Leadership

05-13-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-13-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 275 287 SVDP USA

Why should I care?

We all ask this at some point when we learn something new, and especially when it challenges our assumptions and what we think we believe. We want to stay in our comfort zone. We believe that we act as we always have, and may not realize that our views and knowledge change even when we don’t think about it. Little by little, it all then changes how we behave.

It feels that recently, we have all been asked to think more, and differently, about matters such as identity and race, health and safety, politics and citizenship, and rights and responsibilities. Even though we have been more isolated during a pandemic, media and new voices have brought us, or even forced us, together to see and perhaps to understand.

Why as Vincentians should we care about all this?

I suggest two reasons, both rooted in our mission. First, the way we accomplish our mission is through our relationships with, and service to people in need. Every time we hear of a new call for action, or a voice longing even simply to be heard, we should ask how this may be a part of our work with our neighbors. They don’t look the same, or come from the same cultural or personal backgrounds, even if they now live in the same neighborhood. What may be the impacts of personal identity, incarceration, citizenship, mental health, and so many other factors we hear in the news? If we learn more, won’t we be better able to communicate, have more empathy, and ultimately better serve others? We deepen our Vincentian relationships, and thus our ability to make real contributions to the lives of our neighbors, if we take the opportunities before us to understand.

Second, our Vincentian charism and mission call us to increase our own holiness. Sainthood is our goal. (To be clear, though, it isn’t a campaign!) In order to improve the lives of others, we need to better ourselves — in our knowledge, education, and then ultimately attitudes and personal actions. This set of improvements is not a one-time activity; it is lifelong learning. It leads to personal, spiritual evolution in our service to God and to others.

Today we often see any subject through one of two polarized lenses, especially in media and social media. I suggest we not choose just one, but try to absorb the topical points from multiple sources. As a college Journalism major, I was trained to read 6 – 7 newspapers (remember them?) daily, and was constantly surprised how the same story appeared so differently according to which paper reported on it. The media have changed today but the lenses remain the same. Yes, we could choose one that fits our current beliefs and remain comfortable. Or, we can seek out multiple, often contrasting views, and likely find the truth somewhere in the middle.

All those views out there may clash with each other, and with our existing view of the world in which we live. However, there is something stimulating about our ability to keep growing in our mindfulness and spirituality at any age. We can choose to hunker down in our mental caves, avoiding new discomforts. As Vincentians, however, we choose to listen and then discern, because we do indeed care.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

Contemplation – Together Towards Holiness

Contemplation – Together Towards Holiness 940 788 SVDP USA

New friends are silver, they say, and old friends are gold. Maintaining our friendships during this long year of absence and isolation has been challenging.

As Blessed Frédéric Ozanam once explained, friendships, when we are separated, can be nourished via letters, which are a “truly an epistolary meeting where one always gains and never loses.” [Letter 142. 1837]

Surely our modern conference calls and videoconferences have served us as ably as the letters of another era, yet even in these modern days, “friendship being a harmony between souls…cannot subsist in a prolonged absence.” [Ibid]

As challenging as it is to maintain our friendships without meeting in person, it is nearly impossible to form new ones, as we are called to do with the neighbors we serve. On Home Visits, we learn not only from words and facial expressions, but from the full circumstances and surroundings; body language; interaction with others in the home; things we can only experience in person.

All friendships are strengthened by spending time together, whether sharing a meal, a conversation, a movie, or other recreation. But our Vincentian friendship is a special bond, whose “strongest tie… is charity… It is a fire that dies without being fed, and good works are the food of charity.” [Letter 82 1834]

This friendship is more than recreational, more than mere “silver or gold.” It is one of the Essential Elements of our vocation, formed, nourished, and strengthened at every Conference meeting and home visit.

Indeed, the first edition of the Rule in 1835 declared that “the unity of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul will be cited as a model of Christian friendship… which …will make of all our hearts one heart, of all our souls one soul…

It is through our friendship that we answer our calling to “journey together towards holiness.” [Rule, Part I, 2.2] In our Conference meetings, where we gather together in His name; in prayer, where our voices joined; on our Home Visits, where we serve as He asked us to serve; there, as He promised, Christ will be in our midst.

As grateful as we are for technologies that have kept us connected during this time, one of the blessings we look forward to as we return to normalcy in coming weeks and months is the renewal of our living friendship. Vincentian friendship, like our relationship with God, is ultimately not intended to be a long-distance relationship.

