Servant Leader

06-30-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-30-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1363 1363 SVDP USA

The Society has survived, and even in some cases remarkably thrived, during the pandemic period. Yet we have not been immune to the several major trends that affect our ability to grow or even maintain our membership.

It is worse than we thought.

Let’s look briefly at what we already know, the reasons why we are in this predicament. First, we primarily draw Society members from the Catholic Church, and the Church has suffered over decades now from eroding family memberships and departures from our faith. Add in a series of abuse scandals and other pre-pandemic issues, and we can clearly see that our universe of potential Catholic members has been shrinking.

Across the country, one Diocese at a time, we see massive parish consolidations. The Church has neither the dollars nor the number of clergy available to afford so many parishes, especially with declining enrollments and subsequent reductions in Sunday collections and other revenues. Society Conferences in these closed or consolidated parishes have merged when possible, but others have closed after struggling to stay viable with an aging Vincentian membership.

Then add to this a pandemic that closed down our very ability to go to Mass, to see each other and to serve. Local Society Conferences often lost their home base because the parish properties were closed. While we adapted mightily to these conditions to serve, it was certainly harmful to our membership efforts when we physically could not be together for many months. Fellowship was the first casualty.

Our just-completed annual national reporting from every Council and Conference shows a continued membership erosion, even considering some growth in associate members and in some ethnic minority volunteer numbers. I believe that these numbers still assume and perhaps inflate our actual membership numbers. It is easy to simply use the numbers from last year rather than take a new census of everyone to see if they are still active. We instead assume this participation. This is dangerous!

I asked our National Council Members at the Midyear meeting to consider a membership census, checking individually with each member to make sure they are still active and available to serve even if we need to help them adapt to changing parish and Conference membership. Now that the annual reporting is complete, let’s renew this effort to be in touch with every single one of our active and associate members. Businesspeople tell us that your best future customer is the one you already have, and it is easier and less expensive to maintain a customer than to grow a new one.  While our members are far more than customers, the adage still works.

Let’s assure that every Vincentian is accounted for and has the ability to continue to grow in holiness with us. This may mean Conference mergers. Alternatively it might mean new Conferences, designed for language/ethnic groups or for younger cohorts. Every Vincentian deserves a home with us to be closer with the Lord.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers about what to do about parish closures and mergers, Conference transitions and other community dynamics that negatively impact our membership. We all need to work together on this and share effective strategies. Let’s first agree, however, on a few principles to guide our work. One, every Vincentian is of value and deserves our communication, respect and best efforts to keep them active. Second, while we can’t control parish futures we will be nimble in adapting and designing Conferences to give everyone a Vincentian home. Some Conferences may serve multiple parish communities, while some parishes may now host multiple Conferences! Third, we will not assume Vincentian membership and services, but actively work to keep everyone we have and increase our efforts to find new members.

The people we serve continue to be with us, and their numbers are not shrinking! With today’s economic challenges, short and long term we may have more demands on our time and financial resources.

The Church is still with us as well, even though it is at times battered and bruised. Our Bishops and priests still appreciate our work as an “outsource solution” to serve the neighborhood poor amid dwindling clergy and parish resources to do so. The Church also deeply appreciates our work to help anyone, especially Catholics, to grow in holiness.

Most importantly, Christ is still with us. We know this because we see His face every time we serve.

Hang in there, dust ourselves off after so many challenges, and let’s get to work to re-establish our membership and our faith in action. Too many depend on us to do anything less.

Dave Barringer

06-23-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-23-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1363 1363 SVDP USA

Sir Paul McCartney is touring again this year. In a few days he will turn 80 years old, but he still takes on  the grind of travel to different cities and several hours of concert performing almost nightly.

I saw him in the late 1980s, when he played RFK Stadium in DC for two consecutive July days. (I attended both shows, but please don’t tell either woman who went with me once!)  He was already nearly 20 years from his last Beatles album and about 15 years from his “Wings at the Speed of Sound” album and tour. We all thought it was pretty cool, if not historic, to see him live and in person.

