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07-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

Many Vincentians are downright tenacious in their desire to serve both God and our friends in need. While this is usually a virtue, we must be careful, too. I am asked daily about how we can keep our members safe. Two otherwise incongruous subjects are at the forefront of member conversations; I share them with you.

First, we hear daily – if not more often – about changing requirements, requests and threats regarding COVID re-emergence and new variants. This leads Vincentians to ask how and when they can serve and “what is National requiring” in regard to staying safe. This question is usually about Home Visits, but more recently relates as well to our upcoming National Assembly.

As Vincentians per our Rule, we follow the law. If local authorities require you to stay home, wear a mask, or swing a chicken over your head to ward off a virus, do so. If your Bishop asks his local Catholics to take specific precautions, we strongly recommend that the Society follow this direction, too. National Council will not have guidance that overrules local Church or government decisions. While we all want to get back to normal Home Visits that are conducted where our neighbors live, we need to do so safely even if – for now in some places – this means still conducting visits temporarily by phone.

As for National Assembly, we stay in touch with the Marriott where the meeting will be held next month, and they stay in compliance with local government and industry standards. The Society will comply with the resulting hotel requirements. This has the potential to change every day, so we can’t give you direction today. Anyone registered for the meeting will be sent email information before we travel to Houston.  I can tell you that the Society on its own will not require that everyone be vaccinated, nor will we (unless required by law) ask for proof of vaccination. We trust our members to do the right things. If anyone wants to wear a mask even if not required, you are certainly welcome to do so.

The National Assembly for the most part will not be conducted virtually online because of the large expense. The National Business Meeting on Saturday is the exception, and our National Council Members can either send a live-person proxy for voting or vote electronically during the meeting. Many other general sessions and workshops will be recorded for your viewing and sharing in days or weeks later on our website.

We are not taking these actions to ask you to be afraid to come! In fact, we really want you to join us after our meeting last year needed to go virtual, and we look forward to a grand reunion! We will, though, do everything we can to help you be safe at our meeting. I am writing this column while on an airplane, and it seems reasonable to expect we will be wearing masks on planes and in airports for at least another month. With changing rules everywhere, I always keep a mask in my pocket!

The other questions about member safety are in relation to our pending Safeguarding policy. This will be considered by the National Council at the aforementioned National Assembly Business Meeting. While the safeguarding focus is primarily and deservedly on the people we serve, we should consider as well the potential for safeguarding among and for our members. Vincentians, and anyone, can be victims. Further, we have learned from schools, volunteer organizations, and the Church that an organization’s members can be wrongfully, and even intentionally, accused of sexual abuse and other safeguarding violations. As our leaders discussed briefly in a national call this week, the Society is not immune. Yes, we have learned of accused abuse situations in our Society’s past. These remain possible today. The proposed Safeguarding policy recommends that every Council develop a local policy in accord with local laws and Church requirements of its parishioners. The focus is on those we will serve, but in doing the right things for those in need whom we love, we also protect our own members. The Rule’s requirement for Home Visits to be conducted in pairs, for example, wasn’t perhaps created with safeguarding in mind but this alone largely prevents both abuse situations and the accusation of abuse.

In our fervent desire to serve, let’s please not forget to take care of ourselves and our fellow Vincentians. Sometimes it feels like we have yet another requirement forced upon us every day, whether it be another report to complete, training, fingerprinting or some other action that delays our service and seems to accuse us of doing or even thinking of something unsafe or unsavory. Good people must take unnecessary precautions because bad people, and bad viruses, do exist. Let’s think of all this in the context of keeping those around us safe, and as part of our sacrificial service to God. Considering the alternatives, they are small sacrifices in order to do His work.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

Contemplation: Our Call to Servant Leadership

Contemplation: Our Call to Servant Leadership 940 788 SVDP USA

When we think of leaders, we are acculturated to envision military commanders, heads of state, celebrity CEOs, and the like; dynamic, charismatic, larger than life. Leaders, we are taught, are “large and in charge.” It is difficult, then, for most of us to believe that we can be that person; that we are called to leadership. But if you are a Vincentian, you are called.

Rather than the province of kings and generals, ours is a special type of leadership, modeled for us by Christ Himself. Most memorably, in the Gospel of John, Christ washed the feet of the disciples, afterwards explaining: “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

In a passage that was a favorite of St. Vincent’s, Christ further explained the role of a leader, saying, “let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.”

A Vincentian servant leader, such as a Conference President, is not called to be the boss or the commander. Rather than making all the decisions, Presidents fulfill the decisions of the Conference members.

