The Rev. Robert F. Smylie, who represented the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at the United Nations for 27 years until his retirement in 2002, was named director emeritus of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations today (Sept. 14) by the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (formerly the General Assembly Mission Council).
Smylie, who schooled generations of Presbyterians ― including this writer ― in faith-based responses to global issues and problems, served as associate for peace and international affairs for the former United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. from 1976-1987. He related to the U.N. on behalf of the denomination in that job and then as director of the Presbyterian United Nations Office (now the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations).
A graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and Princeton Theological Seminary, Smylie also studied international relations at Columbia University in New York. He was ordained by the Presbytery of St. Louis in 1954 in devoted his entire career to the intersection between religion and international relations.
He participated in the U.S. State Department’s Scholar-Diplomat Program and was a guest of NATO in their seminar program for religious specialists. He served as a U.S. Navy chaplain and taught at the University of Florida as a visiting professor and at the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches at Bossey, outside Geneva.
Smylie’s expertise led to his involvement in countless ecumenical activities, including work for the Department of International Affairs of the National Council of Churches of Christ and the Commission of the Churches’ Participation in Development of the World Council of Churches.
Smylie served on the national advisory committees of the U.S. Committee for UNICEF, the United Nations Association and the American Bible Society. He was also vice-president of the World Conference of Religion and Peace (U.S.A. and served on the Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the executive committee of the United Nations non-governmental organization Committee on Disarmament and served on the editorial board of Disarmament Times.
For nearly 60 years, wherever the witness of the church met global issues of peace, justice and freedom Bob Smylie always seemed to be present on behalf of the PC(USA).
He created resources that continue to equip Presbyterians for global discipleship. He contributed significantly to policies that continue to guide the church’s witness to Jesus Christ, and continues to write and lead workshops in retirement.