Leadership

07-18-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-18-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Recently, at the Midwest Regional Meeting, I had the great pleasure of meeting and listening to The Most Reverend William Joensen, Ph.D, the Bishop of Des Moines, Iowa. In his after-dinner remarks, Bishop Joensen spoke about Frédéric Ozanam and the idea of “charitable disruption.” It was a fascinating talk (as you would expect from a former University Philosophy Professor)!

I think, in these challenging times, it’s proper and important to reflect on charitable disruption and what it means in relation to our mission as Vincentians and charitable volunteers driven by a commitment to Catholic Social Teaching.

But I want to go a step further and talk today about two powerful concepts that have shaped the very essence of charitable work: Charitable Disruption and Good Trouble. These are not mere terms, but foundational principles that guide us in serving those in need.

Charitable Disruption, as espoused by Blessed Frédéric, is a call to action. It is not enough to provide for the immediate needs of the poor; we must also address the systemic issues that perpetuate poverty. Ozanam recognized that charity must go beyond the act of giving. He said, “Charity is the Samaritan who pours oil on the wounds of the traveler who has been attacked. But it is justice’s role to prevent the attacks.”

This profound statement encapsulates the dual nature of our mission: to heal and to protect.

In the same vein, Good Trouble, a term coined by the late Rep. John Lewis, a stalwart of the civil rights movement, encourages us to question and challenge the status quo when it perpetuates injustice. Lewis believed that getting into Good Trouble was necessary for the advancement of society as a whole. It is a reminder that sometimes, to do what is right, we must be willing to disrupt the peace. Lewis used Good Trouble to describe the necessary and righteous actions taken to confront injustice.

Lewis believed that sometimes, in order to create a more just and equitable society, we must be willing to disrupt the status quo and challenge unjust systems. Good Trouble is about standing up for what is right, even when it is difficult or unpopular.

Both concepts are intertwined in their call for proactive engagement in the fight against injustice. They urge us not to be passive bystanders — but active participants in the quest for a more equitable world. As Vincentians we embody these principles through our efforts. We provide not only material assistance but also companionship, hope, and love.

Charitable Disruption and Good Trouble are not easy paths to tread. They require courage, conviction, and a deep sense of faith. They ask us to look beyond our comfort zones and to take risks for the greater good. But remember, as Vincentians, we are the hands and feet of Christ. We are the modern-day Samaritans, pouring oil on the wounds of society and standing up to prevent further harm.

Blessed Frédéric founded the Society with a vision of transforming society through acts of charity. Ozanam believed that charity was not merely about giving alms, but about addressing the root causes of poverty and injustice. He saw charity as a form of disruption — a way to challenge the status quo and bring about systemic change.

Ozanam’s concept of charitable disruption calls us to go beyond the surface level of charity. It urges us to engage with the marginalized, to understand their struggles, and to advocate for their rights. This form of charity is not passive; it is active and transformative. It disrupts the complacency of society and calls for a deeper commitment to justice and solidarity.

Lewis’s message of Good Trouble aligns closely with Ozanam’s vision of charitable disruption. Both call us to be courageous in our pursuit of justice and to recognize that true charity involves challenging the structures that perpetuate inequality and suffering. Good Trouble is not about causing chaos for its own sake; it is about creating constructive change that uplifts and empowers the oppressed.

At their core, both charitable disruption and good trouble are about love in action. They remind us that charity is not just about alleviating immediate needs but about addressing the systemic issues that create those needs. They call us to be proactive, to seek out opportunities to make a difference, and to be willing to take risks for the sake of justice.

As Catholics, we are called to embody these principles in our work. We are called to be disruptors of injustice and creators of Good Trouble. This means not only providing direct assistance to those in need — but also advocating for policies and practices that promote social justice. It means listening to the voices of the marginalized and standing in solidarity with them.

Why are these concepts so integral to our work? Because true charity is about more than just meeting immediate needs; it is about transforming lives and communities. When we engage in Charitable Disruption and Good Trouble, we are working to create a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

Charitable Disruption and Good Trouble remind us that our faith calls us to action. They challenge us to move beyond our comfort zones and to be bold in our pursuit of justice. They remind us that charity is not just about what we give but about how we live our lives in service to others.

So, what can we do to put both these concepts into practice?

  1. Educate Ourselves. To effectively engage in charitable disruption and Good Trouble, we must first educate ourselves about the issues facing our communities. This means listening to the experiences of those who are marginalized and learning about the systemic factors that contribute to their struggles.
  2. Advocate for Change. Charity is not just about direct service; it is also about advocacy. We must use our voices to speak out against injustice and to advocate for policies that promote equity and inclusion.
  3. Build Relationships. True charity is rooted in relationships. We must take the time to build genuine connections with those we serve, recognizing their dignity and worth.
  4. Be Courageous. Engaging in Charitable Disruption and Good Trouble requires courage. We must be willing to take risks and to stand up for what is right, even when it is difficult.
  5. Reflect and Pray. Our work must be grounded in prayer and reflection. We must seek God’s guidance and strength as we strive to live out our call to charity and justice.

Let us be inspired by the lives of Ozanam and Lewis. Let us be disruptors of charity in the sense that we challenge ourselves and others to go beyond mere giving. Let us get into Good Trouble by advocating for policies and practices that uplift the marginalized. And let us do so with the love and compassion that is the hallmark of our faith.

In closing, I encourage each of you to continue your noble work with renewed vigor. May you find strength in the knowledge that your actions are a testament to the power of faith in action. May you always carry with you the spirit of Charitable Disruption and Good Trouble, knowing that through them, you are truly serving Christ.

Thank you for your dedication, your compassion, and your willingness to serve.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

 

07-11-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-11-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

At a recent leadership development retreat for our national Youth, Young Adult and Emerging Leaders group, I provided a session on leadership lessons I have learned (some painfully!) over 11 years as the Society’s National CEO and more than 40 years leading mostly nonprofits.

It became apparent in our conversation that these lessons don’t benefit just young leaders, but to a great extent all leaders. Some take on Society leadership because they were good followers and workers, or because they were the first to raise their hand and volunteer. Neither of these guarantee that a person will, or won’t, lead others well. I wonder sometimes if some of our new leaders have ever led anywhere before now! So, whether you are reading this column at 16 or 60 years old, perhaps these lessons can benefit you on your own leadership learning journey. Here they are, briefly:

  1. Don’t confuse Leadership with Money or Fame. Leadership may be thankless.
  2. Anyone can be a Leader — start now! You can begin from anywhere — no excuses.
  3. Hire/recruit people smarter than you, then let them flourish. Always scout for talent.
  4. Use your entire “leadership toolbox”; apply lessons learned from anywhere and anytime.
  5. Use mentors, and then become one. No one is an island! Pay it back.
  6. Don’t let Perfect be the enemy of Good. Keep moving ahead, and adjust as you go.
  7. Always see and play the long game. Think months, even years ahead.
  8. Your job as a leader is not to Do, but to Get Things Done. (And to Keep the Group Together.)
  9. Work to be a good Follower. It helps you understand how to be a better Leader.
  10. Listen, then speak. Listen more than you speak.

I’m sure that a leadership author could write a separate book on each of the above lessons, and in some cases they probably have. I assume that Vincentians are too busy serving people to read 10 books! Therefore, please make do with just the list. You might choose just five that you need to work on to sharpen your skills. Master those, and recruit for the other five!

Here are some characteristics of Good Leaders. They:

  1. Keep learning, formally and informally. Read constantly — trends, different perspectives, etc. that may inform their work.
  2. Find ways to elevate others and help them to grow.
  3. Know a little about a lot, instead of a lot about a little.
  4. Constantly connect the dots. Everything can relate to, and possibly support, everything else if you look hard enough.

If you are the type that feels that you must read a book to learn more legitimately about leadership, here are my favorite books on the topic, all readily available and very readable:

In my upcoming retirement, maybe I’ll expound on all this with my own book. If I do, I know it will have plenty of great leadership examples from our SVDP Council and Conferences and the wonderful volunteers who step up to lead them in service to God and people in need. That should be a book worth reading!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
National CEO

07-03-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-03-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

As we gather to celebrate the 4th of July, our nation’s Independence Day, we are reminded of the founding principles that have shaped our country: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These ideals, deeply embedded in the fabric of our society, are not just lofty aspirations, but calls to action that resonate profoundly with the work and mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. As volunteers, our tireless efforts to serve those in need reflect these principles in their most tangible and compassionate forms. Today, let us explore how our efforts embody these values and why they are essential as we work to uplift and support our community.

