Holy Risk and New Spaces

A Reflection for CVN Members
by Yonce Shelton, Executive Director

As I move on after five years leading Catholic Volunteer Network, I am reflecting on how I have always regarded CVN member program leaders as spiritual entrepreneurs. Most of the supports and challenges the CVN team offers you reflect that conviction. Our desire to help you embrace creative leadership drives us.

We also acknowledge that leading in new ways can require insight, confidence, and trust. My last experience with you affirmed how we are all in this together; how you inspire me to nurture and trust the power of community space.

The recent annual National Conference on Faith-Based Service was grounded in openness that fostered awareness and creativity. We embraced a space and engaged self and others with a spirit that empowered us to receive in ways that will foster personal growth and professional leadership. That required risk and trust. Moreover, deciding earlier this year to build that space required a leap of faith. I was only able to jump because of the honest sharing so many of you have offered this network. And still, I was scared to let you down.

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In recent years, CVN has sought to find the right balance of prophetic, pastoral, and practical support for members. We have focused on catalyzing new vision for the future of faith-based service and helping you navigate significant changes that challenge you, your communities, and how you lead. We have asked hard questions about traditional models of service and softer questions about your personal needs, struggles, and awareness. When the time came to decide the focus for this signature event, we took a different direction than in past decades.

We affirmed our focus on prophetic and pastoral, but let practical concerns take a back seat. This was a risk because programming, management, operations, and sustainability need serious attention. However, we felt called primarily to honor the spiritual, emotional, and experiential needs of leaders. We believed that soul work – not strategic planning – could have the greatest impact on your mission at this time.

CVN designed a gathering to help attendees explore often ignored realities of: 1) organizational change and transition; and 2) personal health and leadership in the faith-based/nonprofit arena. We enlisted facilitators and speakers to engage grief, trauma, burnout – and resilience, hope, and empowerment. We sought to engage hearts and souls more than minds. We were clear that the terrain during those days would be tough. We knew that might keep some from attending. But, although we could not be certain, we sensed that this offering would be transformative.

So we risked and trusted. And it happened.

This four-day gathering was a moment in time when we got in sync with the universe, metaverse, multiverse – something along those lines. It was one of those special moments when God helped us get into God’s flow. Attendees gave themselves to deep invitations to grow. They were opened. They let down their guards. They saw things in new ways. They connected dots. This mysterious weaving of threads happens because desires, experiences, and gifts truly connect with the Spirit.

One seasoned CVN program leader shared that he did not realize how much he needed the focus and space we made possible; how relevant it was not just organizationally, but personally. A facilitator shared how impressed she was with how deep participants were going; with how they were giving themselves to the tough work of exploring connections between self, ministry, and change. Like attendees, she was moved in unexpected ways.

What happens in these spaces is hard to describe. It is beautiful how what unfolds cannot be replicated exactly. The work of CVN is to help welcome God by gathering, convening, and caring for souls. That should look and feel different each time.

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I share this reflection because I am proud of this community. This conference experience was a highlight of my career. You made that possible.

Even if you did not attend, you were with us; you are with us. Your desires, struggles, questions, and critiques inform us. Your spirit infuses what we do and how we do it. I often think of many of you when making a decision or taking action and ask: would that have honored their passion, wisdom, and service? These thoughts I share are for all of you. I am seeking to honor many CVN relationships and community efforts. I am thankful for chances to be with you and co-create in ways that help all of us lead.

I am grateful for how God has empowered our journey. CVN members have worked hard at paying attention, listening, balancing, struggling – and at trusting the mystery of God. It’s who and how you are becoming. I hope our common efforts provide a sense of strength, confidence, and power that helps you continue serving in many ways, for many years to come. Trust where that will lead you.

May you continue the quest to balance prophetic, pastoral, and practical. May you trust, open, and receive. May you have what you need to risk well – to take holy risks in relationship with God and others.

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