Servant Leader

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1-6-2022

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1-6-2022 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Happy New Year! The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, who is depicted as having two faces; one looks forward and the other backward. This matches what we often do when we transition from one year to the next. What was your Vincentian experience like last year, and what are you looking forward to this year?

As the year ended, news sources were filled with stories looking back at celebrities who had died, the year’s top news stories, the most-popular music and movies, and a host of other categories of happenings to be remembered. Looking back at 2021 as a Vincentian, I find some highlights in an otherwise difficult year.

During 2021 we moved into and dedicated our new National Council office in St. Louis. We had two “Invitation for Renewal” retreats and a very successful National Assembly in Houston. Our Society has also been blessed with hundreds of new servant leaders who stepped into office to lead our Conferences and Councils this October. We were blessed by their being ready to put their talents to the service of our members and the people we serve. I hope your Councils and Conferences were blessed with a few memorable 2021 highlights that have kept you serving in hope.

Certainly, there were many disappointments and losses in 2021. Events were canceled, and friends were missed. You probably experienced the death of family members and friends, including some fine Vincentians, during the past 12 months. The Society lost some beloved pillars this year; among them were Joe Mueller and Paul Collins. Let’s remember them all in prayer and keep moving forward, building on the strength and fortitude that are our Society’s legacy.

The other face of January looks forward. What will we make of this year ahead? Let’s keep hope alive by trusting in the providence of God. As we embrace our strategic plans or form a few goals for ourselves, I ask you to consider:

  • How can we help each other be better friends and Vincentians?
  • How can we make our organization function better?
  • How can our Society better serve Christ in the person of our neighbor?
  • How can the people we serve help us to be better followers of Christ?

These are the questions I that I shared in my inaugural speech four years ago. They are still my focus as I look to another year as your servant leader. Together, we can create that better Society of St Vincent de Paul toward which we all aspire.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
SVdP National President

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1-13-2022

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1-13-2022 1363 1363 SVDP USA

The holidays are mostly behind us. We stare into our refrigerators now, looking for leftovers while they last. The cakes and cookies were the first to go, followed by anything we could put into a sandwich. Now we are left with items requiring a bit more creativity.

Behold, the humble can of cranberry sauce.

It sits in the pantry awaiting another holiday meal. We heard there was a national shortage of this stuff heading into the holidays, so we bought an extra can just because, and Heaven forbid it wouldn’t be on the table with the ham or turkey this year. Now we are into January, the meats are gone, and the can sits there, staring back at us. What to do? (Stick with me here, I really do have a point to this column.)

We could simply eat it with another meal, even though it might not feel quite right. I like to use it as a spread on a turkey sandwich. Some people create fruity spreads with it. A quick internet search will give you, believe it or not, at least 65 uses! I couldn’t read it all without laughing, so I’m not even sure that all of these uses are food related. Paint tinting? Edible finger-paint? Fragrant glue? The possibilities seem endless.

If we can do so much with a commodity food, imagine what we can accomplish with several Vincentian hearts in our Conference meeting as we discuss how to help someone in need. These neighbors may not be “leftovers” but “left behinds” by others.

It may be easy to do what we have always done, help in the same small way, and move on to the next family that needs our help. Or we can look with fresh eyes and hearts at alternatives. Some may be emergency assistance gifts while other might be systemic change solutions for the longer term. Some might solve today’s problem while others look to the root causes of this person’s poverty and present situation. Some answers may be comfortable, while others will require new thinking, new resources and new partnerships.

If we approach people with the same tools, we might miss some great possibilities. If the only tool you have is a can opener, every problem becomes a can! If instead we consciously add to our Conference and personal toolbox, we are prepared when a different problem needing our help comes along.

In this New Year, let’s resolve to approach our neighbors in need not as society’s leftovers but as treasures of potential, awaiting our innovation, discernment and most of all, love, to create newly imagined lives of purpose and value.

Christ did something amazing with just a few fish and loaves of bread. What can we do for our neighbors with our Conference’s love and so many blessings? Let’s think on it, pray on it together, and then think some more. Isn’t this what we would want Christ to do for us?

Yours in Service,
Dave Barringer
CEO

12-23-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

12-23-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

I wish each of you a blessed Christmas and pray that you may experience the joy of the season.

