It’s not the easiest time to become president of the Greater Rochester Community of Churches’ board of directors.
But Marvin Mich isn’t backing down from the challenge.
Mich, director of social policy and research for Rochester’s Catholic Family Center, said he is counting on growth to help the 90-year-old ecumenical organization face the future as the recession causes a few member denominations and individual churches to cut back their financial support.
Mich said he hopes to address the issue by recruiting new members from churches, denominations and organizations that want to participate in GRCC’s work as a community builder and unifier. He said he also hopes to beef up donations and grants that the organization receives.
Mich became president of the organization’s board in September and is eligible to serve up to two two-year terms. He is the fourth Roman Catholic president in the organization’s history; the others were Bishop Matthew H. Clark (1980-82), Marge Nurnberg (1988-90) and Sister Beth LeValley (2000-04).
Mich said he was asked to run and was happy to do so.
"I think it (the position) fits very much with my work at Catholic Family Center," he remarked.
To that end, Mich said he plans to maintain GRCC’s involvement in promoting social justice in the Rochester region. He said the organization will continue to be active with the Beloved Community project, a program that developed and is promoting ways for the community to end violence in the City of Rochester.
The Beloved Community project developed suggestions that community members could use to help stem the violence. It also created a set of living standards to promote peace, including, "We use language that respects everyone," "Every child is our own" and "Every school is a safe community of learners."
The project illustrates what Mich said is one of GRCC’s strengths: serving as a unified voice for faith communities.
"It’s a real voice on social-justice issues, which doesn’t take away from what individual bishops or denominations can do," he said.
Mich previously served as GRCC’s vice president for social-justice issues and has been an asset to the organization, said Marie Gibson, GRCC’s executive and spiritual director.
"He listens well, and he’s not judgmental. That’s probably the two primary characteristics that serve the president of the board well," Gibson said. "He can sit down with just about anybody."
She said Mich’s strengths include his ability to understand the organization’s past and the importance of its future.
"We are struggling financially, and I’m hopeful that people are going to see that this is something worth supporting," Gibson said of the organization, whose roots date back to 1919 when the early churches of Rochester began to work together to promote the common good.
In addition to addressing social-justice issues, GRCC also hosts several ecumenical worship opportunities and honors community leaders during its annual Faith in Action celebration. It maintains interfaith relationships with the Commission on Christian-Jewish Relations and the Commission on Christian-Muslim Relations.
"We’re Christo-centric, but being in the faith-based community, our goal is to work with everybody at the table," Gibson said.
GRCC also provides a tax-exempt status for smaller religious-service agencies and programs, including Harvesting Hope for Farm Workers, Moving Beyond Racism and Women of the Well. It also offers a group health-insurance program to members.
The organization’s social-justice focus fits with Mich’s background as a nationally recognized social-justice advocate. In 2005, Mich published The Challenge and Spirituality of Catholic Social Teaching, which has been used in the JustFaith program in parishes around the country.
He also published I Like Being in Parish Ministry: Social Justice in 2002, and the critically acclaimed 1998 book Catholic Social Teaching and Movements. He cochaired the former Rochester Labor-Religion Coalition, which helped win local living-wage legislation and educated the community about sweatshop labor, and is active in Clergy and Labor United for Economic Justice, which has advocated on behalf of workers at the Rochester Plaza Hotel.
He is a member of the diocesan Public Policy Committee, is the diocesan director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and has taught and been an administrator at St. Bernard’s Institute, which is now called St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. Mich has a doctorate in sacred theology.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Greater Rochester Community of Churches will host a March 3 discussion about those who lack adequate health insurance. The program will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Downtown Community Forum at the Dugan Center of St. Mary Church, 15 St. Mary’s Place, Rochester.