Over the years I have kept Sir Paul rolling in money, having bought the same albums first on vinyl, and then again on 8-track (kids, ask your parents), cassette, CD, and now streaming services. Heck, vinyl is cool again, so I could buy another box set at many times the price of the first album!

The songs sound better than ever thanks to digital technology and re-mastering. It’s just not the same, though, as seeing a live concert, with all its potential for between-song artist comments, little glitches, cranked up amplifiers, impromptu guitar riffs and of course, the environment of thousands of fans standing and screaming. There is something special about just being in the same room, even if that room holds 50,000 others.

Imagine if Christ had not appeared in person to the Apostles after His crucifixion, but instead sent a messenger, or since all is in His power sent some sort of recorded message. Impressive? Definitely! But nowhere near as powerful as His appearing in a locked room – after His own death.

After their shock subsided a bit, we know that the Apostles listened, and then remembered Christ’s words and image for the rest of their lives. They spread His message and their personal encounter around the known world.

As Vincentians we have almost the same opportunity. How often do we say that we see the Face of Christ during a Home Visit? And that we hope that those we serve see the Face of Christ likewise in us in our humble service? We certainly are not the Lord, but we bring his messages of hope and love with us when we enter the home of a neighbor in need.

Over the pandemic period, we needed to innovate to maintain our service to people in need. Often, during the suspension of person to person contact this meant a greater use of the telephone and Zoom or other computer-driven tools to make a connection and to provide for emergency needs. Yet it was never planned to use these tools permanently.

Yes, a phone call is more efficient than driving to and from someone’s house, and a phone interaction is more likely to be brief compared to a personal visit. Yet brevity and efficiency has never been our mission or even our intention. No, as Vincentians we are more focused on caring, friendship and prayer, none of which are driven by a clock or even a calendar. Relationships take and deserve both our hearts and our time, whether it be hours, days, or months.

We concert-goers vividly remember the time and place of seeing our favorite musical artists. The in-person experience leaves such a lasting impression. Likewise, our friends in need will often long remember our Vincentian presence as the Face of Christ during our Home Visit. They will remember the help we gave them and most of all, our compassionate spirit and hopeful attitude.

As McCartney once co-wrote, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Let’s avoid whenever possible anything less than our physical presence in the homes of our friends in their time of material and spiritual needs. Be a Vincentian rock star!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

06-16-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-16-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

In last week’s Servant Leader Column, Renato Lima de Oliviera, our International President, shared some of his thoughts looking back on his presidency. In another year I may write a similar column, but today I want to look forward, not backward. Like Renato, I have 15 more months left in my term of office, and the process of choosing the next National Council President has begun. Succession planning is important at every level of the Society, and we have a National Council process that will provide a six-month period for me and your next president to work on a smooth transition.

Earlier this year I appointed a National Election Committee. The committee is headed by Raymond Sickinger, and its members include Sister Kieran Kneaves, Gladys Hoerner, Mike Syslo, and Tommye Grant (replacing the recently deceased Marie Wicks). CEO David Barringer and I serve on the committee as ex-officio members. I am grateful for this committee of well-respected Vincentians who have prepared the necessary documents and have the duty of overseeing the entire presidential nomination and election process.

A call for nominations of presidential candidates and the details of the process were issued at the Midyear Meeting and were sent to all National Council members. Nominations were due to be postmarked by June 13. As of this writing, four nominations had been received. The names of nominees, their biographies and their platform papers will be provided in the next few weeks, after the committee examines the nominations to verify eligibility.

At the National Assembly in Baltimore, there will be an opportunity to meet the candidates at the Host City Reception. They will each speak at the Saturday business meeting. To reduce the slate to two candidates, your representatives will be asked to vote for the candidates they believe will best serve our National Council.

Following the Assembly, we will conduct a nationwide process that will allow all active members to review the two candidates’ platforms, biographies, and recorded videos, and then to vote at a Conference meeting. The results of this deliberation by members will then inform the vote of National Council Members from each diocese represented. Please look for more information in the e-Gazette about the candidates and the process.

