When the first Conference of the Society grew quickly to a membership of more than 100, it became clear that this number was not amenable to the values and goal of our founders. There were concerns about the ability of members to share and develop true friendships in such a large group. Therefore, one Conference evolved into two Conferences. As more Conferences were started, there was a need for an organizational structure to help them understand, embrace and adhere to the Rule of the Society. The idea of creating Councils was born. As other Conferences opened within a Council there was a further need to form District Councils. The position of District Council president is a vital one with significant responsibility for the successful functioning of the Society.
The structure of the Society is unique in many ways, including the fact that Conferences are the base unit of the Society. Even though Conferences are somewhat independent, they are connected through a series of higher Councils, the first level of which is District Councils. The Rule clearly defines the function of a higher council:
- Councils exist to serve all of the Conferences they coordinate. They help Conferences to develop their spiritual life, to intensify their service and to diversify their activities so that they may always be responsive to the needs of those who suffer. (Rule Part I: 3.6)
The organizational structure of the Society in many ways resembles a spider web. Spider webs are amazingly strong because of the very way in which they are constructed. If you think about it, Conferences are at the center of the web and the concentric circles are the supporting higher Councils. The diagonal lines are the lines of communication, friendship, support, and unity that flow between the Councils and the Conferences. Like a spider web, if any Conference or Council is in its beginning phases or is struggling, the structure stands strong and is able to provide resources the Conference or Council might need.
A District Council is comprised of no less than three and up to eight Conferences. Conference presidents represent their Conference at their District level and are responsible for electing the District Council president for a three-year term. As with Conference presidents, a second three-year term may be served consecutively but a new president must be elected after the second three-year term is completed.
District Council presidents represent their District at the (Arch)Diocesan Council level. They are responsible for bringing information from the (Arch)Diocesan Council back to the District and sharing that information with the Conference presidents, as well as bringing information from the District to the attention of the (Arch)Diocesan Council.
So what exactly are the duties of a District Council president? Effective District Council presidents attend the meetings of their Conferences at least once a year. Conference members need to know their District Council president. When a Conference holds a special event the District Council president should make every effort to attend. In most cases financial and service reports required by the (Arch)Diocesan Council should be forwarded to the District Council president for submission to the upper Council. District Council presidents should then review those reports for accuracy and, if something seems amiss, questions should be asked and, if necessary, changes should be made before final submission.
District Council presidents should also review Conference guidelines to make sure they are consistent with the Rule and all applicable Bylaws. If a Conference has violated any part of the Rule or Bylaws of the Society, the District Council president should work with the Conference to move it into compliance. District Council presidents should ensure that Statute 12 in Part III of the Rule is strictly observed to safeguard the good reputation of the Society. That means Conferences must have a full slate of officers and that no officers are related to the president.
District Council presidents function as the thread that connects and ties things together. They are the conduit for communications. They are the promoters of our Essential Elements and the monitors of compliance. They serve as mentors to new Conference presidents and officers. They are the gateway to establishing new Conferences and rejuvenating those Conferences that need to be revitalized.
Above all, the District Council president should be a servant leader as Jesus was a servant leader: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…” (Mk 10:45).