Life

The right to life is fundamental, and it encompasses more than mere existence. It speaks to the dignity and sanctity of every human being. In the words of St. Vincent de Paul, “Charity is the cement which binds communities to God and persons to one another.” Our commitment to providing food, shelter, medical care, and spiritual and emotional support ensures that those we serve can live with dignity and hope. Each meal served, each bed provided, and each listening ear offered is a testament to the value of every life.

Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, once said, “The poor are your masters. You are the servant.” This profound statement reminds us that our work is not merely charity but a recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of those we assist. By seeing Christ in those we serve, we affirm their right to a life of dignity and respect.

Liberty

Liberty, the second pillar of our national ethos, is not just about political freedom but the liberation from all forms of oppression and poverty. True freedom involves the ability to make choices, to have opportunities, and to live without fear or want. The services provided by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — ranging from job training and education to financial assistance — are crucial in empowering individuals to break free from the chains of poverty and dependency.

St. Vincent de Paul said, “Go to the poor: you will find God.” This call urges us to see our work not just as aid, but as a partnership in creating freedom for those we serve. By providing resources and support, we help those in need to reclaim their independence and autonomy. It is through this empowerment that we honor the spirit of liberty, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to forge their own path and achieve their full potential.

The Pursuit of Happiness

The pursuit of happiness, a cornerstone of the American dream, is a universal aspiration. It is the desire for a life filled with joy, purpose, and fulfillment. For many of the individuals and families we serve, happiness can seem elusive amidst the struggles of daily life. However, our compassionate service creates a ripple effect that can transform lives and communities.

Blessed Frédéric Ozanam believed deeply in the power of compassion to bring about social change. He once stated, “The knowledge of social well-being and reform is learned, not from books, nor from the public platform, but in climbing the stairs to the poor man’s garret, sitting by his bedside, feeling the same cold that pierces him, sharing the secret of his lonely heart and troubled mind.” This intimate encounter with those we serve fosters a sense of community and belonging, essential ingredients in the pursuit of happiness.

By addressing both immediate needs and systemic issues, we help create an environment where individuals can thrive. Whether it is through our encounters with neighbors in need, advocating for social justice, or simply offering a smile and a kind word, our efforts contribute to a society where happiness is within reach for all.

As we celebrate this Independence Day, let us remember that the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not just historical ideals but living commitments. Our dedication to the mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a powerful expression of these values. In our hands, in your hands, the promise of our nation comes alive, bringing hope, freedom, and joy to those who need it most.

St. Vincent de Paul and Blessed Frédéric Ozanam have given us a rich legacy of service and compassion. Their words and deeds continue to inspire us as we work towards a more just and loving world. This 4th of July, as fireworks light up the sky, let us also light up the lives of those we serve, carrying forward the timeless principles that make our nation great.

May God continue to Bless you for your unwavering commitment and for embodying the true spirit of Independence Day. Through your work, you ensure that the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not just celebrated but lived every day.

Happy 4th of July!

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

Society of St. Vincent de Paul Statement on Supreme Court Decision in Grant’s Pass Vs. Gloria Johnson

Society of St. Vincent de Paul Statement on Supreme Court Decision in Grant’s Pass Vs. Gloria Johnson 552 552 SVDP USA

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul expresses concern regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson. By ruling in favor of the plaintiff, the Supreme Court has signaled that local governments can make it a crime for someone to live outside and unsheltered if they have no home.

“Reasonable people may and will disagree about this decision, but the fact of the matter is it doesn’t get to the heart of the homelessness crisis,” said John Berry, National President at Society of St. Vincent de Paul. “Neither stricter nor more lenient criminal laws sufficiently address the problem — which has vastly more to do with skyrocketing housing costs and inflation than it has to do with how local governments regulate homeless encampments.”

