Leadership

02-02-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leader

02-02-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leader 900 900 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Over the past few years, COVID-19 has meant many organizations’ well-intended plans and initiatives were put on-hold or received little attention. For our organization, one such set of delayed efforts were our plans to improve the policies and practices needed for safeguarding vulnerable persons. At the National Council meeting in Houston in August 2021, your delegates approved Resolution 189 – National Safeguarding Policy for all Member Councils. The resolution asks all Councils to create a safeguarding policy that would follow the guidelines provided and also address their local circumstances, paying attention to local laws and the policies of their diocese.

This is not a popular topic to bring up. Creating and implementing a safeguarding policy is complicated, can cost money and brings a variety of responses from our membership. My own Conference had a member resign when we put a safeguarding requirement in place many years ago. That departing member told us, “So, some priests have been abusing children, and now I have to take a class and have a background check.” Many members had similar reactions to our national policy at first, but I hope we have moved past this attitude.

For the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, not much of our work is directly with children, but all of our neighbors in need should be considered as vulnerable persons. I am sorry to say that we have had credible reports of incidents of that vulnerability being exploited, which reinforces my belief that we need to keep working on this.

The safeguarding resolution we approved details a number of reasons why it is important to have an appropriate policy and effective training. Certainly, we want to prevent abuse and protect those we serve, but having a plan for what to do if something is reported or suspected is an equally compelling reason for having our members well-trained. There are many states in which our home visitors and volunteers are even considered “mandatory reporters.” By law, they are required to report observed incidents of abuse. Do you know whether that includes you? Do you know what constitutes a reportable incident or to whom you must report it? Does this include reporting a neighbor in need whom you have visited? Are you clear about the process you should take if one of our members violates our safeguarding standards?

At the January Board of Directors meeting, we discussed the implementation of Resolution 189 at length, and it is clear to your National Council leadership that this is a complicated matter. Many Councils already have policies and training in place. Some of them were required to do so by their dioceses many years ago. Many others have not even started – finding the effort too complex or maybe too costly, or the resistance from members too significant.

As we move forward, our National Council is looking for ways to support your safeguarding efforts and share best practices. Please support your local leaders as they create and implement your local safeguarding policy. Your Council leadership already has plenty on its plate, and I would encourage some of you to step forward to help lead the effort. Forming a local task force of members who see the importance of this process and are willing to spend time investigating options will help us make the progress needed.

Doing nothing is not an acceptable option. So far, fortunately, we have avoided major lawsuits and harm to our reputation. The time to act is before something happens. Our Church and many other organizations have suffered incredible harm because they were not proactive. From the beginning, our founders realized that our home visits should always be done in pairs. That early practice of safeguarding is still a key element of our protecting vulnerable neighbors in need. Unfortunately, it is not enough in today’s environment.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

1-26-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

1-26-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

My Dear Vincentian Friends:

Thank you for the trust and faith you placed in me by electing me your next National Council President. I am humbled and honored (and honestly, maybe just a little bit scared) by this great honor. I know that I have big shoes to fill following my good friend, Ralph Middlecamp, as well as all the National Presidents that have served the National Council since its founding in 1845. I pledge to you that I will do my best to serve you and our Society to the best of my ability.

I ran for President because I wanted to help strengthen, grow, and prepare the Society for the future so that all who seek a journey of faith and service can find fulfillment in our Vincentian Family. I need your help to accomplish that. As I begin the transition into my new role, I would like to hear from you. What do you think are the most important and pressing issues we face as we move forward? What are the things we should be doing that we are not, doing differently than we are doing now, or not doing at all? What would help you in your growth in holiness and faith?

In over 25 years of service to the Society at all levels I have met many people. But I haven’t met everyone, and I don’t know everyone’s talents, skills, and desires. So, I’d also like to know how you’d like to help. Let me know if you’d be interested in becoming involved in the Society in a broader or larger role. We need people to serve on committees and task forces, to help with formation and spirituality, to support new efforts in technology and communications, and we need to identity new and emerging leaders to take us into the future.

