What Is a Conference?
Named in tribute to the original Conference of Charity, the Conference is the basic organizational unit of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Most commonly organized at local parishes, a typical Conference has about 15 – 20 Active Members, and often quite a few Associate Members. Most of the Society’s work is done by our Conferences, whose members visit their neighbors in need in their homes and help in the best way possible. Many Conferences also run food pantries, or other Special Works.
Conferences of the Society are genuine communities of faith and love, of prayer and action.
Conferences meet regularly, usually weekly, but at least twice per month. Unlike many organizations, Conferences meet less for business than for spiritual reasons. All meetings include prayer and spiritual reflection, strengthening the members’ spiritual bonds and friendship, as well as the common mission to help the poor and marginalized.
Meetings are held in a spirit of fraternity, simplicity, and Christian joy.
Leadership positions in the Society, at any level, are always to be accepted as service to Christ, the members, and the poor. Servant leadership is done in imitation of Jesus who said: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.”
Every Conference elects a President, who appoints at least one Vice President, a Secretary, and a Treasurer. In addition, some Conferences have more than one Vice President, along with Committee Chairs, and leaders for specific projects or special works. Presidents serve a maximum of two three-year terms. While the other leaders are not term-limited, all Vincentians are called to Servant Leadership, and a frequent rotation of duties keeps Conferences stronger and more vibrant.
Leadership Workshops and Training
Conference President Guidelines
Secretary’s Minute Book
Because the Society embraces the principle of subsidiarity, Conferences have great freedom of action to make decisions that take into consideration their local environment and circumstances (cultural, social, political, etc.).
In this way, the Society promotes local initiatives, enabling Conferences to help the poor spontaneously and more effectively, free from excessive bureaucracy. In exercising this freedom of action to face the challenge of poverty in their area, Vincentians feel called to pray together for guidance and strength and for that creative imagination which is the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.
All decisions are made by consensus after the necessary prayer, reflection, and consultation. The democratic spirit is fundamental at all levels of the Society and, when appropriate, matters are put to a vote.
Conference Document Search
Starting a New Conference
There is not (yet!) a Conference at every parish. The National Council’s Growth and Revitalization Committee has many resources to assist with forming new Conferences.
What Is a Council?
Councils at all levels are formed to support the Conferences and the Members. Councils provide opportunities for developing community, sharing expertise, and keeping Conferences and members in touch with the Society as a whole. Councils help in the following areas, as needed: internal and external communication; formation and education; spirituality; reports; collaboration; outreach; advocacy; management of special works; and compliance with the Rule and good governance practices.
District Councils consist of 3 – 12 Conferences within some defined local area, helping to keep individual Conferences in communication with each other and united in spirit. (Arch)diocesan Councils include all District Councils within a given (Arch)diocese, and act as liaison to the National Council.
Following Christ’s example in the spirit of Vincent and Frédéric, today’s Council leaders are called to be servant leaders. They base meaningful decisions on the consensus of their members, who respect and care for each other as well as the needy. The President is first their friend, and only then the implementer of the Council’s responsibilities. In the Society, moreover, the office seeks the person, not vice versa.
Council President Guidelines
Leadership Workshops and Training
The Bylaws of the Society state that a District Council is composed of a duly elected President and the Presidents of affiliated Conferences; (Arch)Diocesan Council membership is composed of the Presidents of affiliated District Councils. Qualifications for membership on either Council’s Board of Directors are spelled out in their bylaws. Incorporated Councils have a board of directors, whose members should understand their responsibilities and obligations, keeping the Society on a sound legal and financial basis.
Governance: Council and Board
Council Document Search