A couple of impressions hit you as soon as you walk in the door of a Salvation Army church. The first, and most obvious, is the very heavy use of military style dress and terminology. Easily half of the attendees this morning were dressed in a formal uniform. The church is known as a ‘Corp’ or ‘Citadel’. The leader is referred to as ‘Major’. And the music is lead by a brass band.
I have mixed reactions to this. Having spent time reading and thinking about the Anabaptist position, with its strong emphasis on peace and non-violence, it seemed weird to be in a church that was so keenly embracing a military style. But on reflection, I suspect that the Salvation Army is trying not so much to adopt militaristic imagery as redeem it. This army does not exist for the purpose of extended political power through the means of lethal force. Rather it quite clearly exists, in their own words, to ‘be a positive transforming influence in the world’.
In fact the I came away with the impression of a church that has a very clear sense of purpose, and a very disciplined approach to achieving their goals. The Salvation Army is well known in the city for its work among the poor and homeless downtown through the Bayside Mission. And unlike some of the more isolationist groups that I’ve visited, these programs are run in collaboration and cooperation with several other city churches.
I also got to talk after the service with a member who’s involved in the church’s justice and prison chaplaincy ministry. He made a very interesting point about the ‘other victims’ of crime – that is, the family and dependants of prisoners. This is something that Rupert Ross talks about a lot in ‘Returning to the Teachings.’ The effects of any crime spread outwards through a community like ripples on a pond. As well as the immediate perpetrator and victim, there are many others who feel the consequences. Not least those who may lose a breadwinner if the perpetrator is incarcerated.
I’m very glad that the Salvation Army exists and is taking practical steps to address these kinds of issues. I don’t think I’ve yet visited a church that has so clearly integrated its understanding of the gospel with a robust, outwardly focused ministry.