Mid West Regional President.
In that world of a mere few months ago, the pre-Covid-19 World, all was so safe, so certain and so secure. Now however we are anything but safe, the world of any certainty is a million miles away and we feel insecure and fearful for our families, our vulnerable relatives and friends and for those whom we serve as members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. It’s as if we had a bad dream but on waking up it does not go away. It is our new reality.
From a personal perspective as a Vincentian two concepts come to mind i.e. ownership and stewardship (or Trusteeship). In the last few years, with the particular duties and responsibilities which I’ve had as a volunteer member of SVP I was constantly faced with these two conflicting concepts, but yet from my perspective I would suggest that the ongoing evolving Vincentian journey is a journey between these two concepts i.e. from ownership to stewardship (or Trusteeship)
The ownership mentality to some extent lurks in all of us as human beings and thus as SVP volunteers and is reflected in attitudes and comments/reactions such as “our money….., my clients ….., no one wants to take over ‘my’ role …. we don’t visit travellers, people in emergency accommodation or people in direct provision …., we don’t do (this need) or (that need) …. When I look around a house on a visit I know the difference between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’…. I suppose we could do with a new member or two but we can’t get someone suitable…. I wouldn’t believe in a public recruitment event at all, you could get the wrong type of person…...”
The ‘Ownership’ mentality is so certain, so safe and so secure. It’s the mentality that ‘Our work springs from ourselves alone …..” – a claim that our meeting prayer warns us against as it prevents us to “bear witness to Christ’s love”.
Stewardship or Trusteeship is however a millions miles away from ownership and the development of such a stewardship mentality is I would suggest the inherent process and goal of our journey as Vincentians. It gives us an awareness that we are “agents” and not owners of the Trust. The Trust is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and all of its resources, be it financial or otherwise. The Trust belongs to the beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries and thus belongs to those we serve. Therefore, we can truly say as our founding fathers have affirmed that we are the “servants of the poor”. In order to be so I have found that it is a necessary pre-requisite to have an awareness of my own vulnerability and poverty in order to empathise fully with those whom I serve. It is liberating to be merely an agent, or a steward (or Trustee) as we act on behalf of others and not on behalf of ourselves and thus can unshackle ourselves of the stifling mentality of “control”. Thus without the limitations of ownership and control no act of charity is alien to us, for no need is excluded, no individuals or groups are excluded, and there is no limitation to our visitation. We do not have the burden of being masters but are liberated through a consciousness of our role as servants to the poor and of the transient nature of any particular role of service that we may be asked to carry out by way of officership in the Society.
We are also most conscious of the fact that collectively as Conferences or Councils we have no claim to any funding to which we may have stewardship as stewardship has a distinct responsibility but that is not one of ownership.
The other evening in this Covid-19 World, as I washed my hands (for the umpteenth time in recent days!!) my mind was drawn to “my” hands with an almost magnetic pull and silent question, which shook me as it was so evidently rhetorical, – are those my hands? – I realised that not even our hands are in our ownership. Aristotle referred to the hand as the “tool of tools”. The hand I believe, especially for us Vincentians, is the hand of service to others and thus in a way we are the stewards of our hands which are in the ownership of those whom we serve. In the awfulness of this Covid-19 world, I believe what is of most importance is how we react to this awfulness. By leaving aside the “control” of ownership and taking care of our “hands” of stewardship we are sustained in our Vincentian journey, that same journey taken by our founder Blessed Frederick of “embracing the whole world in a network of love” and today, all of us living Vincentians, in a very real way, hold that very World, that very precious world, in our hands.