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From Your Servant Leaders
February 21, 2019

Wouldn’t it be great if our life came with an instruction manual?  If we had a living document created and modified by our family, we would know all of grandma’s life lessons. We could update it when times change and call for new strategies based on our family’s core values. When we face a question or tough decision, we can simply flip to the right page and have an appropriate response. 

Maybe your family is more disciplined, but any such attempt from my elders probably ended either in permanent ostracizing of a few aunts and uncles, or more likely in one big barroom brawl. That’s how my family usually defined “consensus.”

Fortunately, our Society of St. Vincent de Paul voluntary-member family has had better and lasting success in defining how we live and serve together. Working from the Rule models first set down by St. Vincent himself for orders he established two hundred years prior, our early leaders created a separate Rule unique to the Society. It endeavored to establish our core Vincentian values, our relationship to the Catholic Church and our larger society, and to provide in writing for future generations of Society members a set of rules for the road as we take our Vincentian journey
together.

This year, our National Council decided to make some changes in one part of the Rule affecting all U.S. members. This change process is not taken lightly, and it carries some international implications.

As you probably know, the Rule is in three parts. Part I is the Rule of the International Confederation of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. It includes our origins; the purpose and scope of our services; guidance on our personal encounters with the poor; guidance on Vincentian spirituality and vocation; the establishment and rules for members, Councils and Conferences; and relationships inside and outside of the Vincentian Family and the Catholic Church. This section is the bedrock upon which we have built our Society.

Part II is the statutes of the International Confederation of the Society. It provides in detail how our Society works at the international level including the office of the president general, the international board and otherwise how all of us globally work with each other in proper governance and culture.

Part III is where it gets interesting! This is the statutes of the National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Each national Council within the global Society can create its own statutes to reflect local conditions, but these must still be approved by the international body for consistency with the global Rule and all of the governance stated and implied internationally. This section gives us direction on our Essential Elements and Core Values, our membership, the work of Councils and Conferences, our governance and management, and our accountability.

While some of our members gripe about the restrictions set forth in the Rule, it is actually quite a document of freedom. Most other nonprofits would love to be in our position of having such core values and governance all in one place and with an understanding that the Rule overrides any other decision we make at all organizational levels. It may limit us in some areas, sure, but it allows for local consensus in so many other areas of everyday Vincentian life and service. While doing so we know that we maintain our value of One Society, in solidarity with more than 800,000 Vincentians
around the world.

Last year, in reflection upon our Changing the Culture work undertaken across the Society in the United States, the National Council decided to include the resulting Cultural Beliefs into our section (Part III) of the Rule.

As we reviewed the Part III of our Rule for this modification, we agreed that our membership categories also deserved an update. For years we had contributing members, but how these members were defined changed with every Council, making the numbers in the end meaningless for any decision making. It was decided that it made sense to delete this designation altogether, leaving the U.S. Society with two classes of membership, active and associate members. While we appreciate all the contributors of time, money and other resources, we don’t feel compelled to consider them
members of the Society with all of the members’ obligations.

These two changes, Cultural Beliefs and membership, were adopted by our National Council and then sent to the International Society for final approval. We received such approval in December 2018. We are now updating not only the Rule, but other documents, web pages etc., where the Rule appears. Be patient, this is not done overnight! For example, current copies of the Society’s Manual will ship with an insert page noting the changes, and future printings will include the revisions.Fortunately, it was time to reprint anyway!

The 2019 Rule updates are located on our website at: Members/Documents/Council-Conference. You will also see them in the Governance in a Box section. Yes, they are available in both English and Spanish!

This is the first update to our Rule since 2006/7. What a blessing it is that while we can make changes as needed to the core tenets of our Society, such changes are infrequent. While our individual family beliefs and standards may change, our Society’s beliefs and work are close to everlasting!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
National CEO