At the national Invitation For Renewal (IFR) experience, we utilize a protected conversation environment in which the participants can share their joys and challenges, frustrations, victories, and concerns. At times we get some real doozies!
This recent time though was different, and not in a good way. Several participants expressed that they were close to quitting – either their Society leadership role or their Vincentian experience entirely – before they journeyed to St. Louis to undertake a five-day, four-night immersion into the Society’s culture, history, and governance as well as into their own relationship with Christ. The experience “pulled them from the abyss” and, thank God, re-energized them to continue their Vincentian journey.
Okay, so 28 members and leaders got a positive shot in the arm. What about the rest of our 90,000 brother and sister Vincentians? How are they feeling these days, after months of isolation due to COVID, and extreme changes in how we conduct the Society’s services and businesses? If they have not been able to go to Mass, or to meet in person with their Conference, has this dampened or eliminated sense of fellowship affected them? Overall, how has their relationships with God and with their fellow Vincentians changed over the past two years? And what can any of us do about it?
Our focus throughout the pandemic, as always, has been primarily on the people we serve. We recognize their challenges before we see our own. After all, on average a family in poverty has fewer resources – financial, faith, and friendship resources – than we likely have. We knew that life would be tough for them as pandemic conditions changed, especially for people in need. Yet while we raced to act to keep up with our services, and even to create and nurture needed new ones, did we leave our own needs behind?
We have seen this in others, such as first-responders who kept serving in the hospital, police, and fire stations at the sacrifice of their own mental and physical health. Without asking for it, they were often celebrated in the community and nationally as the heroes they are, because everyone learned of their sacrifices and risks, often voluntarily taken. Vincentians, however, often work behind the scenes, humbly and in the “shadows.” They don’t seek recognition; in fact, they often actively avoid it! They would rather the attention be on the plight of the poor, the unemployed, the sick and others who need our help. “I’m good” they might say to anyone asking. But are they really?
We may have recently taken stock of our Society locally to ask how our programs are delivered, and if what we have always done still works in times of changing conditions, technologies and outside resources. Now we must also take dedicated time to ask how we ourselves are holding up. We may have been through a faith and volunteerism Hell, and it isn’t getting that much better very quickly unless we act. The first step is to recognize where we are, then we can do something about it.
What can we do as brothers and sisters? As always, we can pray together, share with each other, and get back to meeting in person not just to perform the Society’s business but also simply to be there for each other. We can share all those frustrations we have seen and experienced recently, and ask for help. Chances are that what you experienced was the same for others in the room. How can we support each other, and perhaps make it better? We start with our ears and our hearts, and then our heads and hands. Break out the tissues, the beer, the laughter or whatever it takes to have honest conversations about our Vincentian experiences.
We talk a lot, including in this space, about the continuing need to recruit new members. Can we honestly recruit truthfully and joyfully if we ourselves are beaten down and battered by life over the past year or more? Can we invite others to join us if we’re not sure ourselves if we can continue?
It may be easier to keep the members we have than to find new ones, but it will still require conscious effort. Let’s take time to retrench and renew. Don’t put it off, start now! Despite the challenges, we know deep down that there is still much to celebrate. There is much to look forward to in our service and commitment to each other and to God. We can and must take the necessary steps to re-discover the joy we had when we started.
God still lives in us. The Face of Christ is still within us and in each other. Step back to take a breath, to re-center and to check on our fellow Vincentians. We need to be okay before we can make it more okay for others. Whether to ask for help or to offer it, please reach out to a Society member today.
Yours in Christ,