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From Your Servant Leaders
April 4, 2019
But where is God in all this?

This week I received two Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) Council annual reports. I love to receive these as they give a good annual look into the activities and accomplishments of our Councils and Conferences. They may be one page or a booklet, in color or simple black and white. They include activities, finances, leadership and donor names, and lots of data and even photos of our local work.

Again, where is God?

These reports both had very little about the spiritual development part of our mission. They instead centered on the great social services work – the pantries, the prison visits and re-entry services, the pharmacies, the housing – all great work! Yet the rationale behind this work, and the Vincentian charism, were absent.

We are not Vincentian simply because we have “St. Vincent” in our name. We are not automatically Vincentian because we print our mission statement in our annual report. If you could tape over the organizational name in your annual report, does the report still feel like the experiences of our members and those we serve? Or does the brochure look and feel as if it could be from any local social service agency?

By the way, while I am harping now on annual reports, we need to look at our websites, newsletters, advertising and other public-facing materials in the same light. I hate to write this, but have we hired staff and directed them to meet service metrics, and therefore they don’t highly value the spiritual side of our identity? That’s what I see in these annual reports and websites. I pray that I am wrong.

Do we have Vincentian elected leaders who are so excited about our new facility, our expanded programs, and the great outcomes we deliver that they forget why we do all of this? Do they forget whom we really serve, our Vincentian brothers and sisters (and yes, the Lord)? How ironic that this needs to be brought to our collective attention during Lent, when our focus should be directed even more acutely to God. However, this is the perfect time to share with others in the Church and in the public what we do for the glory of God and in our pursuit of holiness. It sets us apart from all the other service groups in our communities. God still lives through our works! But only if we recognize it, and not assume that “everyone knows that who we are.” Trust me, they do not. If they truly know about us – the real us – I believe, more would be flocking to join us!

Websites, annual reports and parish communications are each a critical part of telling our story. Let’s take a closer look at these tools to be sure they tell a truly Vincentian story of God’s love, people growing in holiness, and the neediest of our neighbors receiving tender mercies of emergency services and systemic change all rooted in our deep spirituality. That’s quite a story to tell!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer