What Prevents People From Full Participation in The Salvation Army? - Salvation Army Canada

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    What Prevents People From Full Participation in The Salvation Army?

    Learning from the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. April 19, 2021 by Ben Riche
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    In Acts 8, the Apostle Philip encountered an Ethiopian eunuch who was studying the prophet Isaiah but didn’t know how the prophecies were fulfilled. After Philip shared the good news about Jesus, the pair came to an oasis, and the eunuch asked the all-important question: “What prevents me from being baptized?” Philip, obliging him (the default male pronoun assigned in Scripture), answered by implication: nothing.

    Would this person get the same answer if he encountered the gospel in one of our churches? Sure, he might be welcomed at the door, to a pew, even to the mercy seat. He might still accept Jesus as his personal Saviour.

    But where could the eunuch go from there? Although we don’t practise water baptism, the question remains: Would he be able to immerse himself in the life of our corps? Would he be invited to play a meaningful role in the future of the church? In outreach? In worship? In leadership?

    In some places, the answer to some of those questions might be no, which makes me wonder, What prevents full immersion in our church?

    Time and Talents

    Growing up, I couldn’t figure out why some of our most talented, creative youth lost interest in our corps’ programming, while I had the time of my life. The answer I got from a leader frustrated me so much that I knew it was true: “There’s nothing here for them.”

    One of the easiest ways to increase our program engagement is to diversify the programming itself. In the recent territorial survey for young adults, many expressed gratitude for youth music ministries as foundational to their spiritual lives—mine included.

    One respondent envisioned a church where “EVERYONE can participate,” including “less-skilled musicians.” Where are the programs for them? How much kingdom-potential slipped through the gaps we left open because we were focused on programs instead of people? When kids showcased their difference, did we lament or accept that difference and immerse them in new ways?

    Just as I Am

    A couple of years ago, our senior band did a community engagement with other groups around the city. A tuba player asked if I was with the St. John’s Temple Band. I said yes. He told me that in high school, all he wanted was the chance to play in our band. I asked why he hadn’t.

    “A leader told me the young people’s band was the end of the road if I didn’t become a senior soldier, so I figured I should just quit while I was ahead,” he replied. The programs he enjoyed were not meant to nourish him and his soul, but to nourish other programs.

    I know what you’re thinking: that’s not what they’re intended to do! But on the individual level, it’s what they have done, and it’s what they are doing.

    My home corps just made the decision to welcome band members and songsters regardless of soldiership, so I asked new musicians what it meant to have that barrier removed:

    “Being welcomed with such encouragement and open arms made me feel closer to God, and a very strong connection to my church family.”

    “It makes me feel as though my church is meeting me where I am, and that I don’t have to be any specific thing to be worthy of their acceptance.”

    “As someone with a lifelong church involvement outside the Army, especially in the music of worship, and as someone not quite at the point of joining as a soldier, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to join the songsters and lend my voice to the public worship of God.”

    Another set of responses in our survey suggested we consider the “othering” impact of the Salvation Army uniform, and its function as a prerequisite for a certain level of involvement.

    Whosoever Will May Come

    Overwhelmingly, the young adults of this territory want to belong to a church that is inclusive and accepting of whosoever comes seeking God’s grace. We want a church where everybody belongs, has a voice and plays an authentic role in the body of Christ.

    This includes people of different ethnicities, people who are not soldiers and those of different genders and sexual orientation. Everybody. The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch sets the scriptural standard for the radical acceptance of all people into full immersion in the church, the body of Christ. Let’s keep listening and learning on this journey, with humility and love.

    Are we ready to become a church that meets this standard, that hears the all-important question and is ready to honestly respond: Nothing is keeping you from full immersion in our church.

    Ben Riche attends St. John’s Temple in the Newfoundland and Labrador Division.

    llustration: sv_sunny/iStock via Getty Images Plus


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    Comment

    On Friday, May 7, 2021, Anon said:

    I was a fifth generation salvationist. I grew up playing cornet in the band. I played on the front bench in both the Corps band and the divisional youth band.

    When I went away to university, there was no army to go to. I missed it.

    When I came home on Christmas break, my home corps had been closed and my family had transferred to a new corps. I phoned the new band master and asked if I could play with the band while I was home. I was happy when he agreed.