In 1651, one of Vincent’s confrere superiors wrote to him, complaining of the men in his care, even going so far as to complain that he “preferred to direct animals rather than men.” In reply, Vincent explained that this approach “is true of those who want everything to give way to them, nothing to oppose them, everything to go their way, people to obey them without comment or delay, and, in a manner of speaking, to be adored.”

But that, Vincent explained, is not our way. He reminded the missioner that leaders should “consider themselves the servants of others, who govern in the light of how Our Lord governed.” [CCDIV:181-182]

Christ could have come to us as a king, a warrior, or a man of wealth. Instead, as Frédéric pointed out, he “was hidden for thirty years in the workshop of a carpenter.” [Complete Works, Lecture 24, quoted by Gregory] He “did not come to be served but to serve…” [Matthew 20:28]

In the Society, the person does not seek the office, the office seeks the person. [Manual, 35] Servant leaders are called less to be something, than to do something; we are called not to be “large and in charge,” but instead, to be small, and for all.

Contemplate

Am I called right now to servant leadership? To be an officer, committee chair, or something else?

Recommended Reading

Characteristics of a Vincentian Servant Leader

07-15-2021 News Roundup

07-15-2021 News Roundup 1200 1200 SVDP USA

With 100,000 Vincentians across the United States and nearly 800,000 around the world, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides 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.

07-15-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-15-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

There are some subjects that affect us all, even as Vincentians, and I wish we didn’t need to talk about them. This is one of them.

Sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults is very real. We have read about it in relation to some of our most respected institutions; in fact, the greater the organization, the more news it makes. But even though there is no such current news of abuse within the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, we must not assume that it couldn’t happen. Or even that it hasn’t. We know that many cases of abuse, wherever and whenever it happened, are not reported.

Our National Council will consider a national Safeguarding policy next month at National Assembly. This policy will ultimately affect every Vincentian, as well as many others with whom we serve.

Our international leadership recognized the potential for sexual abuse in the work and relationships of the Society because we serve in a multitude of cultures and legal environments. Our work puts us in daily contact with people who are vulnerable because of their financial, housing, family, or other situations which at times become quite desperate. This desperation can lead to others taking advantage of these neighbors in need. The International Council provided a framework from which every National Council, and then local Councils, can create policies and procedures under what globally is called Safeguarding.

Our national group of Executive Directors were already exploring safeguarding practices after seeing how other groups have suffered from the lack of precautions, leading to instances of abuse followed by news reports and lawsuits. Our nation’s Bishops were already requiring Diocesan and Parish safeguarding practices for clergy and parishioners, and even for others using Church properties for their activities. While all of the requirements were directed at the same problem, they often differ from one Diocese to another.

A National Safeguarding Task Force was organized by President Ralph Middlecamp under the leadership of Guadalupe Sosa. This group took the international policy as a framework for its work, and used lessons learned from the Executive Director research, to create a proposed national Safeguarding Policy.

I won’t try to go through all of the policy’s details here, but there are a few overarching points that all Vincentians should consider. First, the national policy is best considered as a set of recommended policies and practices to be included in your local policies. Your local Council policy should be in concert with your Diocesan and state/local law requirements. Any truly “national” policy would have unfairly created conflicts and/or added duplicated requirements for some Councils.

Second, the task force looked first at our Rule. The “two-person” requirement for Vincentian services has many benefits; one is that having two people present with those we serve by itself prevents all types of abusive situations and accusations.

Third, our national policy recognizes the need for protection not only for youth, but also for vulnerable adults however they be defined. In one sense, as noted above, anyone we serve may be considered socioeconomically vulnerable. The policy also seeks to protect our services providers. We want to maintain every Vincentian’s safety in our service environments, and to prevent unwarranted, false abuse accusations that we have seen damage other organizations.

In addition to all of the Vincentian resources and services we provide, first and foremost our friends in need deserve to feel safe and be safe with us. Many of us assume this because we are good people. The news around us, however, reminds us that we can’t take such safety for granted, and we need to spend special attention to keep everyone safe in all the different works and places where we operate.

With the national policy’s adoption, we will focus on providing you with sample local safeguarding policies and best practices. We are already gathering these resources from Vincentian and outside organizations to help you. First though, we need your support. A special webinar will be held next week just for our National Council Members and Executive Directors where we will review the proposed national Resolution and policy and answer questions.