Blessed Frederic told  us: “Charity must never look to the past, but always to the future, because the number of its past works is still very small and the present and future miseries that it must alleviate are infinite.” We are that future; YOU are that future. So, to put it simply, we need YOU. Become engaged and get involved. This is your Society, and it will be what you help make it. Together we can grow and improve, and continue to be that ‘Network of Charity’ that Frederic Ozanam dreamed of.

Please drop me a note to jberry@svdpusa.org and let me know your thoughts.

I look forward to working with you all and visiting with you over the next six years. I hope to be ‘out and about’ as much as possible so I can hear from you and see the incredible work that I know is being done across the country.

Peace and God bless,

John

1-19-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

1-19-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

September 30th is a long way away. That is when my six-year term as National Council President ends and someone else steps into the office. Last Friday we learned who that will be. The National Council Election Committee counted the 107 ballots submitted by your Council representatives and informed the Board of Directors that on October 1st, John Berry will become the 14th President of the National Council of the United States.

The election process began last summer with the nomination of four highly qualified candidates. In September at our National Assembly, the field was narrowed to Brian Burgess and John Berry. For the past several months, all members of the Society had the opportunity to cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice. Just as our founders did when they chose Jules Gossin to succeed Emmanuel Bailly, we prayed during those months that the Holy Spirit would direct our discernment. We trust that God’s providence has supplied the leadership we need for the future of our Society in the United States.

An eight-month transition period may seem long, but there’s much to accomplish during this time. In the months to come, I will be working with our current Board to continue the work we have been doing for the past five years, while John will have time to evaluate the organization’s needs and recruit new officers and board and committee members. It is important for him to have this time to put together a new team of servant leaders that is diverse, talented, and representative of the members of our Councils and Conferences across the country.

In 1844, after the Society’s first President, Emmanuel Bailly, resigned, Frederic Ozanam described the qualities he thought the next President should have. Frederic wrote: “He must have the habit of devotion, the spirit of true fraternity, the experience of good works; he must join the zeal which founds with the prudence which preserves; he must be able to maintain the Society in the paths of simplicity and prudent liberty along which God has led it.”

I have known John Berry for many years, and I am confident that you will find him to be that servant leader Frederic Ozanam described. Please join me in asking the Holy Spirit to guide John as he prepares to take office.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

1-12-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

1-12-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

Mom passed away years ago, but she left each of us a cookbook of family recipes. Over the Christmas break, I prepared to bake her blue ribbon-winning coconut pound cake for one night’s dessert.  I laid out all of the contents in front of me, followed the directions and eventually had the cake batter ready to put into the oven. That’s when I noticed that I had left out one ingredient – the flaked coconut!

I had used some coconut extract, which is a great invention if you otherwise would need to squeeze actual coconuts, so there was some flavor. And it was still a pound cake. If needed I could have explained that “generic pound cake” was the original intent, not the county fair recipe, but Mom might have struck me down with a spiritual rolling pin! Fortunately, there was still time to add in the flakes, re-stir, and pop it into the oven. Dessert and many calories ensued.

How often do we start on a project, have something change on us, and then we just “make do?” As Society members, we get a great idea, and lay out all of the plans and “ingredients.” Then real life happens, and we no longer have the time, talent or funds we originally envisioned. Or we get so excited about one of the specifics that it changes the nature of the original project. The result is still good, and maybe even very good. What it might not be, however, is Vincentian.

The omission or change of one detail may have had us drift from the parameters of our charism or our Rule. That event may still be an excellent service project, but it became one that any social service agency or nonprofit could have conducted. Sometimes we leave out, or forget, one of our Essential Elements of Spirituality, Friendship, and Service. Yes, it’s a committee meeting, for example, but if it doesn’t have all three Elements, it isn’t a Vincentian meeting.