    I hadn't had room in my suitcase for my uniform, so I showed up Sunday morning in the only black pants I had and a dark sweater I had borrowed.

    I got to the band room early and introduced myself all around, then started to warm up.

    When the band master arrived, in front of everyone he chastised me for not being in uniform. Then he made me pack up my horn and leave while everyone watched.

    That was over 20 years ago, and I've still never been back to an army band.

     

    On Thursday, April 29, 2021, CJ said:

    I am so grateful for this document as it is so timely. My corps is going through a challenging discernment process at the moment. In addition to some serious building issues, we have a polarised congregation. There have been regular attacks on our COs and senior leadership team and there is a significant level of bullying in the corps. I've been a Salvationist for over 50 years, but have witnessed too many situations where folk have been made to feel devalued or unwelcome and so to our shame they have left, or even more sadly kicked out. I have had to minister to too many grieving family who have lost LGBTQ loved ones after they were told there was no place for them at the Lord's table. It is hard to sing “Jesus shall conquer, lift up the strain, Evil shall perish, and righteousness shall reign” when the biggest evil we face often exists right in our own congregations. If we as The Salvation Army are to continue to minister to the whosoever, we need to allow God to bring us to our knees and pray, "...Break my heart for what breaks Yours, Everything I am for Your kingdom's cause."

     

    On Sunday, April 25, 2021, Major Wayne Green said:

    Sounds like you are all intelligent people who have forgotten what the Scripture realy says on the 'elephant in the room' issues. You are critical of TSA for doing their very best to be holy. There are srandards that God has established and to expect less is to engage in a fight with God not TSA. The article is nothing more than an attempt to further the same sex agenda and create a Church that offers nothing more than liberalism. I came from another Church to TSA and even today after retiring, I find my Corps a place where I am accepted, challenged and blessed. I have NEVER regretted joining TSA, I love my Church.

     

    On Friday, April 23, 2021, Herb Presley said:

    We have become so self-serving and inward looking in our worship practices in the Army. The Salvation Army was formed as a worship/social services hybrid with the purpose of bringing men and women and children to Christ. Yet here we are worrying more about music programs and uniform wearing and soldiership than about the millions of men and women whose lives are leading them to a lost eternity - and as for the poor, well we have our social service programs, don't we? We are prepared to leave the suffering and sin of the world to someone else and worry about ourselves. Don't get me wrong. I support youth activities and programs along with many of the other activities in our corps. So here's the lesson....rather than talking about major changes in the wearing of uniform and the perfection of music (which, after all were meant to bring people to Christ) - why not get back to the original goal of the Founder to "Go for souls, and go for the worst!". It might change the face of the Army and lead us into new paths of influence on the world.

     

    On Friday, April 23, 2021, Jack said:

    I think that part of the problem is that "The Salvation Army" has not changed some of their rules to keep up with the times.

    For example, if a Salvationist is living in a heterosexual Common Law or Cohabit arrangement, they are not eligible to serve as Senior Soldiers until they get married, and thus not allowed to serve the Lord.

    In fact, my Fiancee was a Senior Soldier at "The Salvation Army" in at the St. Anthony Corps.

    When she tried to get back to signing up as a Senior Soldier, she's not eligible to return as we are living in a heterosexual Cohabiting relationship.

    With more couples living Common Law or Cohabiting these days, its important for "The Salvation Army" to change some of their rules to allow couples in these arrangements to serve as a "Senior Soldier", "Auxiliary Lieutenant", or "Auxiliary Captain".

    As long as we don't modernize the rules while sticking to the words of the Lord, we will never grow.

     

    On Thursday, April 22, 2021, Debra said:

    I find the comments an interesting read. I’m not sure where people perceive the barriers to be (it seems a lot may be to do with music sub-culture). I can tell you as a corps officer I’m always looking for anyone willing to participate. There may be roles & leadership that require more spiritual maturity to do well but for me that is just demonstrating a living relationship with Jesus, and a growing knowledge of & submission to scripture. I am so delighted when anyone comes with an idea for ministry and the willingness to use their gifts to make it happen. I wonder if there is a perception of general rejection (perhaps from a bad experience in the past) that causes people to believe they won’t be included and so they give up trying???