Contemplate

When gathered with my Vincentian friends, do I look for Christ in our midst? Do I find Him?

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love

05-06-2021 News Roundup

05-06-2021 News Roundup 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Vincentians across the United States and around the world are finding spiritual growth by providing person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering. Read some of their stories here:

NATIONAL

Help us share the good news of the good work being done in your local Conference or Council! Email us at info@svdpusa.org with the subject line Good News.

05-06-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-06-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 410 382 SVDP USA

This week I visited a Council with a small film crew to record what Vincentians have been doing during the pandemic, and how it differs from pre-COVID practices to serve neighbors in need. Much more on this at a future date, but we look forward to sharing the Society’s year of  innovative love and caring with the country soon!

At the end of my time there, I met for a nice dinner with a few of the Council and Conference officers who were gracious in hosting us for the filming. Some of the leaders had not met in person for over a year. One president had not left her home since last March! I was happy to be their excuse to get together — safely — in Vincentian friendship.

Such Society of St. Vincent de Paul family reunions are taking place as they are able, all over the world. It is both a reunion and a reawakening!

What I see is a bunch of isolated test kitchens for innovative practices in Home Visits, food pantries, and other services that until last year were usually conducted in person. Often a Conference developed their own practices without a lot of coordination, best practice sharing, or outside resources other than prohibitions to stay safe. Now we are better able to come together and share how it all worked (or not).

Sure, we all learned Zoom and other technologies to meet virtually, and even to take Ozanam Orientations and other formation and training. Something, though, was lacking when we couldn’t actually see what was happening. Following a laptop view through the food pantry isn’t the same as being there.

Most of all, as I continue to see in visits, is that we missed each other. Our Essential Element of Friendship, at least among each other as Vincentians, has been sorely missed once it was removed from us. Perhaps we took this for granted? Absence truly does make the Vincentian heart grow fonder!

While we celebrate being together again, let’s be sure to record what we have been doing. We pray for no more serious and long-term disruptions in our work, but let’s remember what worked in case we need it, or those who come after us need to put it all again into practice.

Better yet, what did we change that should now be considered as more permanent evolution we wish to keep? No, in case one is tempted, we aren’t keeping virtual Home Visits unless safety demands it. But what have we done differently to stay safe that we want to keep doing? What efficiencies did the pandemic demand of us that now, when conditions have improved, we want to maintain? What partnerships and collaborations did we learn of and grow during this crazy time that have introduced us to more permanent relationships to help those in need?

None of us want a return to the conditions this past year that forced us to change. Now, though, we can look at this change and determine if it was a necessary short-term adjustment to keep our works alive. Did those conditions force us out of our comfort zones instead to think and serve differently, resulting in lasting improvements or at least new options?

St. Vincent himself said, “Love is inventive to infinity.” He didn’t say what might cause this creativity to happen! Let’s view each day, and each wrinkle in our lives, good or bad, as an opportunity to do better as we do good.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

04-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

04-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 600 685 SVDP USA

We are in the liturgical season of Easter.  We have come through 40 days of Lent, ending in Holy Week with the observance of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.

During this past month, I have been pondering the intersection of our liturgical celebrations with what is going on in the world and what is going on in my life personally. The Easter season is one of being open to the unexpected ways in which Christ appears in our lives. Like Mary and the apostles, we consider what do we do now and what do we do next.

My vocation was not always one of service to the poor. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, I took a job as the Liturgy Coordinator at the campus Newman Center. It was on Good Friday in 1975 when I witnessed an unexpected intersection of liturgy with life outside the church walls and even with my personal vocation.

The environment was carefully planned, the music was moving and, of course, the Good Friday liturgy itself was profound. The church was packed, with many people standing or sitting in the aisles. After the first reading, we sat for a minute or two in silence before singing the responsorial psalm. That’s when down the aisle came a man who was about 35 years old, not well dressed, but not dirty or unkempt. He walked to the sanctuary center in front of the altar and began to talk to the congregation.

He said that Christians did good things and that religion was probably very important to us, but he thought we ought to consider how difficult life was out on the streets of Madison. The war in Vietnam was just ending. Returning soldiers were often on the streets and homeless; students were disillusioned, and it was hard to find work. The man said he was dealing with addiction issues and had been occasionally homeless.

