Schenectady is rapidly changing. Downtown has been revitalized, and the riverfront of the Mohawk has been changed from an old industrial site to the new Mohawk Harbor.

What has not changed, however, are the care needs for residents of Schenectady County. One organization that continues to provide assistance with Schen­ectady County’s most high-need residents is SICM, the Schenectady Inner City Ministry, an ecumenical partnership of 53 Schen­ectady congregations.

This year, SICM celebrates 50 years of addressing social justice concerns in a changing community.

In 1967, SICM was formed when four congregations (Duryee Memorial AME Zion, Emmanuel Baptist, First United Methodist, and Friendship Baptist Churches) formed “The Four-Parish Fellowship” to combine resources to address poverty and racism in the inner city. (We all lived closer together back then!) SICM came from the urgent desire of congregations to address urban issues with more hands-on ministry, and the desire to incarnate the impetus of Vatican II.

Roman Catholics and Protestants came together in “living-room dialogues,” realizing that there was much in common. Initially, one Roman Catholic parish joined SICM (St. John the Baptist in Schenectady), but then most others became members “to do together what we can best do together:” reflecting and being an expression of the social teachings of the Church.

SICM has outgrown our name. We are no longer just inner city, and we are no longer just Schenec­tady. Because of our name, we are at times confused with the City Mission of Schenectady. SICM and the City Mission are complementary. SICM is structured differently, with a council-of-churches-type membership structure in which members agree to participate, support SICM and endorse the shared SICM mission.

The new name, announced at the anniversary event, still uses the acronym SICM, but with a small “i” and the descriptive line “Schenectady’s Community Ministries.”

SICM was organized over a period of time, so there is not an exact anniversary date; 2017-18 represents 50 years of service. This anniversary was recognized at a special event March 20, 2017, at which early SICM leaders the Rev. James Miller and the Rev. Robert Pearce reflected on the past.

The Rev. Phillip Grigsby, current executive director, and the Rev. Dustin Wright and SICM president Randy McGough (a member of St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in Schenectady) described the present and shared a video that “tells the story” and looked ahead.

SICM historically initiated programs and then, as appropriate, spun them off to independence or to other non-profits. Examples include Bethesda House of Schen­ectady (a service provider for homeless persons), CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates), the Community Land Trust of Schenectady (which helps with affordable housing), SAFE Inc. (which deals with human trafficking and temporary housing), the Schenectady Damien Center (serving people with HIV/AIDS); nutrition outreach and education (offering access to federal food programs) and more. The number of programs is more than 35!

Today, with support from individuals, congregations, businesses, organizations and grants, SICM is a public-private partnership. SICM serves tens of thousands of our neighbors in need through The Food Program, which includes the largest food pantry in Schenectady County; a community garden; a summer meal program for children under 19; and The Food Pantry, which provides temporary and emergency food directly and related services, such as food stamp applications, housing, employment and health insurance. New initiatives include delivery to the homebound and Senior Connect.

SICM a manages two youth programs: a summer youth internship program for high-school and college-aged youth, and a faith-based summer youth camp at Steinmetz Park. SICM recently took on Schenectady County Embraces Diversity, which provides a safe space for youth and adults to confront challenging issues of race and diversity.

SICM collaborates to address such issues as aging, preschool/school-age literacy, housing, HIV/AIDS, racism and diversity, emergency assistance (through the Community Crisis Network) and substance addiction. SICM was instrumental in establishing the Civilian Police Review Board and is represented on the board, and leads community-wide efforts to address food insecurity and hunger, including the annual CROP Walk, which is consistently in the top 25 in the nation.

Social ministry requires social action. SICM is challenged to live out the range of social ministry, which includes direct social service but also includes social education, social witness and social action, addressing the root causes of hunger, poverty and injustice.

SICM’s social action platform includes:

•  social service: developing programs and services as much as possible with people, not to people;

•  social education: helping members and partners understand the causes and consequences of hunger, poverty and injustice, and asking what our faith perspectives bring to address these issues;

•  social witness: challenging members to be witnesses for change and advocacy and encouraging others to speak truth to power, know that truth is power, and advocate; and

•  social action: addressing the root causes of poverty, hunger and injustice, and/or setting up new responses to community concerns.

What about the future? Micah 6.8 states: “What does the Lord request of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” One of the early covenants declared, “There is yet more light and truth to break forth.” While we will build upon our current focus areas, SICM is open to new opportunities and responses to new concerns.

SICM is thankful for the many in the ecumenical community who have supported this shared ministry and are partners in ministry going forward. I believe it was one of the bishops who commented that it takes about 50 years for an encyclical to truly take effect. We recently celebrated 50 years since Vatican II. It is taking effect, and we look forward to faith-based initiatives in the next 50 years! Thanks be to God!

(The Rev. Grigsby has served as executive director of SICM for 32 years. He previously directed ecumenical programs in Connecticut and North Carolina. He is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC). He and his wife, Jan, also served in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone; they now live in Schenectady.)