To help us find the right person to be our next president, what I ask all of us to do is to follow the Society’s long-standing practice of praying to the Holy Spirit regularly as our process proceeds. That is what was done when our first president, Emmanuel Bailly, stepped down. Here is the prayer provided to us by the National Election Committee. To download the PDF of this prayer, click here.

The office of National Council president is not an honorific position but is rather a servant-leader role that is both extremely rewarding and quite challenging. I and every previous National Council president will attest to the fact that we did not fully understand what we were called to do when we took the position. Like the rest of our entire vocation as Vincentians, serving as national president is a journey that requires prayerful trust in the Providence of God. It is a journey I have been on with all of you for almost five years. That journey is not finished, but it is time to ask the Holy Spirit to identify who will continue it with us as the next servant leader of the National Council of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the United States.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President


06-02-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-02-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

My son the 20-something high school teacher and coach challenged me to a 100-yard foot race. I accepted, knowing I would lose, because that’s what dads do. I can pull a hamstring just thinking about running, so I told my wife to go to the finish line and get the oxygen ready. We took our starting positions, and I told him I wanted the Lynyrd Skynryd option. While he thought about it I took off, yelling “Gimme three steps!”

He was kind. Sure, he beat me like a drum. I won’t say by how much, but he made me a sandwich before I got to the finish line.

The real win for me was being asked to race. Of course, that’s what us losers say all the time! This time I mean it. When we have a chance to participate in anything with someone younger, related or not, it’s a good thing.

Our country recently has elevated its thought and language about diversity and inclusion. One area we forget about too often is the diversity that comes with age, and how important it is to reach across age groups in all directions to find different skill sets and certainly different perspectives.

It’s not as hard as we think. In our respective lives, we have the commonalities of careers, relationships and parenthood, to name just a few. These may not always be comfortable to discuss at first, so we can consider others. Sports, for example. Every generation loves or hates Tom Brady or the Yankees. I find it easy to talk about Marvel movies with young friends. They know the characters mostly from the films, while I read the original plotlines years ago from the comics. This leads to passionate conversations of absolutely nothing of consequence! Unless we consider friendship a consequence, that is.

At the recent Young Catholic Professionals annual conference, I was the oldest Vincentian present by at least 30 years. I was energized by the enthusiasm of our younger members for their faith, our Society’s impact on their lives, and their evangelizing spirit in discussing our works with others. If this is the future of the Society, we are in good hands and hearts.

A lot of younger adults think differently about volunteerism than older generations. They aren’t able to commit to the same number of service hours, at least not as performed in weekly meetings over years. They tend to prefer service commitments made one day at a time. If the service was fulfilling for them, they do it again. Their friendships and volunteer service mirror their careers; they tend to be portable. What’s more lasting, fortunately, are their marriage and family vocations, and faith. All need to be nourished.

What an opportunity this presents for all of us “seasoned” Vincentians. Most of us have younger relatives, whom we can ask to join us. We may also have “Church friends” and other relationships with younger adults in our lives. They have been watching you, learning about what you consider to be important and the examples you provide – whether you know it or not. That’s how all of us grow into adulthood in every generation; by learning from the ones who have already travelled our roads.

Please don’t assume that because they are young they aren’t ready to get closer to God, or that they don’t want to serve the poor. The exact opposite may be true! In fact, a younger person with a good introduction to a concept, person or experience often becomes a lifelong believer! Why else would anyone still be a Cubs fan?

If we wait to recruit someone when they retire from their careers, all those past relationships and good experiences preempt a bit the ability to create new ones. Let’s work across generations to find new ways to serve, and new ways to communicate and share our faith that work for younger adults. Let’s work together to create and fan a spark, even if it doesn’t burn brightly right away.