     

    On Wednesday, April 21, 2021, Erinn said:

    Interesting article. I do agree that you should not have to be a Senior Soldier to join the Songsters or Band. By requiring this I think a lot of people are either left out of the fellowship of these groups (as they don’t want to sign a covenant that they aren’t going to follow) or it causes some to become a hypocrite to their soldiers covenant because being a part of one of these groups is so important to them that they become a Senior Soldier only for that reason. There shouldn’t be barriers to involvement just because one isn’t a Senior Soldier. I certainly don’t think we should get rid of Soldiership though. I love everything it stands for and the conviction and accountability that goes along with it. It should be a personal decision with no outside pressure influencing the reason for making it. Most importantly though, I pray that we keep our focus on Biblical truths and loving and forgiving each other the way Jesus does.

     

    On Wednesday, April 21, 2021, Harold said:

    I can relate to a lot of the comments from this article. I came to the Salvation Army as a teenager as I was invited to the local youth group. I came to know the Lord during Youth Councils weekend. I felt so loved, invited and belonged. Why would I not want to stay and be apart of this family?

    Moved to Winnipeg in 2000, went to Booth. I had a great relationship with other students at the college but it was very difficult to belong at a local corps in this city. Maybe it was because the congregation knew we were here for a short time or not. Four years later I moved to Alberta and the same issue. The congregation was very heavily focused on band and choir. I never felt I fitted in and it was very difficult to get to know people at this church. The Christian and Missionary Alliance is very large in Western Canada. A lot of their beliefs are similar to TSA. I got involved in a small group at an Alliance church and 15 years later still friends with this group and been going to this church ever since.

     

    On Wednesday, April 21, 2021, Andrew Francis said:

    I love the article However I have to ask about the inclusion of this statement within the scripture ? (the default male pronoun assigned in Scripture)

     

    On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, Old Timer said:

    I have attended the Army my whole life. I love the people, I love what their mission is supposed to be. Having said that the Army will not last as a church if they don't pull their heads out of the sands of traditions and regulations and adjust to today's society. I am an old 4th Generation Salvationist and I have been around for a longtime and seen a lot of good and bad stuff. This storm that is coming is different and will be devastating. You are shallow if you think God cares if you drink or if you smoke or if you wear a tunic or if you are Gay, Bi, Straight or Trans. The Army needs to get the plank out of it's own eye so it can truly meet the needs of folks not only physically, but spiritually.

     

    On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, Hurt and Angry said:

    Having been lifelong Salvationists (over 50 yrs) my family left the SA a few years ago. We moved to a large Corps in the east midlands in 2008 and the top man on the cornet bench (and ISB member) bullied my husband within weeks of us going to the Corps and it carried on for around 10 years. This resulted in my husband loosing all confidence when playing. We had spoken many times to the Bandmaster/band sergeant and CO about the situation over the years and after many promises that it would be dealt with, nothing happened. This guy started to do the same with my daughter when she returned from uni, (she had studied Music and is a good cornet player, playing top cornet in her uni brass band under Philip McCann). This was the last straw, and after a concert, where he picked on them both, my husband had had enough and had an argument with this bully, my husband left the band and no one from the band leadership spoke to him. We continued to go to the Corps for another 12 months but it just became too painful/hurtful and upsetting to go and be ignored by the band locals and CO. We have not attended now for 3 years and have not heard from the ‘pastoral care council’ in that time. I contacted the DC in Jan/Feb to ask the status of our soldiership and told him about the issues which had been the cause of our non attendance. His reply was kurt and unfeeling, not once did he say he was sorry we felt hurt, he replied that the corps had discussed us and were happy to have us back, or if preferred, they would be happy to transfer us as ‘soldiers of good standing’. How dare they! What makes them think we would even consider putting ourselves back into that toxic situation and be treated like that again, we are only just beginning to heal now. He said the CO would call me ASAP to discuss our concerns, we are still waiting e months on! So to answer to your question.......get rid of the elitism in parts of the organisation and deal with those who cause issues, such as bullying, irrespective of who they are. There is no place for bullying in any church but sadly some of the elite musicians (ISB/ISS) get away with it time and time again. I know this as since we have left we have heard of others who also left this particular Corps for exactly the same reason. I fear for the future of the SA if families like mine, who were fully committed and active members are forced to leave like us.