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul currently maintains a network for homeless prevention through rent assistance with an outlay of over $60 million. These programs typically involve home visits, personalized resources, engagement with landlords, crafting a “Stability Plan,” and financial assistance in making rent and paying utilities. These programs usually work alongside local governments, putting homelessness prevention ahead of policing in addressing the roots of homelessness.

“These temporary assistance programs work — and produce long-lasting effects while reducing the economic and social strain of homelessness on cities, towns, and counties,” said Berry. “But more than dollars, homelessness prevention programs like ours save lives and dignity. While City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson helps call attention to the severity of our homelessness crisis, we must work together to restore stability and dignity to neighbors living on the edge of homelessness.”

According to a recent study conducted by Notre Dame’s Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO), persons who received an average of $2,000 in emergency financial assistance were “81 percent less likely to become homeless within six months of enrollment and 73 percent less likely within 12 months.” In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul will continue unabated to pursue positive outcomes like these across the country.

06-27-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-27-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Embracing Growth

When I was in my late 20’s, and going through a tough time, I remember my Mom telling me “you need to go see a Priest!”

Growing up as the 5th of 7 kids in an Irish Catholic home in Pittsburgh, there is one important thing learned at an early age: Listen to Mom. Without questioning it, I did listen, and that ultimately lead me to a blessing I could have never imagined — life as a Vincentian.

Over the past 25 years, God has provided so much in my life. A loving, beautiful, intelligent wife, two awesome daughters, a successful entrepreneurial career in technology, and a passion for serving the poor. I am blessed in so many ways, and the Society is a huge part of that because it has enabled me to connect with God and orient my life to His will (most of the time!). I often wonder where I would be today had I ignored Mom and not found the Society.

I bring my story forward not because it is unique. I dare say that everyone of us has a similar story of how we found St. Vincent de Paul. Or rather, as Jesus tells us, we did not find or choose the Society: He chose it for each one of us. And, He chooses it for so many more. My SVdP story, and probably yours, has common attributes of being open, wanting to learn more and have a deeper connection with God and our Catholic faith, a great Priest, an invitation, and the nicest group of men and women I had ever come across.

Today, we stand at a crossroads. We see our Catholic Church shrinking in so many parts of the world, including our great country. We also see decreasing numbers in our Vincentian membership. Perhaps you and I can be a spark to help turn these trends around. Going back to our own unique stories, so many of our family members, friends, and connections are searching for a stronger meaning in life. While many are falling away from the Church, they are looking for a deeper connection to God. And we know the beauty of the Society is that it brings us closer through our encounters with Jesus in every neighbor we serve, and every gathering we participate in.

There is a phrase in business that if you are not growing, you are dying. I also love the quote from the movie Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living or get busy dying.” We owe it to St. Vincent de Paul, Frédéric Ozanam, and the thousands of Vincentians who have followed to grow our Society. Each of us has been blessed, and we, in turn, need to pay it forward. If it is not already, let’s make growth a core part of every Conference. Let’s be open to and invite our Catholic brothers and sisters to join us. Let’s form strong friendships and partnerships with our Priests and Deacons, and ask for their help by directing parishioners our way. Let’s be bold in our vision for the future and why Jesus has placed us in the Society. Let’s be like my Mom and tell those we love to “Go see a Priest”— and let’s experience growth!

Yours in Christ,
Sean Myers
National Vice President of Membership and Leadership Development

 

06-20-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-20-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

My last Servant Leader column on Encounter generated quite a few comments and discussions. That is great, because these columns should be opportunities for us to exchange thoughts and ideas, not just read what someone else has to say.

I wanted to continue the discussion for another week, with a few thoughts and clarifications generated from the exchanges from two weeks ago.

Some people mistakenly got the impression that I was advocating the elimination of the term Home Visit completely and replacing it with Encounter. That is wrong. Home Visits are what they are: Home Visits. All Home Visits are Encounters with those we serve.

But not all Encounters are Home Visits, and that is the point. Our service to people in need goes well beyond the Home Visit, and therefore, we must speak in a more inclusive way about what we do to make sure that we make ALL Vincentians feel welcome and valued in the work they do.

Some people asked why I am even advocating for this new “weird” term. Why do we have to change?

