e-Gazette

04-18-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders

04-18-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

By John Berry
National President

Over the last few months, as we’ve launched our VisionSVdP initiative and begun to conduct our ‘family conversations’ regarding how the Society of St. Vincent de Paul USA will adapt to a changing world, the feedback I have received from Vincentians across the country has been overwhelmingly positive and excited. People feel that this is the perfect time for us to have these conversations and in many cases, they feel the conversations are long overdue.

From the very first email that went out about VisionSVdP, people have been sending me their thoughts and ideas. Although the process is designed to take place in the Listening Sessions (which begin at Regional Meetings across the country this week), people felt so passionately about the things that they believe needed to be discussed, that they decided to send comments in via email.

Be assured that, if you were one of those people, your comments will be included in the process. But I hope that you will still actively participate in the Listening Session at your Conference, Council, or Region and make your views known. Because your voice matters. Every voice matters.

The number and variety of comments I’ve received have been very interesting. They range from the very specific to the very broad. And that’s fantastic because it is exactly what VisionSVdP is all about — to raise up all thoughts, opinions, and ideas on all aspects of the Society and how we can adapt to a changing world.

This week, the most important phase of VisionSVdP begins. Listening Sessions at Regional Meetings (the Southeast meeting starts Friday) will begin an all-out national network of Listening Sessions at EVERY Conference, Council, and Special Work in the country.

Within the next few weeks, a very simple process for conducting the Listening Session at your location will be sent out. The process is very easy. Some guide rails and guidelines for the sessions will be included. And most importantly, the process for getting the output from the session back to the National Office will be provided. A link to a video from Archbishop Bellisario and a link to a spiritual song and prayer to kick off the conversation will also be provided.

We are asking all Councils, Conferences, and Special Works to have their Listening Sessions completed by the National Assembly in August.

But not everyone is on board. Some people still have doubts about why we’re embarking on this effort. And some people don’t understand how it’s supposed to work. Some people are uncomfortable without strict process guidelines, and some people are uncomfortable sharing in a group.

I understand that. And I appreciate that we’re never going to get 100% buy-in to anything we try to do. No one does. That’s just life. Baskin-Robbins sells 31 flavors because not everyone likes chocolate, right?

But EVERY VOICE MATTERS. Even the ones who think theirs doesn’t — or those who don’t want to share theirs — or those who don’t understand why we want to hear it. But it matters. And we need to hear it. And you deserve to have it heard.

So please, put aside your doubts (should you have any), put aside your fears (should you have some), and put aside your hesitancies to participate (should you hold them) and let us know what you think.

Because every voice matters. Every. Single. One.

Peace and God’s Blessings,
John

04-11-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders

04-11-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

We take ZIP codes for granted as a mechanism to get our mail from one place to another more efficiently. What started as five numbers to remember later became nine for presumably better service. Recently, I learned that a ZIP code can say quite a bit about you, and even predict how long you will live!

Social scientists now use ZIP codes to recognize how where you live predicts and/or influences your education options, income, housing costs, food insecurity, personal and property crime rates and much more. Living in one ZIP code versus the neighboring one in another city means that you are likely to live ten fewer years! Seems to me that this would be good to know before buying a new home.

Some Vincentians tell me that “there isn’t much poverty where I live.” This may be somewhat true, although if you squint you can see poverty everywhere. Maybe it’s not the homeowners but the working poor who serve them as housekeepers and landscapers, as well as the workers in nearby stores and restaurants. You may not see people who are homeless in your neighborhood, but they are there. And because they are homeless, they may not show up in the address-based ZIP code or Census tract analysis.

Most of us know our area fairly well. We know that one area is that part of town where we don’t want to conduct a home visit. We don’t even want to drive through the area! Another part of town is where the “rich people” live because we see large homes, or where the DINKs (double income, no kids) hang out at happy hour.

When considering how our Conference and Council can make a greater community impact, such studies of Census tracts and ZIP codes can show us exactly where the need is greatest, confirming or surprising us with what we thought we knew about where we live. These maps are usually available from local government, the library and United Way. Overlay these maps with where our Conferences operate, and we can see if resources match the neediest areas. This can then help us determine where we most need a new Conference, where local Twinning can increase community impact, and where we need to focus our services delivery.