The man spoke well. He engaged the crowd, but I wanted him out of there. He was wrecking the whole thing. What should I do? What I did was nothing, and I relied on our pastor to make the call. He sat there and patiently listened for almost 10 minutes, as did more than 700 others.

The uninvited speaker started to talk about how his life had fallen apart and how alienated he was from his family. Then he described how his brother had invited him to come share Easter with his family. He was hopeful that this was the beginning of a reconciliation and maybe an opportunity to start a new chapter of his life. He said he needed about $40 for a bus ticket, however, and was thinking that among all these fine Christians, there must be someone who would be willing to help him.

At that point the pastor slowly walked up behind him, put a hand on his shoulder and invited him to take a chair and worship with us. Father promised to work with him after the service. To this day there are people who are certain we planned the whole thing. They are sure that it was one of those creative things we were known for doing, and many insist it was the most meaningful Good Friday service they have ever attended.

After it was over, I was still upset that a carefully rehearsed and important liturgy was screwed up by a street person. Little did I realize that several years later working with the homeless and addicted would become part of my faith journey. The events of that day were a real-life parable of the world intersecting with the practice of our faith and a carefully planned liturgical celebration.

I remembered this story during Holy Week, while I was considering what the Society of St. Vincent de Paul plans to do as we emerge, I hope, from the COVID-19 pandemic. We are in the process of developing our next strategic plan, which will be rooted in living out our Rule and Mission Statement. We need to make those plans, but my Good Friday experience also cautions me to be open to the unexpected. Our neatly organized plans will never match the reality of what will walk into our lives. But we should look for grace in those moments and never doubt Divine Providence.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

04-15-2021 News Roundup

04-15-2021 News Roundup 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Vincentians across the United States and around the world are finding spiritual growth by providing person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering. Read some of their stories here:

INTERNATIONAL

 NATIONAL

Help us share the good news of the good work being done in your local Conference or Council! Email us at info@svdpusa.org with the subject line Good News.

04-15-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

04-15-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 410 382 SVDP USA

The motivation not to speak up may be because one has nothing to say. It may, however, be because there is so much to say, but one represents so many different opinions.

An emerging and dangerous trend in America is for corporate CEOs to write opinion pieces and jump on television to comment on political and social issues. In apparent attempts at standing for social justice, advancing a cause, or simply to prove oneself relevant and engaged, mostly these executives are only proving the old adage that you can’t please everyone.

Every corporate position seems to bring a boycott, social media furor, and unequal and opposite reactions. Board members, stakeholders, and consumers all ask how the CEO could possibly speak for everyone when it seems that as a country we are divided on, well, everything. I’m not sure that even sliced bread, Mom, or apple pie could bring unanimous consent right now!

In the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, only the National President of a country can “speak for the Society”, and this can be prudently delegated for local issues, during crisis situations, or when the CEO (in countries that have them) is so allowed, usually on administrative issues. This is a precious, protected, and potentially dangerous responsibility. We have all seen instances when a reputation was harmed more by the response than by the originating action.

Our National President Ralph Middlecamp and I routinely get asked to speak up about an issue of great importance to the one making the request. Many such requests are in regard to valid concerns either to Americans, Catholics or Vincentians, and perhaps to all three. Ralph and I could distribute a scathing press release, get on Twitter, or hold a news conference almost daily. Here is why we don’t.

First, we try to “stay in our lane” as the Society. While there are many issues and causes that fall under Catholic Social Teaching, for example, the Society’s sweet spot is in matters that concern our friends in need. While a dotted line could be drawn from almost anything to how it more adversely affects people in poverty, we choose to focus on the more direct issues and impacts. Admittedly this can be a fuzzy line to draw.

Second, we recognize that while all of our members are united in their Vincentian spirituality, they are not so aligned in their politics, social causes, or even their views on the Church. We feel it is disingenuous to speak on matters without hearing from you, and we can for the most part be assured that there is no unified Vincentian opinion. You can speak for yourself without a Vincentian “tag” that inadvertently ties us together against your will.