Fortunately, we have a Society of St. Vincent de Paul recipe and all the basic ingredients right in front of us. It’s called our Mission Statement. Check off the ingredients with me: A network of friends. Gospel Values inspiration.  Growth in Holiness. Build a more just world. Personal relationships. Service to people in need. These are all just as vital as flour and eggs are to a cake batter.

Need some extra flavorings? Look no further than our Society’s seven Cultural Beliefs, and sprinkle as many of them as possible liberally throughout your recipe.

Maybe you are the Bobby Flay of Society activities and don’t need a written recipe. Most of us, however, aren’t master chefs as much as we are technicians who (usually) are good at following directions such as a recipe. We refer as needed to the wisdom and successes of our founders and others who have come before us to create, or re-create, what still works in today’s many local neighborhood “kitchens.” There is always room for new innovations, but we agree as members to stick to our Rule just as bakers rely on their basic formulas to make bread rise. We hope to rise, too!

Just as mom left us her family cookbook so that her descendants could enjoy the fruits – and meats and veggies and desserts – of her labors, trials, and errors over a lifetime, our Society founders and other leaders wrote down for all of us members today what they learned, experienced and envisioned. In my case I can’t remember mom’s recipes, nor can I recite our Rule. I can, however, tell you where it is all written down for me to review when I need it.

When I pulled mom’s cookbook off the kitchen shelf, I could not help but remember her and smile. When I quite regularly pull the Society’s Rule off my office shelf to look up a particular Statute, I smile in memory of Blessed Frederic and all the others who have left us such a rich and powerful legacy of good governance and Vincentian values. Neither are just books; they are blessings!

May your Conference cook up something wonderful, and wonderfully Vincentian, in 2023!

Yours in Christ,

SVdP Stores Corner

SVdP Stores Corner 1200 628 SVDP USA

The Stores Corner was added to the e-Gazette in 2022 to be a helpful resource on various topics for all SVdP Thrift Stores staff and volunteers.

This edition of the Stores Corner is to explain the purpose of the National Stores Committee and to list the volunteer committee members by region.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Thrift Store Committee is dedicated to helping our Thrift Store personnel (both paid and unpaid), to develop and maintain successful Thrift Stores to support the Society’s mission most effectively.

The Thrift Stores Committee members are a group of individuals who generously volunteer their time to be of service to other SVdP store personnel throughout the country.

Most of the Thrift Stores Committee members are women and men who work full-time in jobs helping to run successful stores in their own region.

Stores committee members represent single store locations and multi-store locations.

Committee members are here to serve you.

You might have questions about Point of Sale (POS) systems, how to increase donations, cash handling processes, volunteer/staff recruitment, on-line sales, social media, human resource topics, etc.

Please reach out to a committee member if you have questions. If they don’t have an answer for you, they will reach out to another resource to get the answer for you.

If you have a topic you’d like to see in a future Stores Corner article, please email your request to National Stores Director, Jeff Beamguard at jbeamguard@svdpusa.org.

Thank you!

Committee members are listed below by region:

West
Diocesan Council of Phoenix: Mike McClanahan
mmcclanahan@svdpaz.org

Contra Costa County of California: Dominick Scibilia
dscibilia04@gmail.com

North Central
District Council of Madison: Brooke Trick
btrick@svdpmadison.org

Cabrini Conference, Wausau, WI: Kim Kuske
Kkuske@svdpwausau.org

Midwest
Council of St. Louis: John Walters
waltjlbt@aol.com

South Central
Archdiocesan Council of Galveston-Houston: Marie Schwartz
Marie.schwartz@svdphouston.org

Stores Director Austin: Rick Bologna
Rick.bologna@ssvdp.org

Southeast
Diocese of Palm Beach: Don Schiffgens
DSchiffgen@aol.com

Mideast
Council of Lansing: John Thelen
JThelen@svdpmideastregion.org

East
Council of Greensburg: Ed Markiewicz
esmarkiewicz@gmail.com

Northeast
Council of Rockville Centre: Joe Lazarich
JLazarich@SvdpLi.org

Archdiocese of Boston: Lori Malcom
LMalcom@svdpboston.org

 

1-5-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

1-5-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

The holidays are always a mixed blessing for those of us who value our “alone time.” My wife has to drag me to parties, but then I usually have fun when I attend.  During the pandemic it was a small blessing for us introverts to see these parties go into hibernation. Alas, they have returned this year, often with a vengeance to catch up in their revelry, size, noise and meaningless chatter. It’s not really the parties I don’t enjoy, it’s only some of the people attending!

