If you aren’t moving forward, you are dying.

by | May 28, 2016 | Formation, Reflections

dave-barringer-svdp-featured-facebookIf you aren’t moving forward, you are dying.

Not too much different from what Vincent de Paul said, “The community is not now what it once was, nor is it what it will be”

Words that he would probably address to all the followers of Vincent and Louise today.

SVDP CEO, Dave Barringer, continues his reflections on the significant plan to update the culture of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul:

We continue our series of Servant Leader columns on the new Cultural Beliefs for our Society as part of our new Cultural Transformation to help Councils and Conferences achieve key results.

TODAY’S SOCIETY: I strengthen the Society by embracing new and diverse ideas and people.

We all know someone who lives in the past. They don’t, and refuse to own, a computer. They rely on rabbit-ear TV antennas. They don’t fly, not because of health reasons but because they don’t trust heavier-than-air flight. I bet they still have a rotary phone and still wear that disco-era suit to church.

Most of us, however, try at least to keep up. It can be different when technology changes constantly to learn new each new “app” and software. I admit to waiting sometimes until something new proves itself before I buy it. After all, I already own the same Beatles music on a vinyl record, an 8- track tape, cassette tape and CD, and now I stream it! I really don’t want to keep this going to whatever is next. Sorry Paul and Ringo.

Organizations change, or should change, just as much as communications and technology. Some change is derived from the environment, such as the demographics of the community or the laws pertaining to inclusiveness. How many all-white, males-only clubs still exist? Others change because a need they were trying to solve no longer exists, or because volunteerism itself has changed due to available time, family structures and other priorities.

A century ago, America enjoyed a time of great social organizations. Some were segregated by sex or demographic background or the time available for social services and social time. They may exist today but are mere shadows of themselves. The Lions, Elks, Eagles, Optimists, Masons and others have great histories but with maybe a few exceptions are largely absent or irrelevant today.

We might argue that these once-great organizations didn’t keep up with the world around them. What often happens is the organization ignores change until it is too late. It’s usually an erosion of members more than a quick death. “Aging out” is the popular term to describe a membership that keeps its current members until the bitter end, serving as much and as hard as they can, while struggling to recruit new people even from their own families.

Where is today’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul? Well, I invite you to look around. Are your fellow Conference members all over the age of sixty? Seventy? Eighty? Do you still insist on meeting during the workday and then wonder why no one of working age ever joins you? Is your parish becoming more diverse in its membership but your Conference is all white? Have you rotated among the same leaders for many years? Are you doing the special works today that you did twenty years ago, in almost exactly the same way? Is your unofficial Conference theme “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke?”

It’s broke. You just refuse to see it.

We know that some Conferences almost completely age out, to rise again later with a new membership. Maybe a new pastor gets it going again, or one or two dedicated parishioners want to bring it back. This is sad when it happens, because the poor in the community suffered while the Conference decayed and faded away.

A healthy Conference constantly invites new members into its ranks. It purposefully works to reflect its parish and its community in the demographics of its membership. Members work regularly at their formation. New leaders are developed and encouraged. The healthy Conference works to bring in new ideas, too, from anyone and everyone. It looks actively for new ways to serve in more efficient and effective ways that meet its community’s needs, not just the needs of its members. It bends. It replaces old with new. It learns.

I suggest a new theme for the Conference, one borrowed from the business world. “If you aren’t moving forward, you are dying.”

I can look backward at good ‘ol days when I was a kid enjoying twelve-cent comic books, candy bars cost a dime and we paid thirty cents a gallon for gas. I learned to write columns for my high school newspaper using a manual typewriter. Now I’m in my fifties and while I can wish things cost less, today is better. Sure, I remember old times fondly. But to succeed today for my family, my faith, our Society and frankly for my health and sanity, I need to keep up with the world around me. It’s okay to look backward sometimes, but my focus needs to be in looking forward.

Pope Francis recently said in a Mass, “Forward. Let’s keep moving forward.” He was right, of course. Let’s do so with new ideas and diverse ideas and people and we will all be better for the experience. Rather than an anachronism, we’ll be members in a larger, more vibrant and more purposeful Society.<

Yours in Christ,