Where is the best location for a food pantry? For a low-cost pharmacy? For a shelter or other housing options? Where will systemic change solutions attract the most potential users? We can go where the “customers” are, our neighbors in need, or we can continue to operate where it is convenient for ourselves and wonder why we don’t make much of a difference. Yes, people in need will travel where they need to go for urgent help. Thrift store shoppers who have fewer affordable retail choices will go where required to save money, versus donors who give out of convenience as often measured from the distance between their homes and the collection center.

Geography matters. As cities grow, we see retail centers move from downtown to the suburbs where big boxes proliferate. Downtowns often are where we see food deserts with little or no access to fresh produce. High school and church enrollments shift with the moving of families with school-age children. Yet because our parish has been in the same location for many decades, it can be easy to ignore the changing community and operating environment around us. Then one day we look around and exclaim “Hey, where did everyone go?”

The ZIP in ZIP code originally stood not for zippy service, but for a Zone Improvement Plan. Imagine what we can do as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul if we took those words to heart, adapting to our changing local world to create meaningful zone improvements where the ZIP codes point us to the most need.

Yours in Christ,

Dave Barringer

In Tragedy, Homes Represent Hope

In Tragedy, Homes Represent Hope 1292 802 SVDP USA

In March of 2023, devastating tornadoes hit the town of Rolling Fork, MS. In the wake of a natural disaster, families living in poverty are often the most impacted, with fewer resources to rely upon.

According to Elizabeth Disco-Shearer, CEO of SVdP USA Disaster Services Corporation (DSC), disasters often hit hardest those who are already marginalized, rural, or low-income. In the aftermath, renters are particularly vulnerable, facing a scarcity of affordable housing options.

Collaborative efforts made by the DSC aim to address these vulnerabilities head-on, ensuring that no one is left behind in the recovery process. Shearer and Regional Program Manager Cathy Garcia joined forces with local Vincentians leaders Carrie Johnson-Robinson, Tommy Jordon, and Donavan Guilbeau to assess the impactful work being carried out by the SVdP District Council of Jackson, in partnership with DSC’s local staff and Rolling Fork Rising.

During their visit, the group toured several homes that are part of the Rolling Fork Rising homeowners’ program, which helps transition renters into homeowners. DSC’s local Disaster Case Managers have helped to identify tornado survivors who are candidates for the Rolling Fork Rising homeowners’ program.

Critical to this program is the commitment to financial literacy. Candidates selected for the program undergo a financial literacy program and are equipped with the tools they need to manage their finances effectively and sustainably. Additionally, candidates must meet specific minimum income level requirements to qualify for a low-cost mortgage. This mortgage, comparable to their previous rent payments, not only facilitates homeownership but also contributes to building their credit and breaking the cycle of poverty.

Thanks to donor generosity and SVdP volunteers, DSC is pleased to share that survivor Jamie Herman and her family will be receiving the new home — and they will be paying less for her mortgage than her previous rent! For her, a home is not just bricks and mortar — it represents hope and transformation.

Collaborative efforts like this foster true change and rebuild communities stronger than before. The program in Rolling Fork is a wonderful example of creating systemic change in the lives of disaster survivors.

“Christ’s presence is among us in this recovery work,” said SVdP National Secretary Carrie Johnson-Robinson.

04-04-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders

04-04-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

It has been six months since I assumed the office of National President of the Society. The time has flown by, and it is hard to believe that it has been that long (although to be honest, sometimes it feels like it has been six years!). I have been truly blessed to meet so many of you, and I am looking forward to meeting many more of you as we enter the 2024 Regional Meeting ‘season’ and I get out to many of the meetings.

Since I served on the Board of Directors for six years when Ralph Middlecamp was President, I was aware of what to expect as National President. But I must say that I have been saddened and disturbed by the number of situations that the Board, the Staff, and I have had to deal with in just six short months about individuals, Conferences, and Councils that have needed intervention or disciplinary actions.