It appears that I am not, uh, alone. According to the Census Bureau American Time Use Study, which apparently is a real thing we pay the government to do, we have all been spending more time alone since way back in 2014! The pandemic just made it more socially acceptable. In 2019, Americans already spent only four hours a week with friends, a decline of 37 percent in just five years.

We should pause to note that cell phone market penetration crossed 50 percent in 2014. Add some polarization to make us fearful of political discourse, and is it any wonder that we spend less time with others?

This trend includes all age groups (though exacerbated in younger generations), racial, urban/rural, married/unmarried, and parent/non-parent groups.

The trend reversed but just slightly post-pandemic, but we are still behind the 2019 levels. We don’t know yet how much we have each changed permanently due to the pandemic, and a Pew Research Center study found that 35 percent of Americans say that large gatherings, going out and socializing have become less important since COVID. Every day we can see that more of us now have our meals and groceries delivered. We stream movies at home. And most distressing, we don’t go to church as often and maybe not at all. Even putting faith aside, this can’t be a healthy outcome.

Our Society’s Mission Statement, coincidentally revised before the pandemic, starts with the words “A network of friends…” Through attention to these words perhaps we can start to reverse this trend.

Friendship has always been one of our Society’s Essential Elements, along with Spirituality and Service. We know as well that the Society was created by a group of college friends and an adviser. At times, some Conferences gloss over the importance of friends meeting together in their rush to serve and seek holiness. In trying to satisfy our mission, we may be forgetting that making and maintaining friendships, as well as relationships with those we serve, is our mission!

As we come out of the holidays, we hopefully renewed some friendships at all those darn parties we were dragged to, I mean invited to attend. Let’s keep those relationships going and with some Vincentian zeal. Let’s also think of who we didn’t see at those holiday gatherings and seek them out. Maybe they aren’t well, or afraid to gather, or like me, they just may need an extra nudge to be sociable sometimes. You have my blessing, in fact my fervent wish, that you be that nudge!

Good friends are hard to find, so let’s not lose some due to carelessness and unintentional neglect. Just like with customers, it is easier to keep a current friend than to make a new one. We know too that many hands make light work, and that many minds create better solutions to serve people in need. We also recognize that we all benefit from praying and serving as friends more than coming together as acquaintances now and then for a service project. The continuity of friendships was modeled for us by Christ’s Apostles, and we continue this tradition of serving as a faith-based team of friends in deed and spirit.

We speak often about making new friends and inviting them into our beloved Society. Let’s take stock of our Vincentian relationships, and then start 2023 right by adding to our network of friends. You might even find an occasion to throw a party!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

12-22-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

12-22-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

As we prepare to celebrate the wonder of Christmas once again, we often are flooded with glowing memories of Christmases past. Impatiently waiting as a child for Santa to bring us toys. Sitting down with family and friends for a joyous meal. Going to Midnight Mass, smelling the incense and hearing the bells. Decorating the house and stringing up outside lights. Feeling the joy and beauty of the season. Realizing the nearness of God!

One of my earliest memories is waking up from a nap at the age of three, coming out into the living room and looking with absolute wonder and amazement at the Christmas tree, radiant with lights and ornaments. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my short life! Another Yule-tide memory was at my first priestly assignment, St. Anthony Parish in Menomonee Falls, a classic country church which had had a suburb grow up around it. My first Midnight Mass, both as a priest and at that parish, was packed with people standing up the side aisles. The choir offered a beautiful concert at 11:30, and then, with all the lights off, everyone held lit candles and sang “Silent Night.” We all have glowing Christmas memories that linger in our hearts as signs of God’s great love for us.

