(Above) Strawberry Field, the site of a former Salvation Army children’s home immortalized by John Lennon in the Beatles hit, Strawberry Fields Forever, is now a centre offering vocational training, a cultural and heritage exhibition and space for spiritual refreshment

Earlier this year, my wife, Colonel Lani, and I travelled to the United Kingdom where we were able to witness The Salvation Army’s ministry at work in that territory. We are huge Beatles fans, so it was a particular thrill to stop at Strawberry Field, the site of a former Salvation Army children’s home. It’s a place of unconditional love and acceptance, where John Lennon was drawn as a child and which inspired the iconic hit, Strawberry Fields Forever.

The Salvation Army and the Fab Four have another connection. In the 1980s, The Salvation Army was granted the rights to the Beatles’ song, All You Need Is Love, to promote their Red Shield campaign in England. The TV commercial was an instant hit with the public. It consisted of simple black and white photos of Salvationists serving others as the refrain played. All you need is love—the love of Jesus in action.

It’s that same spirit of service and sacrificial love that Colonel Lani and I are discovering in the Canada and Bermuda Territory. We are overwhelmed with gratitude for the warm embrace and genuine welcome we have received since arriving from Southern California last August. It has been a joyous journey, travelling from coast to coast, connecting with officers, employees, volunteers and Salvationists who form the vibrant tapestry of The Salvation Army across this diverse territory. Here are just a few examples:

  • Within weeks of arriving, we visited Kelowna, B.C., where Captains Rob and Jennifer Henson, along with fellow officers and soldiers, provided sacrificial service to the community during devastating wildfires. Displaced from their own home, the Hensons stayed until it was safe for everyone to return.
  • Later, we travelled to Winnipeg, where we met with newcomers to Canada at Southlands Community Church.It’s been amazing to see the world come to our doorstep. In response, our corps mission department is promoting the Love New Canadians curriculum, which equips Salvationists to minister to new immigrants.
  • At corps in Ontario, from Northridge Community Church in Aurora to Toronto’s Scarborough Citadel to Mississauga Community Church, we are seeing three generations of Salvationists in healthy worship and discipleship. It’s amazing to see that youth, growth and energy.
  • We toured several social programs in St. John’s, N.L., and saw how the Army is providing for the very practical needs of those on the margins of life. We attended St. John’s West Corps and were treated to the beautiful music of many different instruments coming together in worship.
  • And lastly, we witnessed the Army at work on the beautiful island of Bermuda—a brief respite from the cold Canadian winter that we’re not quite accustomed to yet. 

Everywhere we go, we witness the incredible commitment of Salvationists to bring help and hope—setting aside personal wants and agendas to serve people in difficult circumstances. We are forging deep connections and partnerships that will enable us to create a brighter future for the communities we serve.

Of course, our territory is not immune to challenges. We face declining enrolment, aging congregations and sustainability issues in many of our corps. And yet, that heart of Salvation Army service persists. When we stay focused on the mission, when we seek out God’s will for our congregations and communities, good things happen.

Our commitment is to encourage, empower and support. We are here to serve and be a catalyst for positive change in the lives of those we are called to lead. As Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” This encapsulates our approach to ministry—a call to selflessness, humility and genuine concern for others.

Reconnecting with our Salvation Army roots has got me thinking more about the mission of our co-Founders, William and Catherine Booth. The Booths wanted The Salvation Army to be outward focused. In contrast to the established church of their day where only “respectable” people were welcome, the Booths threw open their doors to embrace the whosoever. To this day, the Army is still the best-positioned church to reach the underserved, though we must vigilantly guard against attitudes of exclusion and discrimination.

In the end, the Beatles were on to something. All you need is love—the sacrificial love of Jesus. The Booths understood it and lived it. Their goal was to unconditionally embrace everyone—especially the least, the last and the lost. It’s still our mission today.

Colonel John Chamness is the chief secretary in the Canada and Bermuda Territory.

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