As I reflect on these situations, many still ongoing, it has become obvious to me that they almost always stem from root cause failures in one or more of three areas: money, spirituality, or governance. In one case it is usually too much — money. And in the other two, it is usually not enough — spirituality and governance.

The money issues we deal with are not all what you might expect as you read this. They are not all about people stealing or diverting resources. No, most problems we see with money are the improper use of Conference and Council funds in violation of The Rule and hoarding. Coming out of COVID, we were (and are) blessed with bank balances in some places that are exceptionally large, well beyond the needs of the Conference or Council in the short or even medium term.

All too often, what happens is that, in good faith and with good intentions, they decide to see who else they might help. So, they decide to help the Parish get that new roof, or build a playground, or donate to the local Red Cross, etc. These are all wonderful things. The Rule also forbids them. If you have excess funds, reach out and find other Conferences and Councils in your area or beyond who do not — there are A LOT OF THEM! — and give them some help. Twinning is what we do.

Spirituality is another area that underpins so many of the issues I see as National President. Or rather, to phrase it properly, a LACK of Spirituality is what underpins so many issues. And it is not just that we do not focus on spirituality, it is that we focus on the wrong spirituality! If your Conference of Council is not using the Vincentian Spiritual resources provided by the National Formation Team to create your spiritual reflection periods at your meetings, then you are doing it wrong.

We are the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. We are not the parishes’ Adult Education Program. You should not be using the Spiritual Reflection time at your meeting to be focused on those things that are not related to our work as Vincentians. If you need help in putting together a great spiritual time of reflection, contact Tim Williams or Sister Consuelo in the National Office. They will set you up. Oh, and if your Spiritual Reflection period at your meetings is a five-minute reading of the weekly reflection and then ‘on to the business stuff’ please give them a call — you need them!

Governance is the last and most complex area where we see ongoing issues. Governance can be tricky and complicated, and not everyone understands it. As the former Chair of the National Governance Committee, I have a special passion for governance and governance issues. It is an area that can quickly get you into trouble, both legally and internally with the organization. We have a robust and ready Governance Committee led by First Vice President John Hallissy. If you need any support, have any questions, or just want to have what you are doing checked out, contact John.

We can all do things a little better to make our jobs easier. I understand most of you are volunteers — so am I. But that does not mean we should not be doing everything we can to be the best volunteers we can and be doing things right, every time.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

03-28-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

03-28-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Challenges of a Vincentian

In my 40 years as a Vincentian, I have made many mistakes. From my mistakes, hopefully, I will become a better person. My hope is you will learn from my mistakes. Here is my list of My Challenges:

  1. It’s about me. I call this the Santa Claus effect. When I first became a became a Vincentian, giving something to somebody made me feel good. I got to “help” someone, but it cost me nothing. Then I learned it was not about me, but the person I was helping. This was a very valuable lesson for me to learn as a Vincentian.
  2. Poverty is a lack of money. I thought this way in the beginning. As you help people, you realize poverty is a mindset. Improving the situation of a neighbor in need takes education, hope, culture, time, work, acceptance, and, yes, some money.
  3. Learning from fellow Vincentians. I had the idea that I could do this by myself. I did not need the support and encouragement of my fellow Vincentians. There is a reason we visit and talk to the poor in pairs. There is a reason we have Conferences with a group of Vincentians.
  4. Cynicism. I was cynical. The poor are only interested in money. I was lied to, used, and taken advantage of. These events were few and far between, but it does instill a cynical view. A Vincentian needs to take each person and interview as a fresh start for the person you are meeting and for you. I needed to get past the cynicism and realize Christ did not judge. We need to do the same.
  5. Why am I doing this? As a Vincentian working week after week, sometimes hearing from the same people week after week, a bit of “why am I doing this?” may set in. This is the most dangerous of all my mistakes. I am never going to solve all the social issues. I am never going “to fix it.”  Not me, not on my own. With prayer and help from my fellow Vincentians I may be able to help one person or one family at a time.
  6. Arrogance. Sometimes I would miss an opportunity to really meet someone. I would think the encounter with the poor is just a business transaction. I did not learn about the person, their situation or background. I would just take care of the monetary problem, but not see the person for who they are.
  7. Acceptance. This was very difficult for me. Sometimes a lack of funds — or a lack of a solution — makes the work very frustrating. This is one of the greatest challenges to a Vincentian. I must accept that I cannot solve everything. I may have some setbacks as a Vincentian, but with God’s Grace, I must acknowledge it is not defeat.
  8. Don’t lead, just follow. This mistake is one with its own limitation. I would not have experienced the next level of being a Vincentian if I never accepted a leadership position. MY positions of leadership have been extremely fulfilling. There are many opportunities in the Vincentian life — Conference President, VP, District President, Treasurer, Committee person.
  9. Evangelization. One of the things I did not do for many years was tell non-Vincentians about SVdP (Vincentian Friendship, Service, and Spirituality). Please go out and spread the word about our great organization. There are a lot of people looking for an organization like SVdP.