The Manual of the National Council of the United States tells us, “Central to an understanding of Vincentian spirituality is the Mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery and grace that God became human. Vincentians expect God in the unexpected: in unexpected people, times, ways and places. God wears a human face. When we see Jesus in others and try to be Jesus for others, the Mystery of the Incarnation comes alive for us.”

I invite you to ponder this profound way of understanding the Incarnation. Let it influence how you understand this joyful season and give meaning to how you live your Vincentian vocation.

As you encounter family, friends, coworkers and our neighbors in need this Christmas season and beyond, I hope you will be blessed with the grace to experience in them the presence of God among us.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

12-16-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

12-16-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1363 1363 SVDP USA

As we wrap up the calendar year, Vincentians are focused on the usual food pantries, plus food and gift distributions over the holiday period. I imagine that half a million turkeys alone will be distributed by our members this month. No, we won’t capture this data in the annual reports!

While some of the charity mechanics remain as they have in the past, we have several pandemic-required innovations in place that differ according to your state, county, or city. These make us pause and think as well of how different almost everything was in 2021, and ask what next year will hold for us as Americans, Catholics, and Vincentians.

When we evaluate, most of us think first of all the negatives. We lost family and friends to COVID. The resulting economy is uncertain right now. The Church has its own crises. Religious freedoms, and some of the Catholic causes we care so much about, are under attack in both the legislative and public forums. That’s not the entire list, and you probably have a few items to add from your own experiences.

In our work for the nation’s families in need, we feel the pain when the prices of automobile gasoline, home heating, and food rise due to inflation, supply chain issues, and other rationales. Most of us see the costs of our grocery bill rise, complain a bit and then go on with our day. For someone in poverty, that increase is a sharper pain that affects their sustainability. A dollar more a gallon for gas over the past year is an unstated, regressive tax on the poor. General inflation hurts everyone’s ability to get ahead, but it hurts poor families more severely.

All of this points us as Vincentians back to the long term promise of systemic change. We can pay rent bills just as we hand out turkeys for Christmas. The rent is due again next month, and the family will be hungry again when the last bowl of turkey soup is eaten. The poverty not-so-merry-go-round continues, and it takes extra effort to get off – for the poor and for us servants to them, too.

Many of our Society Conferences and Councils had a good financial year in 2021. This gives us a stronger opportunity to re-think our activities and strategies for the year ahead. If we develop financial literacy education, trade skills job training and placement, alternatives to predatory lending, and our other systemic change tools, the people we serve won’t need to be dependent next year on holiday handouts. They will be better able to provide for themselves, creating a better holiday for all of us. Really, wouldn’t that be the best possible Thanksgiving and Christmas, to know that more families don’t need the Society of St. Vincent de Paul or the local government to provide for them?

In January we start new diets, new exercise programs, and other new annual goals for ourselves. Let’s take time in our first Conference meetings to take just as hard a look at ourselves as Vincentians, our programs, finances, and most importantly our goals for the people we served this holiday season. Yes, the outside world will have its challenges as it does in every year. What can we do differently to make life better than it is right now for those we just served over the holidays? More of the same, or perhaps some completely different actions?

Holiday charity is good and Vincentian. Reducing the need for it is so Vincentian too, isn’t it?

May you have a blessed Christmas Season and an inspired New Year!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

12-2-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

12-2-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1363 1363 SVDP USA

We are now firmly in the season of family and friends. This year feels extra special, as we may be with people who could not be with us for many pandemic months. Whether it is at a holiday party, family dinner or a large-group holiday service activity, we will all be asked first, did COVID affect us and our family? Secondly, we will be asked what’s new in our lives since the last time we have been together. That question, my friends, presents us with opportunities.

While many Vincentians simply did what was needed, often in extraordinary fashion, to keep serving our neighbors in need, we may have taken ourselves and our service a bit for granted. Certainly those served did not do so! As so many government and nonprofit services were delayed, shut down or otherwise hampered, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul remained active, visible, and welcomed in our communities.  Please don’t take your flexibility and innovation for granted. Rather, please share the experience with your friends and family. It’s quite a success story!

Vincentians are a humble lot, so it may feel awkward to talk about this. Nonetheless we need to remind others that their donations and prayers were put to work effectively despite the challenges. They need to know that some of those necessary innovations will even be used beyond the pandemic period to be new, lasting procedures that will provide services that are more effective, safer, and possibly more efficient – all while maintaining our relationships with people in poverty.

