God speaks to us at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. Probably more than anything else, he tells us to ‘love your neighbour’.
Sometimes we hear something on the news, have a conversation with a fellow commuter or a colleague, or pass someone on the street, and remember those words, and we are called to act.
Other times (most of the time, if I am honest) we harden our hearts, feel too burdened with our own woes, and move on.
This is a call that St Vincent de Paul heard and answered from the depths of his heart throughout his life.
I volunteered a bit with various organisations when I was younger, but when my own life became too complicated, it got harder to find the time. However, at the end of last year I sat in the congregation at my parish church and listened to an appeal from the Society of St Vincent de Paul.
How many such appeals have I listened to?
How many adverts have I seen or personal stories have I heard, testimonies from friends and strangers about examples of people giving their time to help others, and not done anything myself?
Yet this time I took that message to my heart.
Love your neighbour.
I told myself: You can do more!
The work of the SVP
‘is to extend the hand of friendship to those in need in the community’,
the SVP representative told us. That can mean those living in poverty, those who feel lonely or isolated, the bereaved, homeless, or those who suffer from addiction.
The wonderful thing about the SVP is that they can offer so many different types of help, and can offer that help to anyone. The SVP can offer visits to those who live alone, just to have a chat, to listen and maybe have a cup of tea. Some people might like company to go to a hospital or dental appointment or may need a hand with the shopping.
We can sometimes offer financial support, but mostly, we’d like to be there for people.
In my parish, St Wilfrid’s (Kennington Park), there wasn’t an existing SVP group, which means that we’ve spent the last year setting one up. It has been challenging: sorting out the practicalities, telling others about our work, not just people in the parish but also my own friends and family!
When I started this journey, I didn’t expect to be baking so many cakes (we’ve done a fundraising bake sale and a coffee morning so far!), designing posters, or sending emails and taking minutes, which is part of my role as secretary. There have also been forms to fill in – not my favourite thing!
The hardest thing has been the self-discipline to make time for meetings and other activities, especially when I’m tired, and to be prepared to relinquish my lazy desire to stand back and not ‘get involved’. Then there were times when I felt like things weren’t progressing, which was frustrating.
But I would tell myself: we can do more.
Since attending the first meeting I’ve realised that being a member of SVP is a great opportunity for personal development.
I’ve discovered skills I didn’t know I had, like baking a mean Victoria sponge! Most of all, I feel like I am now part of the community, both in the parish and the local area, which included the local Anglican parish. That’s not something I can even put a price on. I feel I belong.
Our latest venture is setting up a collection for a local foodbank, and we’re hoping to make more visits and offer more help in the next few months as our reputation builds. I now feel hopeful and part of something much bigger and more powerful than me.
I am looking forward to the message ‘Love your neighbour’ being part of my everyday life.
I pray that God will give me the courage to keep taking small steps so I can do more.
Read on about St Vincent de Paul Society’s campaign campaign Who Cares? on the Catholic Herald.