We can show how every song the younger music fans listen to started with traditions laid down by Chuck Berry or the Beatles. In turn we can appreciate that some things are entirely new! We can argue who is better, Babe Ruth or Shohei Ohtani, Bill Russell or LeBron James. The answers don’t matter, really. What counts is the dialogue and the friendships that result.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

05-26-2022 A Letter from Our Servant Leaders

05-26-2022 A Letter from Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

It is difficult for us to process the recurring news about mass shootings whether we try to do so as Americans, Catholics, or as family members. As Vincentians, however, perhaps we can add constructively to the conversation and to the question of “What can we do?”

This column won’t address the Second Amendment or gun control issues. Rather, as Vincentians we focus our prayers and services on people. What do we know, and what can we do?

We know that poor health (physical, and especially mental), leads to unhealthy situations including marriage challenges, rage issues, workplace violence, and child abuse. Many of us act differently when we are in pain, even if from a simple headache. Chronic pain often leads to worse choices and outcomes. Some pain leads to depression, hopelessness, and “acting out” in many forms. In our work with families, we can see more readily than most how deficiencies of income, health, medicine, and general medical care intersect, often in potentially dangerous ways. We know that some of our friends in need must make a choice between buying food or medicine. And since food is often for one’s entire family, food wins. If the medicine is for a mental or psychological condition that may not even manifest in physical pain, it can be an easier if more dangerous choice.

Some of our Councils have started free and least-cost pharmacies to help. With such support, a person in need has more money available for other basic needs. Some folks can’t even afford a doctor visit co-pay, so anything we can do is helpful in daily-life terms. Other nonprofits have initiated a prescription program in concert with their returning citizens work, wherein someone gets diagnosed and prescribed a mail order medicine before prison release and it carries forward when they are home. Imagine the mental health issues alone that are avoided with this program for a vulnerable returning citizen!

We look at not only emergency needs but also systemic change solutions for our neighbors in need to mitigate or even exit their poverty situation. We may need a more strategic look at how mental health services, medicines assistance, and general healthcare intersect with other poverty challenges. Vincentians don’t need to be the medical providers, but we can help organize the dollars, transportation, and scheduling and/or arranging the visits needed. All of this will require collaboration with public health offices, healthcare providers, funders, pharmacies, and other important players. We are pretty good at this in other areas of our work, notably food pantries and utility payments. Consider this another stream of basic needs we can contribute toward for those we serve.

We won’t know if helping someone manage their money to afford both healthcare and proper nutrition will result in positive societal outcomes. What we already know is that any help we can provide against the root causes of poverty is good help, and that no act of charity is foreign to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Even in such pain and tragedy as the national news brings us all too often, God is trying to tell us something. Those we serve have more than financial needs. Our Home Visits provide social interactions which, even by themselves, support mental health by having trusted friends to talk to in difficult times. We have such a unique perspective of being with people and families in need where they live. While we are not trained to diagnose, we can observe and listen, and then make services connections and offers to help with healthcare costs.

In our Council and Conference meetings, let’s broaden our discussion about how to help our neighbors and explore how we might support, and even lead, community health access and supports. In discernment and prayer, let’s partner as needed to do more. If needed services already exist in our community, we can at least advertise and refer.

All of this may never save one single life from a senseless shooting. Yet how many more shall we learn about before we ask if there is something, anything, we can do as Vincentians to help prevent this?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

05-19-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-19-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

One of my earliest leadership roles was in the fourth grade. I started a Legion of Super Heroes club among my classmates, based on a popular comic book at the time. Each of us took on the identity of one of the heroes – there were about 25 of them, thus a “legion” – and played that character’s role during the meetings we held at recess. I was, no laughing please, the Invisible Kid. In the comics the Kid was the elected leader, had a pretty cool uniform – with a headband! – and it could have been worse, like being Matter-Eater Lad whose superpower was, correct, to eat all kinds of matter.

As with many things at that age, the club lasted about three weeks. On the other hand, no super-villains ever attacked our school.

I learned at that point some valuable lessons. One, girls who were not that interested in boys anyway at that age, were even less interested in boys pretending games. Different members need their own motivation for joining and staying in a group. Second, and most important, was that you can have a cool name, interesting mission and, in this case, all the logos you could ever want, but you better have something tangible do at the meetings.