Then we get to Step Two. We are once again together in person, while the Christmas season brings an elevated care level for those who are less fortunate, and when your Vincentian innovation stories and downright stubbornness to maintain your charitable works have their attention. Now is the perfect time to invite others to join us.

It is also the time when we may need this recruiting more than ever. We simply don’t know yet how many Vincentians won’t return to serve after the pandemic. Some changed their volunteer habits, some decided perhaps to “retire” from Vincentian service, and some are unable or afraid to serve once more. Even without all this, the Society needs to replenish its membership constantly. This year, though, we need to devote extra attention to this endeavor.

If you can recall when you joined the Society, chances are that someone asked you personally to join. Most don’t join because of an article in the Parish bulletin! Now it’s our turn. Many in our Parish don’t know which parishioners are Vincentians, much less what we do. At this giving season, this is the time to be more visible. Some of this happens naturally with holiday meal and Christmas gift programs, but can we do more? Visibility can then lead to questions and invitations.

Let’s return to the family and friend gatherings, this year on a personal mission to ask someone to join us in our work to show and see the face of Christ in our Vincentian experiences with those in need. We have a receptive, somewhat captive audience around the dinner table. We know deep inside that our Vincentian work is needed and valued. We know that God has called us each to serve. Maybe He is calling us as well to ask others to serve alongside us.

Every Vincentian journey begins with an invitation. Who will you invite this holiday season to join us?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

11-24-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leader

11-24-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leader 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Last week I had the privilege of being with Vincentian leaders from all over the United States to attend the Invitation for Renewal leadership-formation program in St. Louis. One of the perennial highlights of this retreat-based program is a film called “Celebrate What’s Right with the World.” Focusing on what’s right and celebrating it presupposes an attitude of gratitude that Vincentians should live throughout the year, not just on this week’s Thanksgiving holiday.

In recent months and years, we have been surrounded by events and media coverage that reinforce what is not right with the world. Certainly, we need to recognize what needs to be changed in our world, in our country, in our Church and even in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The most effective way to create useful change, however, is to appreciate and build upon the many positive parts of everything that surrounds us.

Building upon assets is what we do with our neighbors in need who participate in our programs of mentoring or serving as allies to neighbors coping with poverty. Let’s take our own advice and appreciate the many blessings and gifts we enjoy in an admittedly broken world. Even our service to those who are poor is performed from a position of gratitude. The beginning of our Rule details the Vincentian wisdom about “Our Personal Encounters With the Poor;” it tells us that “Vincentians never forget the many blessings they receive from those they visit.”

I find that I best immerse myself in a mindset of gratitude when I do it in prayer. I create a “rosary of thankfulness” by creating five decades in which I name people, places or things for which I am grateful. If you try this, think of your community, church, workplace, family, conference, friends, favorite places or events. As I do, you can try praying “thank you Lord” for ten things in the categories you create.

You may be surprised how easy it is to find 50 things for which you are genuinely thankful – people, places, and events that have been a blessing or gift and have made you the person you are today. Conversely, I expect most people would find it difficult to identify 50 such things to complain about with similar conviction. We all have pain, sorrow and hurts, but with God’s providence even in these we find the seeds of new possibilities.

Simple expressions of thanks to those around us will make our families, churches, workplaces and communities better places to be. We also owe God our thankfulness. It is why the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass almost always begins, “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, creator of the world and source of all life.”

I hope you and your family have a blessed Advent as we prepare for the joy of Christmas.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National President

11-18-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

11-18-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Last week, with the help of our national office staff, I filed our National Council Annual Report with the Council General International in Paris. Yes, I have to file an annual report, just as our Councils and Conferences are required to do. I know we all like to complain about these reports, but — collected from every Conference and Council across the world – they paint the picture of the worldwide network of charity envisioned by Blessed Frederic Ozanam. It is important for us to make the effort to document and share our activity.

I have heard some say these reports should not be something their Conference needs to do. They say they just want to help people. From the very beginning of our Society, however, the founders saw the value of sharing this information. Emmanuel Bailly had our first written report presented to the pastor of St. Étienne in Paris at a meeting on Friday, June 27, 1834. You can read it online here.

