger, speakers at the reception included J Ron Byler, MCC U.S. executive director; J. Daryl Byler, director of the Washington Office from 1994-2007; Ruth Keidel Clemens, MCC U.S. program director; Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.); and Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, current director of the Washington Office. The children of the late Delton Franz, the office’s founding director, sent written greetings. Franz passed away in 2006.
Also sharing remarks were representatives from several faith-based organizations with whom the Washington Office partners in coalitions and working groups. Alaide Vilchis Ibarra of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America thanked MCC for its “willingness to work in an interfaith setting and [its] leadership in several working groups.”
Aniedi Okure, executive director of Africa Faith and Justice Network, mentioned the Washington Office’s efforts to uplift unheard voices on the ground when they seemed to be ignored by the government. “Your work on several policy areas has been an example to follow.”
Theo Sitther, a former senior legislative associate who now works with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, noted, “MCC builds relationships with local partners and puts them at the center of transformational advocacy. There is nothing like having that conversation with partners in their local contexts as you advocate with their concerns and experiences.”
J. Daryl Byler also mentioned MCC’s unique connection to local partners as it sets advocacy priorities and speaks to policymakers. He read excerpts from letters written by Palestinian children that he had presented to U.S. government officials during his time on staff.
Rep. McGovern described his long-lasting relationship with the office, beginning when he was a congressional staff person working in the 1980s with the first director, Delton Franz. He commended the Washington Office for “always being there and reminding members of Congress to do the right thing.”
McGovern encouraged the office to continue to build agents of change and told attendees that the goodness of their advocacy work would shine through as it has in the past. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) were also invited to attend.
The program also included a brief trivia game, in which attendees guessed what year quotes from the office’s newsletter were written. Although the resilience and persistence of staff over the years were noted by numerous speakers, the quotes in the game revealed that advocacy is a long-term change process and much work remains to be done.
More information is available in the spring/summer commemorative newsletter at washingtonmemo.org.
Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ
Cherelle M. Dessus is legislative assistant and communications coordinator for the MCC U.S. Washington Office.