     

     

     

    On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, Disappointed said:

    We were raised in the Army, parents were Corps Officers as well as some of the children. As a former officer myself I can say that many times I have been disappointed in the way people were not allowed to participate in a visible ministry such as band. Years ago, one of my brothers was told by the CO that he could not play on the Corps hockey team because he wasn't a Soldier in good standing (was going through a marital breakup). The 'ex' could openly wear uniform and lead a ministry unit but he couldn't play hockey...needless to say, he left the church and lost his faith...shame on that Officer.

     

    On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, Capt. Sheldon Bungay said:

    I commend the author for the wisdom shared and the challenge to all Salvationists to truly ask where anyone who is considered somehow "other" can still find meaningful space and "immersion" within our services and activities. As I re-read the Acts 8 encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, I was reminded of another encounter in Scripture when Jesus spent time with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) and absolutely obliterates such barriers as race, gender, culture, and religious norms to accept her into His presence and offer life-altering words and love. I humbly ask, why is it that we keep placing up barriers when Jesus was so quick to tear them down?

    Is it pride because we have had success in our past and we want to keep things the way they have always been?

    Is it fear because we have no idea what our congregations might look like if we welcome the "other?"

    Is it selfishness because we don't want our own comforts disrupted?

    Maybe it is confusion because we don't actually fully understand what the Scriptures say!

    What I do know is that Jesus was quick to embrace anyone who came humbly seeking, regardless of lifestyle, gender, hurts, habits and hang-ups. As a Salvationist, I want to be known as someone who would do the same. If we are to move forward as a denomination, I pray that we will hear the direction from the Holy Spirit to view every person we encounter with the acknowledgement that they too possess the imago dei within them and may we ever cease to ascribe dehumanizing qualities to them, and instead offer the embrace!

     

    On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, Matt said:

    Great piece of writing and thought Ben. Such needed ideas and challenges not only for the church as a whole but as stated - for TSA in particular. The courage to remain Gospel-Centered in our thinking, believing, and doing is the challenge of TSA. Like other church denominations, charities and groups people often allow our traditions (past and present) to take center stage rather than our theology, cosmology, and how that is lived out through our understanding of - how these things mingle and dance in our current reality as humans. I am sure another article could be written about how 'fear' plays into one's reluctance to people's inability to engage in full participation in TSA. When I consider the rag-tag bunch of diverse followers that were both fully commissioned and empowered by Jesus (God with flesh and bone on) to change the world, I am sure we are often missing the mark when it comes to helping people to 'fully participate in TSA'. The questions that I think of are: what sort of courage would it require to change our current trajectory and what do we perceive as risks or costs (if we do change or if we refuse to change). Again Ben - a good piece of thought and writing. onward together :)

     

    On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, Rob J. said:

    Since the writer couched things in terms of SA music groups, it's only fair to say that there are probably very few brass bands and songster groups in Canada & Bermuda that strictly limit participation to soldiers now anyway. I would say say the few that do are primarily located in Southern Ontario and Newfoundland, with a few scattered around the country for good measure. The problem is that the many bands that do allow everyone to participate tend to do it on the 'down-low'. I think this needs to change! Open it up to everyone. Announce it! If there are any requirements make them more musically based (the ability to read music or have a basic skill level on the instrument) than spiritually based. Make those who imbibe occasionally feel welcome. Celebrate those who want to become soldiers, but don't make it seem as the pinnacle or the top. Make everyone feel welcome.

     

    On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, Chris said:

    Though I agree with the premise of the argument generally, it unfortunately has within it the cultural neo-religious doctrine of inclusivity. This is a word used by many, inside and outside the church, as a synonym or even a replacement for love. But love does not equal inclusivity.

    So while we may need to address how solidership looks in the future, particularly as we see the placeholders and older generations bent on holding onto Tradition for its own sake continue to not so slowly die off, I think the question needs to be not whether someone’s soldiership gives them a ticket into the band or whatever else, but rather how it can be utilized to bring the Army’s focus back to its God raised purpose. TSA was not raised for “programming” but for mission. And this mission requires soldiers who remain an exclusive group because only those dedicated and willing to sacrifice deserve the title and the honour of being a soldier.

    So in the end, arguments over inclusiveness, membership, drinking and participation should only seek to identify and re-define what soldiership itself should look like for those of us left holding up the shattered pieces of our culture and our Army.

    I pray that we have a Gideon moment where we are exclusive for the sake of being a mission oriented, effective, and deeply committed Army of God.