Bailly, our Society’s first President, wanted to inform Fr. Faudet of the work of the Conference and receive his support. Pastors and bishops still like to receive our reports, and we still need their support.

As our Society spread, the unity of the members was maintained by regular correspondence and detailed reports. Only four years after our founding, in a letter dated March 1, 1837, the Society’s Secretary General, Francois Lallier, reminded members to provide reports. He wrote, “We hope to hear from you before those meetings, the dates whereof are fixed by our Rule. By informing us of the amounts you have received and disbursed, of the increase in the numbers of your members and in that of the poor you have visited you will often show the power of your charity to us who are weak; but we shall rejoice at it, for amongst brothers success increases mutual love and esteem.”

You can read a report Frederic Ozanam provided from Lyon to Emmanuel Bailly in a letter dated July 19, 1838. It is #180 in the collection of Ozanam’s letters. This report details the number of members and the new members added for the conferences in Lyon. Frederic’s report provided the amount spent on meat and bread and the number of families visited. In the library at our international office, there are two very large bookcases containing the bulletins of the Council General meetings and reports going back to these earliest days. In one 1847 report, I found the very first listing of information from the United States — simple amounts for income and expense. In that same report, however, each conference in France and many across Europe provided detailed descriptions of their membership, a financial report and a description of their works.

The submission of the annual report is required by Statute 23 of Part 3 of the Rule. It is not an option for Conferences or Councils to ignore this requirement if they want to be part of the Society. Please make the job of our leadership easier. Members can help by submitting their hours of service and mileage in a timely manner. To finish their own reports, Councils need to have all Conferences cooperate by completing theirs first, and all Conferences and Councils need to have completed their reports before the National Council can produce its final report.

I am grateful to all the presidents and secretaries who compile their reports in a timely manner. This information has many uses. Our bishops, pastors, donors, and community supporters deserve to have timely information about who we are and what services we provide. The information is also important to our internal committees that promote our efforts to grow and revitalize our membership and services.

At a national assembly of ours several years ago, a speaker from the Vatican communications office addressed us. He complimented us on the way in which our service humbly follows the Gospel admonition, “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” He then reminded us, however, that the Gospel also instructs us to not put our light under a bushel.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National President

11-11-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

11-11-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1363 1363 SVDP USA

The famous, definitely non-Catholic film director Woody Allen once said that half of success in life is just showing up. As Catholics and Vincentians we have a new opportunity to prove this axiom over the next two years – but starting now.

His Holiness Pope Francis and the global Church have called for a Synod among all of the faithful. This consists of listening sessions across the world to help frame the future of our faith. Listen to whom? At least in the United States among its Bishops, the goal is to hear from all Catholics certainly, but also those we serve and especially the marginalized.

This month I will be attending Mass in four different dioceses. Thus far, each has included a Synod reference, but each one has been different, so we can assume that the process is flexible among the Bishops to organize this listening and reporting experience. Some Bishops are putting this process at the center of their work over months ahead, while others are, well, perhaps not so much.

How can our Vincentians “show up” for this experience? I suggest we do so in three distinctly different ways if they are available to us. First, of course, we have an obligation as local parishioners to participate as we are able, each with our own personal perspectives of our faith, faith life, and the opportunities ahead of all of us.

Secondly, we can participate in the Synod as Vincentians who have a unique view of our community’s economy, poverty, and other needs. Remember that we have such a unique voice as the “ground troops” in helping our neighbors in need, as we are usually the only group working in the homes of those we serve. This allows us a closer, friend-based perspective, often with continuing relationships that other Catholics do not enjoy as we see the Face of Christ in those we serve. However, please be careful that you do not “speak for the Society.” Only the National President can do this nationally, and local Council Presidents are permitted to speak on behalf of the Society when the subject pertains to local need, polices, and other matters.

The third way we can participate is two-fold. First, as Voice of the Poor volunteers we can speak on behalf of those who are at the margins of our society and who may have no voice. However, secondly we should not always assume that the poor have no voice, and this Synod experience may be exactly the venue for their voices to be heard by the Church. Instead of speaking for others, we can also try to get our neighbors in need to the table and to speak for themselves. This may be the most powerful of the ways we can participate – by giving a voice to others who often don’t have one.