This is my answer.

As Christians, we are called not just to act with charity, but to infuse our actions with the love and presence of Christ. This calling goes beyond mere acts of kindness; it requires us to engage deeply and spiritually with those we serve.

When we talk about charity, the first image that often comes to mind is giving: giving food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, shelter to the homeless. These acts are indeed vital, and Jesus emphasized their importance in the Gospel of Matthew 25. However, Jesus also calls us to a deeper level of engagement. He calls us to see His face in those we serve, to recognize the divine image in every person we encounter. This is the essence of a spiritual encounter in charitable relationships.

A spiritual encounter transforms charity from a transactional act into a relational and sacramental experience. It is not just about what we give but how we give it — and the spirit in which we engage with others. When we allow our acts of charity to be infused with prayer, compassion, and genuine love, we offer more than just material assistance; we offer the healing presence of Christ.

The spiritual encounter in charitable relationships also enriches the giver. When we open our hearts to truly see and engage with those we serve, we too are transformed. We begin to understand the depth of human suffering, resilience, and the beauty of human dignity. This transformation fosters a deeper connection with God, as we become more attuned to His presence in the world around us.

Spiritual encounters in charitable relationships help to break down barriers of prejudice and indifference. When we see others through the eyes of Christ, we can no longer categorize them as “the needy” or “the less fortunate.” Instead, we recognize them as brothers and sisters, equal in dignity and deserving of our love and respect. This recognition compels us to address not just the symptoms of poverty and suffering but their root causes, striving for justice and systemic change, as called for by Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.

In our work as Vincentians, we can engage in these spiritual encounters through all our many services (not just Home Visits) by being present, listening with empathy, and praying for and with those we serve.

We must understand that every act of charity, no matter how small, can be a conduit for God’s love if done with a pure heart. Blessed Frédéric said, “No act of charity is foreign to the Society.”

As Saint Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” Love is the soul of charity, and it is through love that our actions become transformative.

We must strive to make our charitable actions more than mere transactions. We must seek to encounter Christ in those we serve and allow these spiritual encounters to deepen our faith and love. By doing so, we will not only fulfill our Vincentian vocation, but also become true bearers of God’s love in the world, creating a network of charity, grace, and compassion that embraces the world.

That is why I advocate for using the term Encounter when we refer to our work. By calling a meeting between two people an Encounter rather than a Visit, we highlight distinct nuances in the nature and impact of the interaction. An Encounter implies a deeper level of engagement, where the individuals involved might experience a transformative or enlightening moment. Encounters are often seen as pivotal, potentially altering perceptions, emotions, or relationships.

In contrast, a Visit denotes a more planned, routine, or casual interaction. Visits are typically structured and can be social, professional, or obligatory, often lacking the depth of an Encounter. While a visit can certainly be meaningful, it does not inherently suggest the same potential for profound impact or unexpected significance as an encounter. For instance, a visit to a friend’s house might involve catching up and enjoying each other’s company, whereas an encounter with a long-lost friend in an unexpected place might lead to a heartfelt reconnection and emotional revelations. Therefore, the word Encounter emphasizes the extraordinary and potentially transformative nature of the meeting, while  Visit emphasizes the intention, regularity, and social aspects of the interaction.

In the Catholic faith, the concept of an Encounter transcends mere physical meeting to embody a profound spiritual connection graced by God. This belief is rooted in the idea that when two people come together in faith, God’s presence enhances their interaction, transforming it into a sacred moment. This encounter is not just an exchange of words or gestures, but a divine engagement where God’s grace becomes manifest.

If we are honest, we will admit that many of our interactions with the people we serve have become transactions. They have lost all semblance of Encounter, becoming a purely obligatory visit to get in, find out how much the rent/utility/medical/insurance/ bill is, get it paid, and move on to the next one.

At the top of this column, I said all Home Visits are Encounters. The reality is, that is not 100% true. Far too many Home Visits and other special works services, have become no more than secular visits with the sole purpose of getting someone off the call list.

That is why I am so passionate about us understanding the term Encounter and using it to describe what we do.

Because if we do not, we are just going to be another social service agency doing good for people in need — but not doing much to grow spiritually in our service to those people.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

06-13-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-13-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

I’m told rather often how some of our Servant Leader columns become agenda items for discussion at Conference meetings. Outside of our ongoing VisionSVdP process, this may be the most important column you could ever use to stimulate not just conversation, but crucial activity to benefit your Conference’s future.

At our Midyear Business Meeting, I previewed an idea under development for a national membership marketing campaign. The response to the theme and potential products has been overwhelming! This column will give a little more detail in advance of the official launch on July 1.

Why now? First and foremost, it is always a great time to invite more friends, family, and fellow parishioners to join us as we strive to increase our Holiness. That’s our primary mission, and we should constantly share it. We also know that the pandemic and declining Church membership has taken a toll on our Society membership — down about 15 percent, according to annual reporting. We need to replenish and grow our ranks to continue to faithfully serve our neighbors in need today and tomorrow.

Here is what we are planning to conduct a national (opt in per Council and Conference) recruiting campaign this September and October:

  • More than an Invitation to Serve. A new booklet called “A Culture of Welcome” enhances the present Invitation to Serve document, including ideas on how to prepare before and after an invitation for new arrivals to the Society. It also includes two dynamic pulpit talks, an Information Night PowerPoint, and a two-sided informational flyer template you can customize. You need not re-invent what already works!
  • National social media. We will focus on social media advertising during the months of September and October, when so many parishes have ministry fairs and when families are getting organized for new school years and family schedules. We will use two outside firms to post National Council-produced/overseen content to support membership interest. You can add any locally produced media posts as you like.
  • Custom print materials. You will be able to order print materials such as yard signs, posters and pamphlets using our campaign theme (see below) that you can take to local printers for identifier customization, and/or hand-print meeting times and dates, etc. We have done the brand and design work for you!
  • Logo and theme wearables etc. You can order shirts, jackets, vests, hats, bags and other items with the national SVdP logo and some with our campaign theme! There are no minimum orders, and the pricing is pre-set based on total expected orders, so everyone wins with discounted prices, custom sizes and order numbers, and shipping to your door!
  • Campaign videos.  Three new videos, featuring interviews with current members, will be included on the campaign’s website landing page. You can also use them locally. They include:  Why am I a Vincentian, Encountering Our Neighbor, and The Home Visit.
  • Campaign theme. Our marketing thrust is to anyone looking to put their faith into action and to grow in Holiness. Based on comments we have heard so often over the years from our members, we chose a theme that should resonate no matter where your Council and Conference serves our neighbors in need. The short version is “See the Face of Christ. Be the Face of Christ.” A longer version for some materials is “See the Face of Christ as we grow in Holiness through service. Be the Face of Christ to those in need we serve.”

Our goal with this campaign is to support you in attracting more than 10,000 new Society members! That may look like a lot, but it is only 2 – 3 per existing Conference. Some Conferences attract dozens of potential members with a good Invitation to Serve process, so plan for — and don’t be afraid of — such success! For example, how will you engage each member as part of a Home Visit team or special work right away? Will they receive a Member Handbook and other local materials about meetings? In short, how will they not simply be recruited, but truly welcomed into the friendship of the Society where you live?

Please reflect on how much fun and fulfillment you have serving others. Think about the friends you have made among members of our Society. Think about how tired you get sometimes after a long day of service, wishing there was someone to help.

Please consider how many family members and friends could benefit from growing in their own faith journey. We have room for many new faces, and we will never have too many members, when you consider our Society mission and goals. Please start thinking, and planning, now to organize for this campaign’s success. Watch for the official launch on July 1.

Imagine what we can do with 10,000 more friends to serve and grow with us? Heck, why not 20,000!?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
National CEO

06-06-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-06-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Over the last year, you have heard me speak and write often about the ‘Encounter.’ Regrettably, some people are uncomfortable about my use of that term, as they seem to feel that it takes away from the traditional emphasis of the Society on the term ‘Home Visit’ as what they perceive as the heart and soul of our Vincentian calling.

So, I think that it’s important to explore the term Encounter and hopefully put any concerns to rest. Let’s first look at The Rule.

In Part I of The Rule, under the first major heading “Purpose and Scope of Our Service,” Section 1.2, it is stated “Members show their commitment through person-to-person contact.’ Section 1.3 is titled “Any form of personal help.”

The third major heading under Section 1 of Part 1 of Our Rule is titled “Our Personal Encounters with the Poor.” Part I, Section 1.7 is titled “Prayer before Encounters or Visits.”

So, we’ve established from The Rule that our Founders envisioned an inclusive network of charity. (Hey, sounds like Frédéric!) We don’t see the restriction of “Home Visit” anywhere. Encounters are certainly visits, and visits are clearly a preferred way of meeting the poor, but Encounter can be more than a Home Visit, and a visit can take place anyplace — not just a home! The type of Encounters and the types of visits we are called to make are not defined in The Rule because the Founders were smart enough to realize that the face of poverty was constantly changing — and how we had to address poverty had to change, too.

Just look at Part 1, Section 1.6, Adaptation to a Changing World: “…new types of poverty that might be identified or anticipated.” Our Founders weren’t about to say you had to do X, Y, or Z to do Vincentian work’ because they didn’t know if things would be completely changed in the next 10 years — or even the next year.

That is why we must stop talking, judging, and labeling each other in language that is exclusive. We must start using language that is inclusive and true to the intent of the foundation of the Society. We need to stop saying that our ministry is rooted in the Home Visit. It is not. It is rooted in the Encounter.

Did Frédéric and the Founders do Home Visits? Yes! Were those Home Visits critical to their formation and the creation of the Society? Yes! Does that mean you can’t undergo formation as a Vincentian without doing a Home Visit? No!

But does that mean you can undergo formation as a Vincentian without a Christ-centered, human-to-human interaction? Without Encounter with our Neighbors in need? NO! NO! NO!

Let’s go back to The Rule.

The Vincentian vocation is to follow Christ through service to those in need and so bear witness to His compassionate and liberating love. Members show their commitment through person-to-person contact. Vincentians serve in hope.

We have to understand that Encounter — the Christ-centered, person-to-person contact that is our vocation — can be conducted in many ways. There are many ways to conduct visits in different places. What characterizes a visit? Spirituality, friendship, listening, caring, support.

In today’s Society in the United States, Encounters can occur in someone’s home, in a special work, at a Parish, at SVdP offices, in a homeless shelter, and other places. But the need for valid, Vincentian, personal contact must be part of the Encounter for it to be appropriate.

Lining people up at the Parish in front of a table and collecting utility bills that the Conference is going to pay is not Encounter. That kind of interaction is degrading people in need.

Talking to people from behind glass walls is not Encounter, it is bureaucracy. Handing out a food bag without a private conversation and discussion of a neighbor’s situation and need is not Encounter, it is simply just another agency. Giving out clothes in the Thrift Stores is not Encounter; understanding why the person needs the clothes and what we can do to help them not need them next time is.

The most important thing that we must all remember is that we serve people — and our service to people is based on respect, love, and our knowledge that Christ sits in the middle of any relationship we have with another human being. Our Encounters with those we serve, and those we serve with, must always be based on those understandings.

Let’s lose the old language of exclusion and start using the new language of inclusion. But when we do, let’s make sure that we are using it to describe the true Vincentian Encounter that is our vocation, not a modern-day corruption of the beauty of the Christ-centered person-to-person Encounter that is the real heart and soul of our Vincentian calling.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

05-23-24 Servant Leader: The Most Political Thing We Can Do as Vincentians

05-23-24 Servant Leader: The Most Political Thing We Can Do as Vincentians 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Former National CEO and beloved friend and mentor to many, Roger Playwin passed away on May 10. Ever the servant leader, he submitted the letter below shortly before his death.  May we continue to draw inspiration from a man who taught us all so much.

Recently I read an article by Steven P. Millies, a professor of public theology and director of The Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and professor at DePaul University in the same city.

He asks his students to consider that the truest meaning of the word “politics” does not convey a sense of partisanship or division, corruption or competition. He suggests that in its first and best and most useful sense, politics means “our shared life,” the life of the community. “When conflicts arise, politics means addressing them through discussion and law rather than division and violence. Politics means valuing our shared life together more than we value winning any argument-and bearing witness to that value in our commitment to dialogue with one another.”

Millies suggests that our homes, classroom, churches, place of work, and in our case, as members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, our Conferences are a place for discerning together. He identifies accurately that these are places where we can dialogue come to discernment and understanding because none of us comes to understanding alone, and because we value coming to a better understanding together, we also come to value our community of relationship.

In this sense, our Conferences are our ecclesia, the conference community that is called together to bear witness together to what we claim we believe. This may a seem strange and unfamiliar way to think about politics, but it just might hold some answers for us.

We need to find a way to recover the word “politics” from the ways that we as humans abuse it. The word really should mean something greater than division. It should be a word that has special meaning in our private and public lives. A word that calls us to hold each other in special reverence. It’s clear that the way we use the word today is not helpful and does not seem to be helping to improve our shared community’s. Time to try something different together so that as friends, we make the circle wider and more inclusive and more like the community He calls us to be.

Roger T. Playwin
2024

05-16-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-16-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

On Monday of this week, I spent the day in meetings at the Vatican in Rome. Working alongside Juan Manuel Gomez, the President General International of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and CGI Board Member Sebastian Gramajo from Argentina, we had three meetings: first with Monsignor Luis Marin de San Martin, Undersecretary of the General Secretariat of the Synod, then with Maria Lia Zervino, Institutional Director of World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations, and lastly with The Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Sister Alessandra Smerilli, and Fr. Patrio Salgat of that office.

Each of these meetings was vitally important to the work of the Society, both here in the United States as well as globally. The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development was established by Pope Francis in August 2016. The work of the Dicastery, as directed by Pope Francis, is to express the Holy See’s concern for issues of justice and peace, including those related to migration, health, charitable works, and the care of creation.

The Dicastery promotes integral human development in the light of the Gospel and in the tradition of the Church’s social teachings. The Dicastery also expresses the Holy Father’s care for suffering humanity, including the needy, the sick and the excluded, and pays special attention to the needs and issues of those who are forced to flee their homeland, the stateless, the marginalized, victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters, the imprisoned, the unemployed, victims of contemporary forms of slavery and torture, and others whose dignity is endangered.

That mission certainly sounds a lot like what we do as members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, doesn’t it?

This meeting was important in helping us understand how we can work more closely with the Church and the Bishops in supporting the work of the Holy See in areas such as Integral Human Development.

Similarly, our meeting with the Office of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations was very informative, as we learned about the work of the Church in helping to empower and lift women out of poverty across the world. SVdP USA does an incredible amount of Twinning and project support overseas, and it was good to hear about project work being done through the Vatican. Additionally, the Vatican is looking for our support in some of the work they want to do in the United States, especially around poverty, women, single mothers, and other areas. We will be honored to help!

The meeting with the General Secretariat of the Synod was very interesting and enlightening. We had a wonderful discussion about VisionSVdP, and team at the Vatican were thrilled to hear about what we are doing! They had a lot of questions about our reasons for launching the effort, and were excited that we were modeling our efforts on the theme of Adapting to a Changing World.

One of the things that Msgr. San Martin kept emphasizing was the changing technology of the modern world and how we must adapt not only our processes and procedures, but also our approaches, to ensure we do not lose the spiritual closeness in the drive to technical efficiency and the electronic world. He was speaking my language! He was saying what I have been saying since I first put myself forward as a candidate for National President.

While we can, should, and will change and adapt our systems and our technology to make ourselves more effective and efficient as an operating organization, we cannot, must not, and will not ever lose the human-to-human, Christ-centered Encounter that is the foundational basis of who and what we are. At our core, at our spiritual center, at our faith grounding, we are people serving people through a process of encounter: Encounter in a Home Visit, a food pantry, a thrift store, a pharmacy, a housing program, a shelter, a prison visit, any of the many special works we provide.

My visits to the Vatican helped to define further areas and opportunities for collaboration and cooperation between SVdP and the Holy See to support people in need in the United States and internationally. Those visits also helped to reinforce to me the outstanding work of the Councils and Conferences across the country in support of our neighbors in need and in alignment with Catholic Social Teaching.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

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