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,