Many focus group experiences – and at this time that’s how I see the Synod unfolding with our limited knowledge thus far – succeed or fail based on two factors. The first is the composition of the participants, and the second is the questions used in the process. It is easy to consciously or unconsciously predict the outcome by subtle manipulation of these two factors. At this time, we have not seen a standard set of Synod questions to be asked, and we don’t know if the same questions will be basked of all types and groups of participants. Will they be different in the United states than in Nigeria or Argentina? Will the type of question suggest an expert set of respondents, or does everyone get to answer everything, meaning that 95 percent of respondents will always be unfamiliar with the subject matter and have perhaps nothing of consequence to contribute?

At this point, there is more that we don’t know than what is known. Our National Council staff and leaders are working with the USCCB to get some clues as to the process and desired outcomes in order to give you a better opportunity to be heard and to make a difference. We will send what we learn in this egazette and perhaps separately to our Council leaders. For now, I urge you to seek out the Synod opportunity in your Diocese, share what you learn with your Conference members, and to “show up” as you are able. Please bring, or help send, friends in need to this process as well.

We speak often about ourselves and our neighbors in need being at the table. This Synod process may be a messy table to join, but we need and deserve to be included. We have the skills and knowledge, and for certain the experiences, that the Church needs to hear to be successful. Let’s show up in person and in Vincentian spirit to help.

11-04-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

11-04-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 200 200 SVDP USA

Recently, over 200 members of The Vincentian Family gathered in Atlanta to explore our personal role and challenge to “love like Christ loves” in working for racial equity in our world. This Family Gathering is held every other year, in places around North America. It is a chance to meet Vincentians from some of the 15 branches that follow the example of Saints Vincent & Louise. Each time I attend one of these gatherings, I meet someone from a branch I’ve never heard of. This year, it was the Missionary Cenacle Family. If you ever get the chance to attend a Gathering, I would highly recommend it.

For me, the most challenging portion of the weekend came in a homily by Bishop Fernand Cheri, the Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans. This is a man that has been through a lot. Like so many Black brothers and sisters, he seemed tired of being polite. He got right to the heart of the problem. White people have most of the power to create more equity in society. And we have to figure out what that means for each one of us.

That wasn’t a very satisfactory answer. I felt what many of you must have felt after the series “Open Wide Our Vincentian Hearts-Hope in the Face of Racism Series,” last year. The constant theme in the follow-up questions was, “What do I do now?”

We all know about the large scale advocacy & systemic things we can do: work to end food deserts in our communities; advocate for more affordable and better housing for people in need, etc. But, what can I personally do to help my friends, neighbors, and colleagues, who may be hurting or carrying the pain of past discrimination or exclusion?

Several years ago, a colleague was returning from washing her hands and she had a very angry look on her face. When I ask what was wrong, she said, “I get so angry when the automated faucets don’t work. I know it’s because they haven’t been calibrated to my dark skin tone.” My first impulse was “That can’t be true.” Thankfully, what came out or my mouth was, “Wow, I never thought about that possibility.” We then began a dialogue that goes on today, about the ways that we both react to similar situations in different ways-mine from a white, Irish perspective, and hers from a Black, Southern woman’s viewpoint. Both are different. And, it doesn’t matter how wacky the other one may think the response to be. It’s a feeling that should be recognized and appreciated.

In the first webinar in the “Open Wide” series, we suggested eight questions to serve as an examination of conscience about our reactions/views of racism. One question was, “Is there a root of racism within me that blurs my vision of who my neighbor is?” Or, as Archbishop Cheri said, “The only program that fundamentally impacts racism is the program I need to have with myself.”

I’ve never thought that a water faucet not working was because of my skin tone. I’ve never worried about a security person following me around a store because of suspicion. I’ve never thought twice about my daughters being shot during a traffic stop. But some people have. And, if I am going to try to open my Vincentian heart, I have to be approachable and non-judgmental-just like to do on our Home Visits.

One of the activities planned for the Vincentian Family Gathering was a visit to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Those of you who attended the National Assembly in Atlanta in 2014 will remember that the Center is next to The World of Coke attraction. When asked about the field trip, one person noted that their was a line outside The World of Coke. There was no line outside of the Center.

Confronting racism, both personal and societal, is hard, uncomfortable work. But, if Vincentians don’t do it, who will?

Sincerely,
Jack Murphy
National Chair, Systemic Change and Advocacy

 

 

 

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