During this Advent season, I have meditated often on the power of hope. “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit … (Hope) keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1817-1818). Because of Christmas and all the spiritual gifts, which the Lord has entrusted to us in Christ, we dare to hope that we will live forever with God, know forgiveness and love, and rejoice even now in our identity as beloved children of the Father.

Hope is different from optimism. The latter is a vague, naïve expectation that things will somehow get better, we know not how. Tragedy, suffering and death crush optimism, making it seem foolish and false. Hope is made of sterner stuff. Hope can look the darkest nights of evil fully in the face and still rejoice, because it knows that God has already gained the victory, that Christ has entered the world as savior, that, if we are faithful to the Lord, we will overcome every obstacle and come into the kingdom of heaven forever, and that there is no sin or death which has the final word on us. Hope relies on the promises and power of Jesus Christ. As the saying goes, “I do not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”

These past years have been difficult ones. I do not need to recite the litany of woes which afflict us; we have all lived through them. In the midst of pain and challenge, we can all lose hope, focus, perspective and even faith. We can give in to sadness and despair, and even give up on the Lord, thinking that we are abandoned and alone. How important it is for us to retell the ancient story of Christmas in order to recharge our hope and faith. Mary giving birth to Jesus in a humble stable. Angels appearing to shepherds at night, bathed in heavenly radiance. The Christmas star guiding mysterious astrologers to the Child. The Son of God stepping into the pages of human history, born on the fringes of the Roman Empire, quietly and humbly coming into His own creation, unnoticed by the important personages of the world, yet ready to redeem and save this world forever.

The hope of Christmas rekindles our wonder and astonishment in a world grown old and jaded by broken promises, sinful failure and empty selfishness. Can we look at God, the Church, our families and friends, our work and responsibilities, our home and possessions, and even ourselves with new eyes and grateful hearts, renewed by the glory of God shining on the face of Christ? Hope enables us to do so!

My profound prayer for every member of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, is that this holy season of Christmas may renew us in faith, hope and love, filling our hearts with a deeper desire for God, and that the peace which flows from the Christ Child will give us strength in every difficulty and challenge. In Christ, God has promised to be with us until the end of time, and so we rejoice in hope!

“A God who became so small could only be mercy and love.” – St. Therese of Lisieux

Merry Christmas
Bishop Donald J. Hying
SVdP National Episcopal Advisor

12-8-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

12-8-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentians,

This time of the year, when we give thanks for all our blessings, I always reflect over my seventeen years in disaster relief work for the Society and recall so many Vincentian heroes. The work we do at Disaster Services is difficult as we witness so much destruction and heartache, but we also get to see lives healed and systemic change in action. I would like to share with you some of my very special memories of Vincentian Servant Leaders and their gifts.

I have worked or overseen relief efforts for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, Gustav, Alex, Mathew, Florence, Harvey, Irma, Maria, Michael, Ida, and now Ian, in addition to numerous tornados in IL, KY, MO, OK, TN, and TX, and floods in the Midwest, IL, KY, NE, and WV, Wildfires in the West, to include CA, NM, OR, and WA, and other disasters like the COVID-19 Pandemic and West Texas Fertilizer Explosion. No matter the disaster, we have always had Vincentian Servant Leaders that have come forward to deploy to help other Councils or were willing to go in and help a neighboring Catholic community where we had no Conference. From these experiences, we have also indirectly helped with the extension of the Society.