Here we are today with almost the same challenges. We might even argue that super villains really do exist, but that’s for another column.

We meet every two weeks or so with a group of heroes – we call them Vincentians. We don’t have a Legion, but we do have a Society, and it’s even global. The group has a cool name, a very interesting and important mission and, somewhat unfortunately, even multiple logos!

When we invite new heroes to join us and save the world, or at least make our neighborhood better by caring for those within it, what do these recruits see? Do they see bickering current members, more focus on the snacks that day than the mission, or discussions not resulting in action, the main heroic purpose? Do they leave without an assignment, a mentorship, or even a member handbook?

Heroes need purpose, or else they hang up their capes.

How blessed I was to learn this at age nine! Through the years, I had plenty of other formal and informal leadership roles, as have most of us. We lead in our families, jobs, military, clubs, sports teams and even in our group of friends. Leadership decisions might range from formal goal setting to figuring out where to go tonight to have some fun. We set budgets, we organize and motivate the group for some purpose, and we evaluate our work for the next time. We might even do this without thinking about leadership concepts or lessons to carry forward.

It amazes me when someone is elected as a Conference President and act as if they have never led a group! Or worse, they did lead but apparently didn’t learn much from the experience. They act as if leadership is something new at the age of 60, or 70 or older.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has it own rules (and Rule!) for its leaders, tested and confirmed over decades. Every leadership experience has its unique set of rules of the game. If we choose to see it as such, it’s what makes it fun! Every rule set allows for different innovations and approaches, even when the basic leadership skills are more or less the same.

Please consider the various leadership roles you have experienced. You were thrust into some by circumstances, others you were elected into, and some you no doubt took on because no one else was willing to lead. However you got there, remember that God put you there. Just as He does with all aspects of our lives, God gave us these past opportunities to prepare for future opportunities. As we reflect on each of these experiences, let’s ask what we learned, or should have learned, and how that might help us in our Society leadership roles today. Also, how did these experiences help us to be better followers of other Society leaders?

We all know the saying of “live and learn” and appreciate its truth. To “lead and learn” as we approach new Society leadership opportunities allows us some confidence. We have the experience, maybe just not here. God has provided it for us if we just review the life He has blessed us to live. Everything He has given us prepares us for the moment before us!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

05-12-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-12-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

Every week, it seems we Catholics are asked for our positions of the social crisis of the day. For a religion that is so often ridiculed or ignored by the media, they sure do ask often for our opinions!

It fascinates me that our brothers and sisters in different faiths are rarely asked how they feel as a religion about the issues of the day. No, the Catholics are the standard. I choose that word intentionally.

We know that Catholics disagree with each other – just attend any Conference meeting! We also know that some Catholics are at odds with the Church on various issues including life, immigration and borders, climate, and others. We overlook sometimes that our faith is somewhat unique in that it has actual positions, derived over years – sometimes hundreds and even thousands – and that these positions are written down for everyone to see. When a Pope even suggests a departure through imprecise words from these positions, it makes worldwide news.

When some disagree strongly, they may face a crisis of conscience leading even to a departure from the Catholic faith, although many would tell you that they disagree only with the Church and not with the faith. They still believe in Christ and how He died for our sins. They just disagree with the “politics” of the Church. Which is also interesting in that using political yardstick measures, the Church is liberal in some regards and conservative in others. This is not inconsistency; in fact, the Church is remarkably consistent. Maintaining clear and consistent values can lead the Church to the right for some individual issues and to the left for others.

As a Vincentian and as a Catholic, you may be asked for your opinion of the Society’s position on the topic of the day. The Rule provides us with guiding elements to help us. The first is in Part III, Statute 29 on our Relationship with Civil Society. The Society does not identify with any political party, we are nonviolent, we bring Christian values to political matters, and those holding political offices are asked not to hold any “mission of representation” within the Society while in office. That alone covers a lot of ground these days!

