Winter 2020

National Council: Reflecting on our members’ good works

BY TOBY oCONNOR

No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. (Matthew, 5:15)

This reflection is directed to our members and our volunteers. I n so many obvious ways our world has changed. We are pushed to adapt our old routines to accommodate the devastating COVID-19 pandemic in our daily lives. Life has become a lot more challenging for many of our companions. And in the past months, we have seen the real-life impact of the virus on a new cohort of Australians who suddenly find themselves, some as the result of government decisions, facing the great uncertainties that follow the loss of employment.

Our local conferences and councils are adopting new approaches to allow members to continue to walk alongside their companions and to comfort the scores of new people who are turning to the Society as they face the anxiety that accompanies the effects of this virus.

Right now, I reach out to our members and volunteers on the front line.

As you walk with people in need in these uncertain times, I know that you have had to move to using electronic means to communicate with people. This cannot be easy. Many people are in distress as the safety of their previous world falls away due to the impact of the virus and governments’ necessary and difficult decision to take drastic action to protect our nation.

I am writing to let you know that what you do does matter. You are bringing light to many people who see only darkness ahead. To borrow Matthew’s words, you are shining light into every corner of our companions’ houses in so many ways.

Your optimism for a better world for the people in your community is what drives change. ‘Hope’ is that virtue which helps us look to a future that is not here yet.

As our website reflects, in our work with people in need we are often called upon to be holders of hope for them because they come to us at times in their lives when it can be hard to see the road ahead. Our gift to them is not only the resources that we can provide but, our care for them and the relationship we build with them.

Everyone involved at state, territory and national levels of the Society in Australia very much appreciates your eagerness to ensure the Society’s lamp does not sit under a tub. In displaying passion and tenacity, members ensure light from the Society’s lamp lights up the darkest corners.

During these times of change, one thing that has remained constant is our political leadership. In addition to guiding the nation through the uncertainty of the virus and National Council: Reflecting on our members’ good works its health and economic impact, politicians continue to address the anxieties confronting so many Australians.

I want to let you know that the concerns you have expressed about your companions are being relayed directly to our Federal Parliament. We know that love motivates your conversations with all the people who approach the Society for assistance and comfort. This is an essential dynamic of our pastoral care. It is this unconditional love and your capacity to travel with people in need, for a long time or a little while, that ensures that when the Society addresses the Parliament we are not, what Corinthians refer to, ‘a loud gong or a clashing cymbal’. What we say is truly reflective of what you are seeing first-hand in local communities right across Australia.

Since COVID-19 has emerged, your National Council has made submissions to the Bushfire Royal Commission, a number of Parliamentary Inquiries, including on homelessness, income support, issues affecting migrants and refugee and mental health issues, and worked with federal committees like the National Bushfire Recovery Agency and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Ministerial Committee. Our advocacy through other channels is also heavily dependent on what you are telling us. Some of these are covered elsewhere in this edition. I am confident these contributions reflect the National Council’s direction that the Society’s light must shine in people’s lives (Mtt, 5:16).

I hope the accompanying diagram goes some way to highlight the process that ensures that your crucial lived experience feeds our advocacy on these crucial issues. The essential take away from my reflections are these: the Society’s ‘bottom-up’ model is our strength. All of us can recognise the role we play in relaying the hopes and aspirations of people in need.

Without our conferences and our members reflecting the challenges being faced by those they provide pastoral care to we would not have the strength of practical experience to deliver our advocacy messages or our proposals to make existing systems fairer to our national decision-making House.

Before concluding, I want to acknowledge the very hard work all our social policy staff put in to crafting our social justice positions. There are many occasions when they have to work to pressing deadlines and on many fronts.

They serve our members and our Society well in bringing about a fairer Australia.

Finally, thank you to all our members for what you do to. May you continue to be a beacon of Christ’s love on the hill. ♦

Toby oConnor is CEO St Vincent de Paul Society National Council.

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