During Hurricane Katrina, Dick Reimbold and his wife Irene were two such leaders and they came to Dallas to help me run a 70,000 square foot warehouse for our Katrina House in a Box™ Program. The hours were long and there were so many stories of loss and death, but they stayed for weeks and through it all kept me going, as I was so stressed out from the thousands of families that needed assistance. To this day, Dick still volunteers and is now serving as our Mideast Disaster Chair. Then there is the amazing Vincentian, Jim Butler, who has deployed to numerous disasters over the years. During Hurricane Ike, Jim went with me and a local Catholic priest to visit an area called Oak Island, TX. Oak Island was a Vietnamese community, and the survivors were camped out on the ground near their destroyed properties. They were afraid to go to shelters as they thought people would loot the very little they had left on their land. Jim said, “well if we cannot get them to shelter, why don’t we take them shelter.” We worked with the Council of Beaumont to raise money for tents, and I called the Red Cross who donated blankets and bug spray. Jim and I, along with local Vincentians carried in all these items to the disaster zone on Oak Island, so that the immigrant families could stay on their land.

When West Virginia had a series of very heavy and fatal floods in 2016, Jim Butler, Diane Clark and Tom Link all deployed with me to help set up a SVDP Recovery Center in a former Kmart building. Many of our local Vincentians could not travel the distances between the flood impacted counties and this dynamic team of three came to assist. The state of WV and WV Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (WV VOAD) had very little supplies and Diane, Jim and Tom sat on old plastic paint containers and did intake and casework for hundreds of families. When I walked in the building and saw them sitting on those old plastic containers, it brought a tear to my eye, but they never complained.

One of our superstar Vincentians over the years was Gail Bertrand, who is now guiding us from above. Gail was always willing to go the extra mile to help disaster survivors. Gail had gone through many hurricanes and had her own property heavily damaged. She understood what it was like to come home to a mold invested dwelling with all your family pictures and family bible under water. Gail had a big heart and always found a way to help disaster survivors. One special memory of Gail , of which there are many, was when we deployed to help our Vincentians in the Carolinas, after Hurricane Florence. We had set up a Disaster Relief Center and an elderly woman came to the center. The woman had lost her documents in the Hurricane and was so embarrassed that she did not know how to retrieve any of her documents. She just cried and cried. Gail held her and told her not to worry. The woman was also very hungry, and Gail fixed a plate of food for her from the food we had bought for the volunteers. After Gail got her registered with FEMA, she worked to find her temporary housing in a nearby hotel and to find a local community agency that could provide eldercare. When the woman left, I told Gail how impressed I was with her empathy, and she said “Liz I get to see the face of Christ in what we do. It is not empathy or sympathy, but my faith that drives me.” Gail modeled Vincentian Charism. For her it was a way of life.

So, as I was driving into Dallas, to be with my family over the Thanksgiving Holidays, I realized that I have been so very blessed to be in a leadership role with Disaster Services Society of St Vincent de Paul USA.  The hours are long, and I am often gone from home for up to six months. However, it is has been so very spiritually fulfilling to watch the growth of our Parish Recovery Assistance Centers, where we provide one on one disaster relief services,  to our Disaster Case Management Programs, where we provide a road map to recovery for the most vulnerable survivors and create systemic change in their lives, to our nationally known House in a Box ™ Program where we have helped so many families in complex and life changing situations. I want to thank each of you for your support of our mission and we could not do what we do without our Vincentian family.

Gratefully,
Elizabeth Disco-Shearer
CEO, Disaster Services Corp SVDP-USA

12-1-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leader

12-1-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leader 900 900 SVDP USA

Many of us have tried out a store or restaurant because of great and appealing advertising, only to have an unsatisfactory user experience once we arrived. Maybe it’s a price we didn’t expect, unfriendly or even rude personnel, or simply a feeling that the reality just didn’t live up to the expectation. Perhaps it is even worse when we walk into a favorite establishment to find it isn’t what we remember, but now only some shadow of its former glory and our former fondness.

As we think about inviting a friend or fellow parishioner to join the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, are we unknowingly guilty of the same bait-and-switch between how we sell the Society to others and what they experience when they come to our meetings or otherwise encounter us? In marketing terms, we often think of promotion first to attract new members, when perhaps we need first to review and change the product. We may need to change who and what we are – not the Rule but our behaviors – before we can promote ourselves.