The second relevant element is in the Rule, Part I, 5.3, in which the Society recognizes the right and duty of the diocesan bishop to confirm that the Society acts in accordance with Catholic faith and morals. In other words, while we are officially autonomous of the Church (see I.5.2), we maintain a close relationship with the church hierarchy and its values. Many of the political battles and policy decisions we face come down to moral decisions, don’t they?

The third relevant element is not in the Rule but in the Manual of the National Council of the United States, in Section 2.1: Speaking for the Society. It’s one simple sentence: “Only the National President may ‘speak for the Society’ on national issues. For local issues, this is delegated to the Council President.”

It is tempting, when asked for your opinion, to give it! As Americans, we enjoy freedom of speech. This freedom, however, does not extend to us speaking on behalf of most organizations to which we belong, including the Society. It can be challenging to hold one’s tongue when the issue is important and we have such brilliant commentary, but please do resist when asked about “your take” on any Society position.

Allow me to offer two alternatives. When asked for my opinion “as a Catholic” I can often respond by directing the inquirer to the local bishop or to the USCCB. When asked by media for my view as a Vincentian, I let them know that even as the national CEO I don’t speak for the Society, but often I will add a question of my own. “What are the consequences of this issue, intentional and perhaps unintentional, for the poor? Please consider them in forming your story.”

Catholics, through the formal Church and its many informed and cause-related organizations, have a voice, even if this voice is sometimes ridiculed or ignored. The poor, however, often have no voice at all. It seems that every social issue affects them more than everyone else, and usually negatively. As Vincentians we can work to free their own voice, or if not possible, work to speak on their behalf.

As noted above, the Catholic viewpoint is often used as a standard. Let our Vincentian actions speak as standards of love and care for our neighbors, humility, and everyday work to make our world a better place for all. Our own lives are testament to our Catholic faith and values. By our lives we can be the standard for Good.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

05-05-2022 A Letter From Your Servant Leaders

05-05-2022 A Letter From Your Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Last weekend the National Football League held its annual draft of college players. It has become a major sports-media event as team managers take their turns identifying the new talent their teams need to complement their current rosters. Fans are interested in these picks and speculate on the contribution of new players for the future of their teams. Are you a talent scout? Do you work to build the Society of St. Vincent de Paul team by identifying the people in your community who might have the talent your Conference needs?

Who is your replacement? That was a frequent question my friend Mary Steppe would raise in talks when she was the vice president for the North Central Region. None of us can forecast how long we will be in a position to do our Vincentian service. Do you have a roster of talent ready to grow and strengthen our organization?

I encourage each of you, regardless of your position in the Society, to be a talent scout and recruiter. Unfortunately, some Conferences are satisfied with their current roster and don’t feel the need to actively look for new members. If there are enough members to do the work, then why look for additional people? Adding new people might rock the boat. Eventually, however, a once-thriving Conference with that sort of perspective will struggle to maintain a healthy membership.

Too often I have seen Conferences just rely on people to “sign up” at a parish talent day. That is not scouting and recruiting. Instead, try identifying people you think would make good Vincentians, and then talk with them about what the Society means to you. If we value what we do, each of us ought to be recruiting our replacements. For that purpose, nothing beats personal invitation.

The Society’s Rule tells us that our leaders “provide an encouraging atmosphere in which the talents, capacities and spiritual charism of the members are identified, developed and put to the service of the poor and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.”

Mary Steppe was good at providing that encouraging atmosphere and inviting people to take jobs. That is how you can position people to take leadership positions in the future. She pulled me into participating in the Society beyond my own Council by putting me on the National Stores Committee. When I became an Executive Director, she assigned me the task of presenting a workshop on the spirituality of St. Vincent de Paul. That first talk I gave was pretty awful, but it set me on a path that would lead me now to being on the International Council’s Historical Commission. This willingness to invite people to take on tasks big and small is necessary if we want to grow the leadership for our network of charity.

Take the opportunities available to grow the leadership of the future. A good team builds on the talent it has recruited. Provide good training, give new members responsibility and invest in their development. I encourage you to send members to your Regional Meeting, to the Invitation for Renewal leadership-formation program, and to our National Assembly. Soon, registration will open for our National Assembly in Baltimore. If you can send some of your members to that meeting, I guarantee they will come back with new ideas and the motivation to see our Society thrive.