I am sure there are more, but we are limited in our space for these articles.

Yours in Christ,
Ed McCarthy
National Treasurer

03-21-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

03-21-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

In my mid-20s, I joined a recreational volleyball group that resulted in some lifelong friends (and even in meeting my wife). It was a group of mostly singles that played every Wednesday night, and then everyone went out for pizza and beer at the local pub. Newly arriving women were invited to the pub part right away; for us men, it might take a few weeks before new dating competition was asked to join in!

My first interest in the group was from reading about it in the local newspaper. I didn’t know anyone there, so it was a risky move for me to step outside my comfort zone to meet new people. For two or three weeks, I heard the side chatter about getting together afterward, but I didn’t speak up. I played and then went home.  Eventually a friendly guy asked me to join everyone and, despite my initial shyness, I accepted. Looking back decades later, that personal invitation changed my life.

Sound familiar? Despite our own examples of such invitations, some Vincentians still believe that prospective members will read about the Society in the parish bulletin and just show up. That does happen, albeit rarely — but is that our recruitment strategy? While we aren’t asking fellow parishioners to join us, we instead sit in the Conference meeting and complain that we don’t have enough help!

Perhaps even worse is when we take part in the parish ministry fair or have a table in the back of the church. We operate like a trade show booth, advertising our product and maybe even posting a sign about when we meet. We keep that table between us and our prospects, and the activity is a drive-by interaction. It’s no wonder that we see few (if any) new members from this form of recruiting.

Picture a huge funnel. At the tip (or bottom), there is a new member. At the widest part of the top, we can list advertising, posters, and other mass marketing tools and activities. The next level down is where we find the parish booth, and then the Invitation to Serve pulpit talks. (Check it out on our website!) The most crucial level is next, what we call the “close” — the personal invitation to join. In marketing lingo, we go from a broadcast approach to a targeted, specific call to action. That’s how it works. In fact, it’s almost the only way it works!

Ah, but there is also a hidden, second funnel. It goes in the opposite direction from the new member’s arrival. You see, the process should not stop when they walk in the door.

At the tip of this second funnel is the welcoming at the new member’s first meeting. Are they welcomed by name? Are they encouraged to participate? Do they receive a Member Handbook and/or other materials that explain who we are and what we do? Do we treat them like new friends?

The next part of the funnel is the Onboarding process. Granted, this can be different for each Conference, but it should involve getting the new member out with a team for a Home Visit. You might assign a mentor to answer all those initial questions. Please don’t forget to include all three of our Essential Elements of Friendship, Spirituality and Service in these orientation weeks. We want them to have a welcoming exposure to every part of our mission.

Notice that I did not include an Ozanam Orientation thus far in this funnel. This deserves specific attention. Some Councils only offer Orientations at set times throughout the year, so you may be held hostage a bit to the calendar. If you recruit enough new members, add a new Ozanam Orientation to meet demand! Otherwise, look to schedule this for every member, new and old, within a brief, reasonable time.