Do we only meet during the day, making it nearly impossible for working people to join our meetings and become an Active member? Could we meet once a month during the day, and another time at night or on the weekend to allow for more people to join based on their comfort and other commitments?

Likewise, do we conduct Home Visits only when convenient for us, but not for others who would like to help, or even for the friends in need who may not have our flexibility?

Are our meetings full of Conference business (Service), and don’t offer much if anything in the Society’s other Essential Elements of Friendship or Spirituality? Do we take the time to pray and reflect? Do we even take the time to enjoy each other’s company and make new or better friends among fellow members?

Is everyone invited to participate, or is it often the case that just 2-3 leaders or salty old vets dominate the conversations, planning and meetings? Do we follow term limits, and create leadership posts that don’t require experience, just interest and dedication?

When someone new attends, how do we treat them? Do we give them an opportunity to serve? Do we give them a Member Handbook and then review it with them? Or do we shunt them to the sidelines, don’t let them speak, and don’t follow up after the meeting to gauge their interests or ideas?

Do we quickly train and engage prospective members in our Home Visits, food pantry, or other works? Do they learn how these works are Vincentian faith in action, or are they just another service project?

How quickly do we begin Formation activities from introductions to Ozanam Orientations to Conference use of Vincentian Reflections? Is this a coordinated Conference priority, or is it left to individuals to figure out on their own?

Are young adults and people of color invited, and made to feel welcome? Or do we focus our recruiting and our meetings only on those who look like those already in our ranks? Does our membership reflect the parish demographics? The community’s?

All considered, are we who we say we are? Are we even who we think we are ourselves?

Between fall recruiting season for parish ministries and the added activities many Conferences take on during the holidays, it’s a good time to step back and assess the “product” of our local Society’s offering to prospective members. There may also be good value in asking someone from the outside to attend and tell us what they think of the Society from that experience. We might be surprised to learn how we have drifted toward certain behaviors and habits that make our Society less attractive, even less accurate, than who we say we are. Before we spend resources of time and money to advertise our product, let’s be sure it’s the product that we want to be and indeed, God calls us to be!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

11-23-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

11-23-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Almost 40 years ago, I was part of a group that started a free community meal program. In the beginning, many of our guests were homeless and living on the streets. On one occasion, one of my fellow organizers pulled a man aside to address some behavior issues and concluded by telling the guest, “You only have one job here and that is to be grateful, and you are not doing that very well.”

As the years passed, this friend and I realized that the pithy comment we once thought was on-target no longer matched our hoped-for relationships with meal program guests. How different that comment is from what our Rule tells us in the section titled “Gratitude to those we visit.” This is where we read, “Vincentians never forget the many blessings they receive from those they visit. They recognize that the fruit of their labors springs, not from themselves, but especially from God and from the poor they serve.”

Often, we think of being grateful for material things – the stuff we have. That’s maybe why we often expect those we serve to be grateful; we are providing “stuff” for free. We eventually learn, however, that what we are most grateful for are the relationships we have with family, friends, and those we serve, and – most importantly – with our God. I am grateful for my daily bread, for a warm place to live, for meaningful work and for beautiful sunsets. I think all of these blessings are more meaningful, however, when I have someone with whom I can share them.

Giving thanks is not just for a once-a-year holiday. It is something we should do always and everywhere. Those are words we hear at Mass to begin the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayers. “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right and just. It is truly right and just, our duty and salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks.” What are we thanking God for? Is it for food, clothing, or the beauty of the earth? No, the Eucharistic text goes on to tell us that we give thanks for Jesus, who was sent to us to restore our relationship with God, and that we should be grateful for this always and everywhere.

This Thanksgiving week I hope you give thanks not only for the material blessings we enjoy but also for the relationships that enrich our lives. I appreciate the gifts I have received from everyone I have met this year, and I am grateful for you and the relationship we have in the network of charity that we have inherited from our founders.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

 

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