Your efforts to build our Society may not be as high-profile as the NFL draft weekend, but I think what you do to scout and recruit our future leaders is far more important for the good of our communities.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
SVdP National President

4-28-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

4-28-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1363 1363 SVDP USA

It surprises many people to learn that the function of advertising is not to create sales, but to build or drive traffic. Sure, that Buy One, Get One offer or sales price advertisement gets you into the store, but from there you still make a purchase decision on your user experience. In marketing terms, Promotion gets you in the door, but Place, Price, and Product close the sale.

I mention this because the same principles apply to recruiting volunteers, and in our case Vincentians. That pulpit talk or yard signs or parish bulletin announcements all have their place to get people into the recruiting space, usually a Conference meeting or a phone call from a member asking one to join. Personal invitations are often the magic key to a new member, however they come to you.

We suffer sometimes from great advertising but less than great first impressions and other follow-up with prospective members. How many times have a dozen parishioners come to an introductory meeting but are never seen again? Did we fail at genuinely welcoming them, giving them something meaningful to do, listening to their questions, or even simply describing who we are and what we can offer them in our Essential Elements of Spirituality, Service, and Friendship? Don’t shoot the messenger of advertising and promotion; instead improve our product introduction and its benefits!

Product in our case is the set of local Society activities including service to the poor, spiritual formation and the friendships we build through Society membership. Place is the distribution models we use to deliver our services in neighborhoods, provided once again post-pandemic face to face, which is so unique and allows us to see the Face of Christ. The Price is the commitment to meet and to pray regularly, and to serve others as one is able. Since we often hear that Vincentians receive so much more than we give, our “price” of membership is quite reasonable!

Most of this member marketing process is local. After all, that’s where we hold our Conference meetings and where we conduct our works.  Yet the larger Councils, including the National Council, have supportive roles to play. These larger groups can “advertise’ through media on a larger scale than your neighborhood, and build relationships with people and groups in large numbers. This is especially true when we seek out greater diversity in our members, whether it be through age, ethnicity, skill sets, or other distinguishing characteristics.

As this week’s e-Gazette is published, the National Council is promoting the Society at two national Catholic events. The first is Raices Y Alas, a convening built upon the strengths of the recent V Encuentro process for Hispanic Catholics. The second is the annual gathering of Young Catholic Professionals, designed for adults up to 40 years of age. Both groups are important as recruiting opportunities for the Society, and so we will sponsor, provide scholarships, have an exhibition booth, and most importantly, send current Society members to talk up our works and our sincere invitation to join with us.

But none of this activity or expense will recruit one single new member.

No, this week’s work is an investment on behalf of our local Councils and Conferences to start the ball rolling toward local recruitment – that selfsame Product, Price, and Place discussed above. These national events may result in some specific names of people interested in joining, which will be sent to the local Council where they reside. The greater benefit, we pray, is that the events add to the Society’s favorable exposure for participants to learn more about us over time and inquire about joining on their own terms and timetables.

Such marketing investment should not be limited to a few times a year, or only through national event participation. It needs to be consistent (in other words, our branding) and continuous, too, because people are ready to listen to our message on their schedule, not ours. The truth is that we all need to be recruiting at the national, Council and Conference levels all the time, creating a pipeline for new members. Again, however, all those sales leads end up at your local door where they can be turned into members – or just turned away.

There has never been a time in our Society’s history, locally or globally, when we had enough members. Even Conferences that have hundreds of members (yes, these do exist!) should welcome more members seeking their way to greater holiness! Too many members for our parish boundaries? Twinning isn’t just about money; share your membership wealth with more needy neighborhoods. Expand your programs – often our limitations aren’t about funds, they are about people capacity. The needs will always be greater than our membership.

