Servant Leader

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

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?

Jack Murphy
National Chair, Systemic Change and Advocacy




10-28-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

10-28-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1363 1363 SVDP USA

In almost any process, there is some unwritten rule on “fairness” when it comes to who gets what, and who gets it first. Try to jump into a line at your local food pantry and see how this works!

Often, fairness rules have a logic to them even if it isn’t always widely known. The concept of triage during medical emergencies with multiple casualties has a design to it in order to save the most lives. Organ transplant lists can have someone wait a very long time, and then move very quickly when their life is in danger. In a more everyday example, the little color tabs at the neighborhood deli is a clear first come, first served fairness process regardless of one’s perceived hunger needs for cold cuts or the volume of salami to be purchased.

When it comes to serving people with poverty needs, the fairness logic is often questioned because the need can be so acute. In Lebanon, the Society was challenged when it started to assist new refugees coming across the border from the Syrian civil war. Local residents asked why the new guys in town were being helped when, after all, they were already present, poor and in need of help? The Society, in an effort to be fair and not to create group animosities, asked funders to commit one set of resources for existing people in need and another for new arrivals.

Every day, our Conferences discern how much to give, how often the same person or family can be helped, and if there is any specified order for who gets helped first. But wait, you say, we help everyone! I pray that you are able to do so, but right now the usual order of things may be challenged by COVID, recent Society adaptations and other factors. We need to re-examine our assumptions and traditions in light of our finances, and in the name of fairness as well.

For example, a Council hears that immigrants are coming to town (it doesn’t matter where they are from for this exercise) and members want to help. That’s fine, but new resources don’t magically appear, so is help to a new immigrant now not available as much for a resident “already in our line?”

A second example: The Diocese for their own good reasons wants to focus assistance on a specific population – new mothers, people who are unhoused, or any other group – and asks the Society how it can help.  We can easily see the need to help this identified, and now possibly prioritized, group. But at what cost to everyone else in our line? At some point we have a zero-sum game as resources are always limited.

Every time we make a decision as a Conference or Council about who gets our help, in some way we also make a decision about who won’t get our help. Or at the least, we make an unintended decision about who gets pushed back in the line to receive help later, or not as much. In almost all communities there is more human need than there are Society resources to help, so these decisions can change lives for better or worse.

An eternal question for Conferences is whether to help everyone a little with available funds (and time, too), or to help fewer people with more resources. This might involve only emergency needs or it can include systemic change solutions. These are not simple problems because very real neighbors and their lives are affected by these decisions. Apart from our Rule’s guidance not to hoard funds for tomorrow when people need help today, such decisions using our subsidiarity principle are determined locally.

We must ask ourselves if such decisions are intentional in a bigger social context. When we prioritize one group, do we unconsciously decide in a way that could be characterized as based on race, age, faith, gender or another factor apart from need? In any way does it look like the Society favors a group of people other than those in poverty? Conversely, does it look like we have judged people and so won’t help them?

You may be somewhat shocked by these questions. We need to ask them nonetheless in order to assure our Society’s charism and mission fairness. There are no easy answers, only the discernment of our members to guide each other into a path forward that seeks to treat every person we encounter with the same love and charity.  Let’s check our current polies and practices, and be intentional.

What would St. Vincent do? What would Jesus do? Charity, we appreciate as we serve, is not for the weak!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

10-21-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

10-21-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 240 300 SVDP USA

A beautiful gift of Vincentian Spirituality is our experience of Divine Providence, which is also one of the hardest concepts to understand. All of us totally understand God the Father, the Creator, Abba, the image of God as the loving Father. The second person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus, we have the Gospels to really give us a true understanding of the gift of Jesus, the Healer, the Savior. And then we have the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells His disciples at the Last Supper that He will be sending the Holy Spirit and we know that happens at Pentecost.

How do we experience the Holy Spirit in our lives? Well, look for the “nudge.”

You know, the “nudge.” That feeling deep within that says, “You should do something.” Notice the Urge to Do Good on the Earth! This is one of the things we encourage people to look for – the N.U.D.G.E  The Holy Spirit is with us always and moves our hearts to respond to others by this small “voice” from within that reminds us to do good. The other way to recognize the Holy Spirit or Divine Providence in your lives is to look for “coincidence.” You know when you couldn’t possibly explain how something happened for your good or the good of another, but it definitely happened! The other thing you will often see in the work of the Holy Spirit is that it seems to happen just in the nick of time.

When we invite people to consider if God is inviting them to join the Society to grow in holiness as we serve the poor, invite them to be in touch with the nudge. You will be left in awe at how many people discover the work of the Holy Spirit when you encourage them to sense the n.u.d.g.e. This very simple explanation allows them to identify the work of God in their lives. It is not a coincidence that your invitation to others to join the Society found fertile ground when you encouraged them to be open to the Spirit. We know that Divine Providence is well ahead of us in all things  St. Louise de Marillac said it this way:

“I must perseveringly await the coming of the Holy Spirit although I do not know when that will be. I must accept this uncertainty, as well as my inability clearly to perceive at this time the path which God wishes me to follow in His service. I must abandon myself entirely to His Providence so as to be completely His.”

