SEM (Southeastern Ecumenical Ministries) is an organization of twenty-six churches in the Mt. Washington, Milford and Anderson Township areas of Hamilton County and in Western Clermont County. They embrace a number of different denominations, both Protestant and Catholic. They joined together in a ministry on several areas, particularly community development, justice and human needs. They seek, not to duplicate what individual churches and denominations perform, but to do together what they cannot do separately.
SEM is a spiritual child of Vatican II: the Church Council called Pope John XXIII in 1963. The Council "opened the windows of the Church" to the Holy Spirit, and promoted ecumenical cooperation where little had previously existed. This cooperative spirit spread throughout the Church down to the local level. The concept of SEM began at a men's breakfast at the Mt. Moriah Methodist Church in Withamsville, early in 1966. The minister, Rev. Gerry Lach, took the idea to the local ministers association, and by June, 1966, twelve churches agreed to a statement of purpose that spelled out the basic objectives of the ministry. By January, 1967, the organization, called the Southeastern Ecumenical Ministry, was officially dedicated with the adoption of the constitution at a meeting at the Mt. Washington Presbyterian Church.
HOW DID IT WORK?
There was a virtual flood of ideas that delegates from the several churches wanted the organization to consider. The operational body, called the Legislative Board, was composed of several delegates from each church belonging to SEM. As ideas were presented, the board would appoint a study group to examine their viability and practicality. The study group's findings were presented to the board for final disposition. Adopted projects were assigned to Task Forces who brought the proposals to operational status. In addition to the Legislative Board, the officers and selected others formed an Executive Committee to handle the issues that would arise between meetings. Early on, it was determined that a paid chief executive officer was necessary and he was called the Coordinator. The only other paid staff was the organization's secretary. Church and individual contributions made up the bulk of available funds for operations. There was also an appointed Review Board to examine the conduct on operations, and a Finance Board to work on budget and income.
THE EARLY YEARS
Appropriately, the first official project of SEM was a Prayer of Unity service held at the Guardian Angels Roman Catholic Church in Mt. Washington. Eleven hundred worshipers were in attendance! Other unity services followed, along with several services at the Beechmont Mall on Good Friday. The Task Force on Worship and Study also sponsored five "Evenings of Dialogue" and two "Weekends of Reflection" at the Loyola Retreat House in Milford, Ohio. A Poverty Task Force (called THRUST) began to work on ways to serve the poverty stricken families in the SEM area. Two notable early efforts were to relocate the families who lived on Bass Island in the Newtown area, and who were continually being flooded out. Another family on lower Eight Mile Road was the recipient of a newly built home on their old property, a forerunner of the Habitat for Humanity program. Thrift shops were initiated to help the needy, along with food pantry activities. Other programs included "Project Commitment", an interracial dialogue series, and a Family Relations Task Force.
THE HOUSING YEARS
If you ask the average person on the street about SEM, they will frequently reply, "Oh yes, you mean SEM Manor or one of the facilities on the Milford campus. The SEM housing facilities are certainly testaments of the powers of vision and persistence. Early in 1967, the Housing of the Aged Task Force, under the leadership of Rev. Milo Beran, began working with local and national agencies to determine the needs for and the means to construct appropriate facilities. Later named the Golden Age Task Force, this group raised funds, purchased land off Nagel Road, secured approval from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and constructed SEM Manor, which was dedicated on November 14, 1971. When the Jesuit Novitiate and its prime fifty-five acres was offered for sale in the early 70's our SEM people of vision found a way to duplicate the Nagel Road experience. The Novitiate was completely remodeled and SEM Villa was dedicated on October 15, 1972. Groundbreaking for SEM Laurels occurred in April, 1979. As each facility was completed, each became an independent, non-profit organization. They retain a link with SEM through approval of the governing board members by the SEM Legislative Board.
As the years have gone by and other organizations have emerged to share responsibilities for the poor and needy, SEM has concentrated on its hunger program. Located in the Mt. Washington Presbyterian Mission House on Beechmont Avenue, the SEM Food Pantry is a major player in serving the food and emergency funds for utilities, shelter, prescriptions, transportation, etc. Our other current effort is to provide volunteer services through our member churches to the SEM housing facilities, such as friendly visitors, transportation assistance and entertainment. If you would like to support these SEM efforts financially, or would like more information about them, please send your contributions SEM. We are a not-for-profit organization in the State of Ohio, and also a tax-exempt organization recognized by the U. S. Internal Revenue Service.