Third, and just as importantly, when you stand for everything you stand for nothing. Not everything warrants a response. Responsible leaders, and usually the most effective ones, speak more rarely and thus are heard when they do speak. Think about the celebrities and political opinion givers: Are their comments sometimes above, or below, their jobs or relevance in our lives? Haven’t we all at one time asked why we should care about that actor’s opinion, or why the elected representative is commenting on an issue s/he clearly knows so little about? While it is our American birthright to be free to give an opinion, it doesn’t mean we should use it so darn often.

When you see that President Ralph (or me, or our national Voice of the Poor group) has commented publicly on an issue, know that it has been carefully considered in light of the above. Likely there was a discussion first about our specific Vincentian/SVdP stake in the game, our objectives in speaking, and how we think our members will respond. That’s what servant leaders do. Together we don’t want to be just another voice; we want to be your voice.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

Contemplation – May I Have A Word With You?

Contemplation – May I Have A Word With You? 940 788 SVDP USA

Blessed Frédéric, layman and primary founder of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, is considered the primary role model for members of the Society. In his words and in his deeds Frédéric leaves us with an example of charity and virtue. At the same time, his words can remind us of our own frailty and of the needs of the neighbors that we serve.

Writing from Lyon, where he was at the time starting out in the practice of law and living with his elderly mother, Frédéric shared with his friend Francois Lallier his experience of what has been called “one of the deepest forms of poverty”:

At the moment,” he wrote, “I am suffering a malady which will appear strange in a town where I have so many relatives and friends; I mean isolation.” [Letter 173, 1838]

As a lawyer, he argued before the court, and spoke with colleagues and clients daily, but never shared personal conversations. He tended to his mother, who was ill, but could not unburden himself without upsetting her in her frail state.

And so, in the midst of a bustling city, the city in which he’d grown up, in a profession that required interaction and conversation, he nevertheless felt alone.

Don’t the poor whom we serve often live and work in some of the most crowded areas of our cities? Don’t they walk down streets filled with people? They walk right past us, in our coffee shops and restaurants, or we breeze past them, phones pressed to our ears, without so much as a glance, or a smile.

To whom can they speak? With whom can they share their thoughts, their needs, their hopes, their discouragements? Who will hear them? Who will listen?

Perhaps the increased isolation we all have experienced this past year will help us to better appreciate our Essential Element of friendship, meant to be shared not only with each other, but with our neighbors in need.

Perhaps, like Frédéric, we will “appreciate now by its privation the whole value of the spoken word, how much more it cultivates thought than the dead letter of the greatest writers.” [Letter 173, 1838]

In the poor we are called to see Christ, the Incarnate Word. With our words we share not just information, but what our Rule [2.5.1] calls us to share: ourselves.

Contemplate

How can I better offer words of comfort, healing, and friendship?

Recommended Reading

Spirituality of the Home Visit

04-09-2021 News Roundup

04-09-2021 News Roundup 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Vincentians across the United States and around the world are finding spiritual growth by providing person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering. Read some of their stories here:

INTERNATIONAL

NATIONAL

Help us share the good news of the good work being done in your local Conference or Council! Email us at info@svdpusa.org with the subject line Good News.

SVdP National Council Welcomes Associate Director of Poverty Programs / Director of Immersion Program

SVdP National Council Welcomes Associate Director of Poverty Programs / Director of Immersion Program 300 307 SVDP USA

The National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul is excited to welcome Heather Fullerton as the new Associate Director of Poverty Programs / Director of Immersion Program.

Heather will work collaboratively with Councils and Conferences to enhance and expand the Society’s Systemic Change programming, with a particular focus on Immersion, the Society’s national reentry program, and Back2Work, the national workforce development program.

Heather earned her bachelor’s degree in Science Education from the University of Missouri – Columbia and her master’s degree in School Administration from Lindenwood University.

For the past 15 years, Heather has used her skills as an educator and nonprofit manager to create equitable systems in which all people flourish by training and coaching others to build capacity.

As a teacher, Heather earned National Board Certification for excellence in innovative teaching.

Heather lives in St. Louis with her husband Joshua and their children Camille and Christian. They have a Dalmatian mix named Uno. In her free time, Heather enjoys sewing, gardening, and playing video games with her family.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to serve alongside the National Council Staff,” said Heather. “I can’t wait to collaborate with this family of passionate, talented, and faithful individuals. Thank you for welcoming me with such open arms!”

Welcome Heather!

If you’d like to contact Heather, she can be reached at (314) 576-3993 ext. 217 or by email at hfullerton@svdpusa.org.

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