Bask in the uncertainty and trust that the Holy Spirit will lead you as you “see the Face of Christ in the poor.”

Marge McGinley
National Formation Chairperson

10-07-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

10-07-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1363 1363 SVDP USA

Welcome to a new Society year as of October 1. You may not think of this as a big deal, because after all we continue to serve with Home Visits, food pantries, and other SVdP activities year-round. I ask you to reconsider the first of October as an annual renewal.

Think of our national numbers. We have approximately 4,500 Conferences. Each has a President with a three-year term, with an option for a second term. This means that between one-third (1,500) and one-sixth (750) of our Conference Presidents are new as of this week. We also have approximately 200 Councils with the same officer terms, so between 33 and 67 new Council Presidents just took office. Average the two sets and we have 1,175 new Presidents!

That’s just the tip of the Society iceberg, however. Each President appoints new officers and boards, so even with small numbers we probably have another 7,000 Vincentians minimum in positions of leadership. We could then add committee chairs, task force leaders, store coordinators, special works leaders, and others to easily reach a conservative 8,000 leaders among a membership of around 100,000 not counting non-Vincentian volunteers.

We hope that this all means that 8,000 members have each been moved by the Holy Spirit to be new Society servant leaders. We recognize that everyone has a different leadership experience and skills set to begin their service. It also suggests that thousands need more formation guidance, governance assistance and resources, knowledge of our Rule, at least rudimentary budget and finance acumen, and a whole lot of patience, perseverance, and other interpersonal skills. That’s a tall order on the level of organizing an army!

As our new leaders at all levels settle in and learn their new roles, we can all help beginning with our own patience. They stepped up to serve the rest of us, and that alone deserves our respect and acceptance of their efforts and authority. We might also chuckle, shake our heard, and consider the environments some are stepping up, or stepping into, as they adjust to their new realities of Society service. I’m sure that your Conference is perfect, but others are, well, maybe not so much. I’m reminded of the leader from a non-Vincentian group who said “I’d love this organization if it wasn’t for the people in it!”

We can also help with our experience. It is so easy to assume that every new Society leader knows the Rule backward and forward, remembers all the history since the days of Emmanuel Bailly and Blessed Frederic, and even knows where the checkbook is this week! We can share what we know – not as the way we have always done things around here, but as helpful context in evolving forward. We can ask if they have a copy of that booklet we found so helpful, or if they plan to attend that national, regional or local Society meeting where we already know they can share and learn with fellow leaders.

We can also personally introduce our new leaders to the folks they need to know. Start with the local Bishop, Pastor/s, and other clergy who are so essential to our work. Don’t assume they all know your new leader! Then please consider community, business, government, faith, and “poverty” stakeholders we interact with – or should begin doing so to create a new relationship. Help mend fences with a new face and a new attitude.

When we elect and appoint new Society leaders, we don’t cast them out into the open ocean without a life preserver. The rest of us are the lifeboats! We secured their willing leadership, and now we need to support it along with a mutual expectation of success. If not, we may be looking for replacement leadership sooner than we desire. Leadership can be lonely, but it doesn’t need to be. Be the friend your new leader can rely on for advice, experience, or just a kind ear.

Over the decades, the Society has built upon the servant leadership, strong faith and experiences of all its members to keep growing and serving in hope. We all take our turns at one level or another to lead and to follow along our Vincentian journeys.

It’s the first week of October, and new leadership blooms all around us. What can we personally do now or very soon to nurture those who have agreed be our servant leaders?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

09-16-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

09-16-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

It doesn’t take much time to feel utterly alone.

My wife was away over a weekend and I was home by myself. Even though I went to the grocery store and to Mass, worked out at the local YMCA, and bought some food at a drive-through, it was easy to say perhaps only 10 words the entire weekend. And that includes the “Amen” at communion!

In part this relative quiet was self-imposed. I’m blessed to have friends I could have visited, a Society food pantry where I could have volunteered, and a friendly neighborhood in which to converse with my neighbors. I chose after a very active couple of weeks to retreat instead for a few days and spend quality time with some books and televised sports. All told, I have blessings and choices.

Some of the many people we serve do not have these blessings. We know from membership reporting that “elderly living alone” is our first or second type of family the Society serves in many of our Conferences. Others may have a disability or specific situation that causes them to be homebound. Some are parents who, while they have children around them, lack adult friends and family. It’s in all of these neighbors that we can see the difference between being alone and being lonely.

An extreme feeling of loneliness is an underlying condition that can also lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, and many dangerous behaviors such as addictions. If we could stop, or better yet, prevent such loneliness wouldn’t we all want to do so?

When a pair of Vincentians conduct a Home Visit or drop off a bag of groceries, we can easily measure how we provide for immediate needs. What is less evident is the value of simply being present. Often we have no idea of the life of the person we encounter. We may be the first person that neighbor has spoken to in person for a day, or a month. When we knock on the door, we are the face of Christ – friendly, welcoming of a conversation, helpful, and armed with a smile and, ultimately, hope.

Some members ask if the adaptations we all made over the pandemic period can be retained for the future, such as virtual Home Visits by phone or computer. These were necessary to help satisfy corporal needs of mercy such as rent and utilities assistance. We are blessed that we had the tools to adapt such that our neighbors could get the needed material help they sought. But what about their spiritual and emotional needs? Did we fulfill these even a little bit?

We may have taken for granted how much we mean to an isolated neighbor when we participate in person. Others who perform checkbook charity might feel satisfied that they helped in some way. Yet it is as nothing when compared to seeing the gratitude, friendship, and even joy when we make a personal encounter that, when allowed and appropriate, might include prayer and a handshake or hug. You can’t bottle that feeling and you sure can’t mail it in.

As we return post-pandemic to our Society traditions of in-person Home Visits and other personal encounters, let’s do so intentionally in a spirit of truly being a good neighbor even to those who are relatively unknown to us. That neighbor living alone, or otherwise emotionally very lonely, might never thank you for your appearing at their door. You won’t know that they feel more alive today because they spoke to another person in friendship. Some will know they exist simply because someone cared enough to visit them today.

In our Visits we bring more than tangible help; we bring hope and Christ’s love, and even get to feel a bit of it ourselves. It is said that half of success in life is just showing up. When we show up for someone else, we successfully take a few more steps toward our own holiness. Who will you visit tomorrow?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

A Letter from Our Servant Leaders

A Letter from Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

Almost all the leadership lessons you will ever need might be learned with a group walk through the woods. To wit:

  1. Have a designated leader. Every hike needs someone chosen to make the decisions and lead the way. It may or may not be the leader for other purposes the rest of the year.

We elect Conference and Council leaders, and task leaders can be appointed. A leaderless group may sound good in theory but rarely accomplishes anything of lasting value. Good leaders delegate for the task at hand.

  1. Start with the destination in mind. A hiker’s map starts with where we are, and where we are going. The alternative is often being lost or separated in the woods!

Vincentians appreciate visualizing the goal, whether it is the result of the fundraising campaign or knowing specifically how a family will be helped. We feel good when we all know the goal and then meet it!

  1. Prepare for the unexpected. Insects, heat, thirst and the trail itself demand your thinking ahead.

The best of plans, including those in the Society, rarely go exactly as expected. Think together beforehand about what might happen, and prepare for these “just in case” disruptions before you start. This builds confidence, and often strengthens your original plan! 

  1. Have everyone plan and practice a communications plan. Simply, everyone can carry and learn three basic whistles: One to stop and wait for the group; Two to return to the person whistling; and Three to drop everything and run back to the whistle to help.

We can share constantly among our fellow Vincentians and other helpers how we are doing in our service. We then know when to pause before proceeding further, when to rally together or check in, and even when to drop everything to help a colleague in a crunch. 

  1. Make the journey interesting. Not all of the reward is at the final destination; make the hike fun all along the way.

Fellowship is an Essential Element of our Society. How can we make our service more enjoyable? Can we benchmark our progress and celebrate smaller achievements along our journey together?

  1. Bring nourishment. Water and food sustain us as we trod the miles and hills.

We are sustained as Vincentians by the Holy Spirit when we pray and worship together. Spirituality is another Essential Element, and this journey never ends for us.

  1. Dress appropriately. Keep the sneakers and bathing suits for the pool. Wear layers and shoes appropriate for the terrain.

When we provide Service (the last of the Essential Elements, see what I did there?), we should identify ourselves as Society members with vests, jackets, caps and/or pins. We aren’t showing off. We want parishioners and neighbors to know that the Society is present and contributing in our communities.

  1. Use the buddy system. No one hikes alone.

The Society has its two-person service standard in our Rule, and it is there for so many good reasons to protect us and those we serve!

  1. Don’t leave anyone behind. One leader stays behind to encourage the slow hikers to keep up the pace.

Vincentians have unique abilities to serve and individual paths to Holiness. Good Society leaders actively include everyone in our work, and encourage each one of us along our way.

  1. Have a backup plan. Trails get washed out. The bear blocking your path was there first and he ain’t moving!

Despite the advance planning, stuff happens. (In these COVID times I think this is understood!) Good leaders assess the situation, gather input from the group, and when needed, find new ways to keep moving ahead. Innovate, retrench, and stay positive!

  1. Have a strategy should you get lost. Be sure others can easily find and help you if you don’t reach your destination on time.

You can depend on your Council and fellow Vincentians, and written and online resources across the country to help you – but they first need to know where you stand in your progress. Reach out!

  1. Celebrate the achieved goal! Recap the success and plan the next group adventure!

Good Society leaders are never satisfied, as there are always more people in need to serve. Lead others to build upon your recent success, and stretch to do even more in service to God and our neighbors!

While contemplating the natural beauty around us, let’s remember that it was God who made these woods. Perhaps He made them not just to enjoy, but also as a classroom for our future paths of life, spirituality and service.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

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