In our recent strategic planning membership survey, Vincentians told us that they are currently required to comply with background checks and fingerprinting among other safeguarding practices instituted for Church volunteers. Expect a similar set of practices for your Vincentian activities now or in the near future. This may appear both inconvenient and perhaps even offensive to you because, again, you are a good person. As good people under God, I pray that all of us will take these steps as part of our deeper relationship with those we serve.  Their safety is a critical first step in our deeper love and support of all their needs.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

Contemplation: More Ancient and Therefore More Sacred

Contemplation: More Ancient and Therefore More Sacred 940 788 SVDP USA

Our Rule calls us to be a “voice for the voiceless,” helping the poor and disadvantaged to speak for themselves, but also, when necessary, speaking on their behalf. [Rule, Part I, 7.5] But where do we begin? To whom do we speak? And who are we to presume to speak for anybody?

Blessed Frédéric once pointed out that “the knowledge of social well-being and of reform is to be learned, not from books, nor from the public platform, but in climbing the stairs to the poor man’s garret…” [Baunard, 279] It is through the relationships we form on our Home Visits that we gain an understanding of poverty that cannot be learned by all the academic study in the world. It is this knowledge, and this spirit of friendship with our neighbors in need that gives us our voice.

Like many Vincentians, I think, one of the most eye-opening things I learned when I first began doing Home Visits was how much poverty there was right in my own neighborhood. In most communities, there is no shortage of people willing to help, but there are many people who are quite convinced that poverty is a problem that exists primarily in far-off places; not in their own city, town, or suburb.

What a service we can do simply to let our own communities know that their neighbors are in need. Imagine the outpouring that might happen if people only knew how many were hungry, how many were being evicted, or how many were sitting in the dark after the power had been shut off.

This knowledge we have gained is not our secret to keep, but our sacred trust to fulfill.

Advocacy by Vincentians is not partisan in any sense. Indeed, Frédéric once described the Society as “a community of faith and works erasing little by little the old divisions of political parties…” [Letter 290, to Amelie, 1841] As members, the Rule stated in 1835, we should “abstain from being inflamed by political leanings which array parties in opposition, and from starting among themselves those irritating questions which divide mankind. Our Society is all charity: politics are wholly foreign to it.”

No community, no government, no political party can even begin to solve problems that they do not understand. Among other groups, dedication to the poor may be fleeting, and may change with times or fashions.

We will always remain dedicated, and we will always be a voice for the voiceless, because we believe, with Blessed Frédéric, that this cause is “more ancient and, therefore, more sacred.” [Baunard, 301]

Contemplate

What do my friends and neighbors know about the needs in their communities?

Recommended Reading

Voice of the Poor Guide

07-08-2021 News Roundup

07-08-2021 News Roundup 1200 1200 SVDP USA

With 100,000 Vincentians across the United States and nearly 800,000 around the world, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides 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.

 

Contemplation: To Have A Friend

Contemplation: To Have A Friend 940 788 SVDP USA

Sometimes, caught up in the bustle of our lives, we allow our Home Visits to become transactional: pay the bill, say a prayer, and move on. We love our neighbors no less for this habit! Indeed, it’s important to keep the lights on, to avoid the eviction, and to provide food! The situations are often dire, and the assistance we offer can seem like first aid. But is this enough if our Home Visits are “the means, not the end of our association?” [Letter 182, to Lallier, 1838] Can our growth in holiness be transactional?

Father Dennis Holtschneider once offered this useful exercise for measuring how well we are living our Rule: would an outside observer write these words to describe how we behave? Watching me paying a bill and move on, would that observer say, “wow, he really establishes relationships based on trust and friendship!” [Rule, Part I, 1.9]

For the past ten years (or so) the Society has promoted a concept called “Systemic Change,” which is often misapprehended as if it were something new. It isn’t! Its roots run as deep as the Society itself, in which the very first Conference in 1833 did not merely drop off food or firewood, but adopted families in need, visiting them regularly, seeking to truly walk with them, and change their lives.

It isn’t easy. Bl. Frédéric said so himself. He once recounted that on his earliest visits, he would drop the firewood and exit as quickly as possible. As time went on, he grew in his understanding of what Christ had modeled, and what was asked of us who seek to follow Him; he saw that firewood alone is not “help which honours.” [O’Meara, 229]

Trust and friendship are built over time, not all at once or instantly. Sometimes our one bag of groceries is truly all that is needed, but how would it be if we took the time to call and check in a few weeks or months later? We will not only see how they are, we will show who we are: friends.