The widest part of the second funnel is the everyday activity of the Conference (and perhaps your Council). Where do the interests of each new member lie? Are some attracted to filling out paperwork (just kidding, no one ever chooses this one), food pantry work, systemic change classes, prison visits, or maybe, God bless them, do they only want to go on Home Visits? Let’s meet new members halfway, matching initial interests with anything we do, instead of forcing them into where we need them the most.

At the center of the funnels is the personal ask. Weren’t you asked at some point by a friend, priest or fellow parishioner to consider joining the Society? Why should we believe this ask to be unnecessary for others?

It’s always a good time to ask someone to join you for pizza and beer. It is likewise always a good time to ask someone if they would like to meet Jesus and join the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
National CEO

 

03-07-25 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

03-07-25 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

This is the last in a series of three Servant Leader columns before next week’s Midyear Meeting that address VisionSVdP.  Today I’d like to explain a little more about how the process will work over the next year, and talk a bit about how you can get involved.

We will formally ‘kick off’ VisionSVdP at the Midyear Meeting in St. Louis with five Listening Sessions. All Midyear attendees will be randomly assigned to one of five groups and will meet for approximately 1 ½ hours. This will occur following a session by me on the process, and after a Keynote Address by the National Council President of Australia, who will speak about the process there, and a Spiritual Retreat by Archbishop Andrew Bellisario, CM, our National Episcopal Advisor.

At the Listening Sessions, Midyear attendees will have a free-flowing discussion about the Society. They will all begin with the same question: What does the Rule, Part 1, 1.6: “Adaptation to a Changing World” mean to you?

From there, they will discuss anything and everything that they want to. Someone at each table will capture everyone’s comments — because every voice matters. Two moderators per room (typically Regional VPs) will then attempt to capture the essence of the discussions; when the entire group reconvenes, we’ll have a conversation about the process. The goal is not to highlight any comments as more important than any other, but to debrief how people felt. Were their voices heard? Did they learn anything? Did anything ‘click’ from the conversation?

This process will repeat itself at the Regional meetings.

So, you ask: What about me? I’m not going to Midyear or the Regional Meeting. How do I get involved??

GOOD QUESTION!  You get involved because we want every Conference and every Council and every Special Work to do this as well. AND WE WILL HELP YOU!

Now, let’s be very open and very, very honest here. We will face many naysayers and people who just want to keep on doing things the way we always have, either because it’s easier, or because they fear change. Then we’ll have the inevitable organizational inertia that will never find the time to schedule the sessions — we’re too busy, we’re too important doing other “real Vincentian work,” etc, etc. They will all resist doing these sessions. WE CANNOT LET THAT HAPPEN.

Engage with the VisionSVdP process at your Conference and in your Council and Region. Become a Champion for the effort! Contact your Regional VP, contact your Council President, contact me. Make sure the process gets to you and is carried out. Because your voice matters.

After all these sessions are held in 2024 (including at the National Assembly in Phoenix), we will start a National Conversation process in 2025 about what we have heard and what it means for how we adapt and change.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

02-29-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-29-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 8335 2555 SVDP USA

Last week I announced the kickoff of VisionSVdP in an email to all Vincentians. Today, I’d like to spend a little more time discussing the reasons we’re launching this very important initiative at this time.

Let’s start by looking at why VisionSVdP is so important for us from the standpoint of all the great and positive things going on across the Society — things like these. (And there are a whole lot more!)

  • While we have seen declines in Conference membership as a whole (more on that later), we’ve also seen new Conferences being created, new membership growth in places, and even new Councils being formed. We need to talk about how and why that’s happening so we can capture the best practices; figure out how to support and scale those gains across the country; and help reverse the decline in membership we’re seeing in many places.
  • During COVID, many Councils and Conferences found an incredible surge of innovation and creativity in programs and services. New ways of serving people in need have been implemented and are now part of a better, more effective, and more far-reaching support system for our neighbors in need. We need to talk about those programs and help others implement them locally.
  • Councils and Conferences across the country have developed programs that are providing free medications to people with low income, moving people from the streets to homes, feeding thousands of people a day (yes, a day!) through kitchens, providing food via food pantries, doing so much more. We need to talk about how they’re doing these things, while other Councils and Conferences are struggling to answer the phone calls. What is making the difference?