It’s funny how memberships evolve. Every year, we all tend to get one year older! Therefore, we have a constant need to replenish our member ranks, even if those new members are in their retirement years. What are we doing – today – to market and build our ranks of faithful servants trying to get to Heaven?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

4-21-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

4-21-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 520 468 SVDP USA

A priest, not a C.M., gave a homily, about service to others. Father’s final comments, “Remember the less fortunate, and when you see a needy person, look to see the face of Christ in their faces. In all we do, it is important to take care of the children and the elderly. That is what our faith and our Lord wants us to do, especially the young and the old.” Father could have been talking about our Society. Our service goes beyond financial assistance, food, and clothing. We take care of our neighbors in need, as well as provide a safe environment whether in our Home Visits, dining rooms, or thrift stores.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul lives out the belief that all individuals are created in the image and likeness of God and, thus, entitled to respect and dignity. Our mission includes protecting the rights of the weakest among us including the poor and vulnerable. In today’s world, the sexual abuse and exploitation of women and children is a problem of epidemic proportions and one that demands a response from us.  Such a response must not only include a position statement but the development of policies and programs that educate, screen, and protect the young and vulnerable from potential offenders and inappropriate interactions and situations.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People has given rise to a variety of programs and companies that are available to Catholic Dioceses, parishes, organizations, and outside groups. These range from full-service programs that offer member & volunteer databases, foundational and renewal courses, and background checks to locally developed and implemented programs. Each SVdP Council is encouraged to take a look at the various programs and models to decide what best meets the requirements of our national Safeguarding policy and the needs of their area and Council.

The task of developing a Safeguarding policy should take into consideration local policies, both as determined by your Diocese as well as officially authorized legal entities that the council/conference operates within. This may be an area that you will need to discuss with your appropriate legal advisor. It is recommended that exploration of the existing Catholic Diocesan Safe Environment Training (SET) program and screening processes used in your area can significantly aid in the development of your policy. Use of existing commercial Safe Environment training programs such as Virtus, Praesidium, and Catholic Mutual and their screening processes are already in place in many of our Councils’ areas and will offer the ability for compliance as requested in this important area.

Also, your insurance provider may have resources available that may be suitable for your specific jurisdiction and already are working with you on other liability issues, so a discussion with them on this topic may reveal a program that can be used.

Councils should consider how staff, vendors, volunteers, and contractors are able to safely voice any concerns through an established procedure, ensuring reporting abuse or potential abuse in a safe and secure manner. Employees, volunteers, sub-contracted agencies, vendors, and partners must receive your appropriate training on safeguarding annually and upon the start of a new working relationship.

Establish an efficient recording of all training and put a monitoring system in place.

Demonstrate how you will meet legal obligations of local, state, and federal guidelines.

Work with the local diocese to reflect their safeguarding policy as it meets the legal requirements. Identify responsible parties for internal investigations and reporting to authorities with written process in place to follow. Conduct background checks to prevent the employment of individuals in work with children and/or adults at risk where they have been barred by the state and federal authorities.

Display the Safeguarding policy in your facilities. Promote it to the community by sharing it with everyone including all volunteers, partners, vendors, contractors, and those you serve. Organize training that demonstrates how to handle situations that may occur, so your staff and volunteers are comfortable with the process.

Yes, there are questions, and the task force is here to help and will make every effort to assist Councils, albeit every diocese or jurisdiction has their own requirements. Our priority is a safe environment to protect our neighbors we serve, as well as Vincentians, employees, and volunteers.

We thank all Vincentians and councils for their efforts to create and advance their local Safeguarding policies. We appreciate the help from the national office, and members of the task force: Shirley Smalley, District President, Phoenix, AZ, Cathy
Wilhite, Executive Director, Peoria, IL, and Mark Zirnheld, CEO/Executive Director, Buffalo, NY. As stated by Pope Francis, “The protection of minors and vulnerable persons is an integral part of the Gospel message that the Church and all its members are called to proclaim throughout the world.” We are all there to follow the Gospel and teachings of our Society.  God bless you all.

Guadalupe E. Sosa
Chair, National Safeguarding Task Force

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