In 1841, Frédéric wrote about the hundreds of families who had received food from the Society, but also about the boys who received schooling, young men placed in apprenticeships, and “future tears” dried because of the loving friendship of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. [Letter 290, to Amelie, 1841]

The letter of James, a favorite of Bl. Frédéric’s, reminds us of the importance of caring for “the necessities of the body.” These needs are the primary reason our neighbors come to us, but they are not the primary reason we go to them. We are called to see and to serve Christ in the person of the poor; to put our “hand in their wounds,” as Frédéric said. [Letter 137, to Janmot, 1836]

But Christ asks more of us than merely to recognize Him, he calls us to follow Him and to walk with Him, not only for one day. To have a friend, you have to be a friend. We serve in the hope that both the poor and Christ will say to us: “I no longer call you servants. I call you friends.” [John 15:15]

Contemplate:

How can I be a better friend to those in need?

Recommended Reading:

Serving in Hope Module VII, Our Vincentian Home Visit

07-01-2021 News Roundup

07-01-2021 News Roundup 1200 1200 SVDP USA

With 100,000 Vincentians across the United States and nearly 800,000 around the world, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides 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.

New National Council Headquarters Centered on Faith, Impact

New National Council Headquarters Centered on Faith, Impact 2560 2058 SVDP USA

Two weeks ago, Society of St. Vincent de Paul leadership from across the country gathered again for the first time in more than a year. Their primary purpose was Board and Strategic Planning meetings, though they had another reason to gather as well: to witness the dedication of the National Council’s new headquarters at 66 Progress Parkway in Maryland Heights, Missouri.

While the building serves as day-to-day office space for the National Council staff, it also houses some special spaces for Vincentians who may visit the headquarters.

History Wall

Created in conjunction with Toucan Design and Engraphix Architectural Signage, the National Council’s History Wall is a focal point of the building’s lobby. Sheri Brimer and Melinda Borman of Toucan Design noted their collaboration with a group of National Council staff, headed by Chief Operations Officer Nancy Pino.

Said Brimer, “As you can see by the many photos of [neighbors in need], staff, and volunteers, there is a unified mission that revolves around the five main founding tenets: Humility, Zeal, Selflessness, Gentleness, and Simplicity. And we hope that each visitor comes away with a better visual understanding of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and all that it encompasses.”

Pino notes that the installation is more than just a History Wall depicting the Society’s past. Featuring images of not just our founders, but of Vincentians from across the United States serving their neighbors in need, it helps “express the story of our beginnings, who we are — and who we aspire to become.”

The team from Toucan was able to weave together the Society’s past and present, as well as our Essential Elements of spirituality, friendship, and service into one cohesive design.

“The large gold medallion that sits near its center becomes a sort of heart for the piece with light emanating on four sides, which in turn, illuminates the subtle cross shape created by the background spaces. There is a specific flow of St. Vincent’s story from the bottom left quadrant upward and outward to the top right section. The idea of the entire organization branching out and spreading across both time and continents is highlighted here.”

 

The Chapel of Vincentian Members

Directly across from this history wall sits the Chapel of Vincentian Members. National Council CEO Dave Barringer had this to say: “We want to lead with our faith, so a chapel space was forefront in our design plans.”

The balance of past and present flows from the History Wall into the Chapel as well. While the altar is a new piece, the Stations of the Cross, crucifix, and seating came from the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ Reclamation Center. Quipped Tim Williams, Director of Formation, “It seems very appropriate that we got so much of the décor from the church’s ‘secondhand store!'”

The stations have an artistic, handmade feeling, especially since the IVX station sign was missing, requiring the team had to create one that would match the existing set.

The space is filled with natural light coming from glass bricks off the building’s V-shaped entryway (which predates our occupancy), and the new altar has a V-shaped base whose shape mimics old glass wall. The overall feeling is one of serenity and harmony.

“Overall we wanted the chapel to have a humble, reflective feel that matches our Vincentian Vocation,” said Pino.

“I love walking in through the front door of the new National Council offices,” says Tim Williams. “As soon as you step inside, you get tangible reminders of our three Essential Elements.”

He added that the chapel “is the spiritual center of this place, and is dedicated to our Vincentian friendship. Right across from the chapel is a wall decorated with images and words from our founders, saints, and blesseds, interspersed with images of our members from all across the country serving people in need tirelessly, creatively, and cheerfully. As a Vincentian, it makes me just immediately feel like part of the great heritage of this Society.”

Adds Pino, “I truly hope that all the Vincentians that visit our National Office enjoy the space and feel both inspired and appreciated.”

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