And we also need to talk about the negative things. Here are just a few to think about.

  • Since 2016, we have lost almost 1,000 Conferences and nearly 10,000 members. Why? What can we do about it? Is it our structure? Do our meeting schedules make it impossible for working people, young families, and students to attend? Is it something else? Is it a combination of things?  We need to talk about how we make the Society a more welcoming and supportive community for people to serve, grow in spiritually, and grow in friendship and community.
  • The reality — and part of the answer to the question above — is that our Vincentians are getting ‘burned out.’ They are overworked, not fed spiritually, and burdened with necessary (yet still challenging) paperwork and reporting. We need to talk about all of these things. We must determine new ways to make being a Vincentian a joyful experience.
  • Face it, people generally run away when we ask them to consider Leadership roles in the Society. We need to talk about why. And then we need to talk about how we are going to fix it.
  • Our efforts to increase diversity have not kept pace with the growth in the diversity of the Church. While we have moderately increased the number of Hispanic, Latino, and African-American Vincentians, the percentage increases have not tracked with the increases in the Church.

So — that’s a bit of a deeper dive into why we’re launching VisionSVdP.

We need you to be part of it. For one simple reason.

BECAUSE EVERY VOICE MATTERS

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 02-22-24

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 02-22-24 1200 1200 SVDP USA

God Answers

Imagine a young woman, 18 years of age, alone in solitude after her husband departs for work. She places her infant daughter down to sleep. A nudging from within prompts her to go and look upon her daughter, and she is obedient. She notices her firstborn turning blue. To the touch, she is cold. Breathing is absent. Immediately, she wraps her in blankets, sits in front of a space heater and begins to pray. Eventually she notices the blue fade, feels warm flesh, and hears her daughter cry for nourishment.

Imagine a call placed to a 43-year-old woman by her sister in the middle of the night to inform that their womb bearer had been in an accident, and death was believed to be imminent.

The words my mother spoke to God at 18 are not known to me, because she did not share them. I only know that she prayed for God to alter the circumstance, and He answered. I was embarking upon adulthood when my mother shared the experience. At the time of her sharing, I did not fathom sitting in the Intensive Care Unit of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, praying to God to deliver the same answer He gave my mother, and I don’t believe she fathomed me doing it. God answered me — but I did not receive the same answer.

There is a natural tendency to pray and ask God to alter circumstances. If the circumstances are not altered, there is an urge to state that the prayer was not answered. Indeed, I have often heard people say when the hindsight lens is in view, “I am glad God did not answer my prayer.” In truth, God answers all prayers. Consider the words of the Psalmist: “But God did hear and listened to my voice in prayer. Blessed be God who did not reject my prayer and refuse His mercy.” (Psalm 66:19 – 20.)

God need not alter the circumstances we pray about to answer. God’s answer to prayer could be changing us by allowing the circumstance to remain present. An even greater answer is the one which changes your relationship with Him.

Instead of giving me the answer He gave my mother, God chose to change my relationship with Him.

The mission of our society is: “A network of friends, inspired by Gospel values, growing in holiness and building a more just world through personal relations with and service to people in need.”

I was unaware of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at the time of my mother’s death, but building a more just world through personal service to people in need was not a challenge for me. As a child, I watched and learned from my mother, great-great aunt, those residing in Shelby, Mississippi, and the Oblate Sisters of Providence who came to serve St. Gabriel’s Catholic School in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Serving and giving to those in need was innate for me. It is innate for most Vincentians who accept the calling.

My challenge was intimacy with God. Is it a challenge for you? Growing in holiness is synonymous with intimacy with God. In my spirit, I knew that my mother’s earthly journey had come to an end before I offered the prayer. I offered the prayer because I had no desire to experience the inevitable sorrow. As a result of God’s decision to call me into holiness, I learned that the prayer offered by me was about my natural will. It did not consider God’s will, which is rooted in holiness. Jesus was cognizant of His natural will, but was governed by holiness when He said “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me, still not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22: 42)

The Vincentian vision of a more just world is dependent upon our intimacy with God. So, let’s begin to pursue intimacy with God.

