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How has The Salvation Army survived?

Napier Salvationists in 1886 after release from prison for ‘parading the streets in their peculiar fashion’. The War Cry reported: ‘

I’m fascinated how The Salvation Army has survived?’ The reporter’s question caught me a bit off guard, curious about how The Salvation Army remained relevant, when it seemed so out of step with society with ‘uniforms and ranks and things’.

What worried me about the question was not really how you explain to someone what’s kept The Salvation Army going over 150 years. Nor even the idea that they thought the Army was strange.

What worried me about the question was that what seemed so unusual, radical or strange was our military structure, ranks and uniforms. In a world where values like charity and care for the poor have become more mainstream, does the Army not stand out anymore?

I’ve been feeling worn down by the Army drumbeat of bad news and hard times. Feeling jaded and questioning if we’re getting anywhere. But then I heard someone from our Social Housing team say they celebrate every time they find someone a home. Finding someone a home is their everyday job. It would be easy for this to become routine. But what an exciting thing to celebrate!

I wonder how often we stop to celebrate what we do. This year alone I’ve listened to some amazing stories of what this church does, but I haven’t always stopped to wonder how unusual they are.

The story of a church that has given a home to a dying woman facing homelessness. Of a church where gardening and chopping firewood becomes a way of bringing justice by feeding the hungry with healthy food and teaching them new skills. A church that looks at gang members and sees people in need of love and support to break their chains.

Where a recovering addict told me about how people from his Salvation Army church gave him a room in their house when he was homeless, and found him a job. Another gave him a car, while others counselled him. He told me the biggest thing they did was trust him, a man with a criminal record—that made all the difference.

Celebrations are also a chance to challenge ourselves. At the start of this month The Salvation Army marked its founding, when two Methodist church members—William and Catherine Booth —stepped out to found a movement to ‘transform society’. It marked the latest wave of an unusual mission to bring good news to the poor and to set the captive free. Through those years, The Salvation Army has survived and thrived best when it lives out a mission that stands out as ‘strange’ or ‘weird’ because it turns society on its head.

So, I guess what I’m wondering is when this journalist steps into a corps or visits a Salvation Army centre looking to find out about The Salvation Army today, what will they find that’s out of step with society? Will they find a place that celebrates associating with the poor and outcasts? Are we still weird enough?


by Robin Raymond (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 15 July 2017, pp3

You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.