MCC Photo/Abby Hershberger

Clockwise from the top, Service Workers Victoria Wiebe and Abby Hershberger meet with MCC UNO Director Chris Rice during a staff meeting in April 2020.

In early March, as COVID-19 began to spread throughout the U.S. and the United Nations suddenly cancelled its much-anticipated annual Commission on the Status of Women, the MCC UN office was abruptly forced to confront New York City’s emerging reality.

It was a sad irony to watch the public spaces of New York City—a huge element of the city’s character and personality—empty out and close in mid-March. As the pandemic took an undeniable foothold, New York, like many cities and towns around the world, closed its museums, theaters and stores to the public. Its busy, global nature has left it especially susceptible to the spread of the disease.

It’s a difficult time to live in one of the world’s most vibrant cities. Some friends have lost their jobs, others work within the tense medical field, and international colleagues have had to leave the United States with little preparation to beat travel restrictions and return home.

In the weeks since Governor Andrew Cuomo issued the Stay at Home order in New York, new routines have emerged for those of us who remain in the city. At 7:00 every evening we cheer and applaud and bang pots and pans for the essential medical workers staffing the city’s hospitals. We attend church virtually. We share information about which grocery stores have special hours for older folks, or how to make masks from handkerchiefs and cloth napkins. And although we talk about “things getting back to normal,” we know that the pandemic is changing the city in irreversible ways.

On both a small personal scale and in broader and ever-expanding waves, the situation in New York is overwhelming. Two of the three staff members from our office remain in Manhattan, and the spouse of the Office director is serving COVID-19 patients as a hospice nurse. As the pandemic has pushed us and our colleagues into isolation and home offices, and UN meetings go on-line, we are now learning to work within a new context and asking the question—What does faithful advocacy work look like in response to a time like this?

As in many fields, good advocacy requires relationship, community, and front-line information. Our office has spent the past weeks discerning with colleagues in the U.S. and globally how to reshape our work in light of new realities. Yes, we’ve had to cancel some exciting events. Yet in this crisis, we see fresh opportunities to engage critical global challenges which are emerging.

Abby Hershberger was the Communications and Advocacy Assistant at the MCC United Nations Office. She began studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in fall 2020.