Carrie Johnson-Robinson
National Council Secretary

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 02-15-24

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 02-15-24 1200 1200 SVDP USA

The 2024 Midyear Meeting is about a month away in St. Louis. Every year as we approach Midyear, Regional Meetings, and the Annual Assembly the same question comes up. “Is it appropriate for Conferences and Councils to use their funds to pay for members to attend these meetings”? Or a variation on the same question. “Does the Rule allow the Conference or Council to use the funds they have raised to pay for members to attend these meetings?”

The answer is a clear, resounding, unequivocal YES! Not only is it appropriate and allowed, but it is a very important — and smart! — way to improve service to your neighbors in need, make your Conference or Council better and more effective, grow your membership, develop deeper spirituality within Conference and Council, and deepen friendship and community within the Society across the country.

The RULE (3.12 Formation of Members) states:

It is essential that the Society continually promote the formation and training of its members and Officers, in order to deepen their knowledge of the Society and their spirituality, improve the sensitivity, quality and efficiency of their service to the poor and help them be aware of the benefits, resources and opportunities that are available for the poor. The Society also offers members higher training in order to better help to raise the cultural and social level of those who request this support.

I have heard people say that spending money on sending people to the Midyear, Regional, or Annual Assembly is “taking food out of the mouths of the poor.” Well, with the deepest love and respect to those who say that, let me say that I could not disagree more!

If you want to put more food on the tables of those who are hungry — come to the Midyear, Regional, or Annual Assembly and learn how your fellow Vincentians across the country are innovating amazing new methods to collect food, create food pantries, develop partnerships with supermarkets and others, and delivering food to the hungry as we are called to do in Matthew 25.

If you want to help house the homeless and prevent those who are housed from losing their homes — come to the Midyear, Regional, and Annual Assembly and learn from your Vincentian Family across this country how they are developing incredible programs to move people from the street to homes, from extended stay motels to homes, preventing evictions, and working with community partners to address the many and complex issues of homeless prevention.

If your Conference is suffering from burnout and a lack of Vincentians to help the people in need coming to you for support, don’t suffer in isolation and silence – come to the Midyear, Regional, and National Assembly and learn what your Vincentian Family is doing to address the Spiritual needs we all have. We are all called to grow in holiness. See ways in which other Conferences and Councils across the country are innovating and creating exciting spiritual growth opportunities for their members.

If you are struggling to make the checkbook balance last until the end of the month it may seem counterintuitive to spend money to go to a meeting. But how else are you going to learn how to get over that fundraising challenge? Reach out to National and your Council and your Region and get the scholarship support you need (and YES — contact ME for help) and get to the meeting and learn some new development techniques so you can begin to be effective in helping to grow your monthly collection income.

St. Vincent once said, “The poor suffer less from a lack of generosity than from a lack of organization.”

When the Society was in its early days, Members gathered often for meetings to exchange ideas, learn from each other, grow together in spirituality, and grow in friendship and community (Our Essential Values). But remember that these Men (and they were all Men back in the day) were all wealthy individuals who paid their own way and funded the Society.

Today the Society has members who bridge the socioeconomic spectrum. We proudly have Members who were once people we helped. We have young people, retired people, rich people, and not-so-rich people. We are One Society representing ALL of American Society.

That is why we must use the resources we have been given — diligently, judiciously, and with discernment — to help train and empower our membership to lead us into the future. Our work is NOT just happening locally, in the vacuum of a Conference or Council, but in the community and friendship afforded them by attendance at a Midyear, Regional, and/or Annual Assembly.

Be prudent, be reasonable. Many people can pay their own way. Many, many people do. But many cannot. And do not just send your leadership, but look at the Emerging Leaders, the unsung heroes of the Conference/Council, the spiritual leaders, the new people who will come back and fire up the others. And support as many as you can to attend the Midyear, the next Regional, the Annual Assembly.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

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