     

    On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, A “Young Adult” who is basically middle aged said:

    Hello all,

    As a “young adult” who is in her mid thirties, this comments section is very disheartening and reminds me exactly why I dislike attending my local corps...it feels extremely elitist, cliquey, I am belittled like a child by church members and told that my thoughts and opinions don’t matter because I’m not a retired officer.

    Remember that our founders were radicals in their time, and the traditions they built the Salvation Army upon were to shake things up from the status quo of churches in that time. If we as congregants or leaders refuse to change and cling to these traditions because ‘it’s what we’ve always done’, then how are we any different from the churches that William and Catherine Booth broke free from in the first place?

    It’s more important that our communities know we are Christians and Salvationists by our love...not because we have uniforms and shiny instruments and stringent rules for membership.

     

    On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, Jeff Davies said:

    The 'elephant' in the 'room' is, of course, our stand on alcohol. Many never got involved or stayed involved because it required a promise to abstain - something which no other church demands. An officer friend told me that in the five years that he led a fair-sized corps, they lost eight teenage boys from Army stock on this single issue. And I know several former Salvationist who left, and one of the first things that they acquired was a wine rack. Interestingly, the requirement to abstain is not a demand that the Army makes of its front-line non-Army workers in our Life houses who interface with people who have problems with alcohol consumption. I remember seeing my son sitting with an old school friend at a charity event in hostelry they were both drinking Guinness. My son because of that particular life choice wlas unable to continue in his participation in corps sections:his friend would be back leading worship in a large evangelical church on Sunday. Morning - he was the youth leader in that church. I'm not sure if our tt stand has made us a better Army, but I am sure that it has made us a smaller one.

     

    On Monday, April 19, 2021, Mary Joy said:

    I am a young adult. I was included even before l become a soldier, in the worship team as well as other church related activities. I stayed because the Army did something! They didn’t just talk, they rolled up their sleeves and worked!! One of the reasons l stayed was l saw an opportunity where help was needed and welcomed. I have never felt more at home in my life!! Everyone can help!!

     

    On Monday, April 19, 2021, Glen Smith said:

    I am pleased you included sexual orientation. My son is a junior soldier, and at 16 came out to me as gay. He loves the Lord them and now. After coming out, he continued attending the corp. Then 1 Sunday morning, the officer made horrible remarks concerning being gay. I KNOW my son did not choose his sexual orientation That Sunday my son walked out of that meeting and never step foot in a army corp again He is now 32 and his faith in Christ is very deep and real So yes a gay man or woman should be able to join the church 100%

     

    On Monday, April 19, 2021, Norena Piercey said:

    I was raised and am SA,found a lot of those comments disturbing,We have to stand for our Bible teaching,but in my opinion a lot of people would like to hold God in one hand and the things of the world in their other hand,

     

    On Monday, April 19, 2021, Nancy Hood said:

    As a young adult myself, I see the point of the article. There is a lot of us that take up a seat and nothing else, because we are not valued as members of the Corps. In my own Corp, there is nothing for my age group and now married with a young child, there is even less. The older generation does not want to see change and they think they must keep the Army the way it was 100 years ago. I hope we can change this idea and try to reach the young adults and young families. We do want a church that is inclusive but it’s because we want to be recognized and heard!

     

    On Monday, April 19, 2021, George Kelly said:

    It’s surely not what our leaders say, but what the Bible says. There will be no SA in heaven. So perhaps we should look to what we as Christians have in common and keep our allegiances exclusive.

     

    On Monday, April 19, 2021, Lynne McDormand said:

    This is indeed thought provoking. The fact is, there are many who feel "less than" in the Army and in other Churches. The Bible says there will always be a remnant of God's people. Does the Army want to be only a remnant? A vague memory? I think we have much to do.

     

    On Monday, April 19, 2021, Capt. Nick Samuel said:

    I'm interested in the suggestion that being 'fully immersed' in corps life equals being a member of the band or songsters. Firstly, if the avenue of service that is the band or songsters is considered as 'fully immersed', then why are so many trying to be rid of this option as unpopular, outdated and unnecessary? Secondly, what of those who (musically able or not) participate in Community Care Ministries, or Business Administration, or Family Services ministry and feeding the homeless - are such Salvationists not considered 'fully immersed' because they are not in the band or songsters? Being a musician is one of many avenues of service available to Salvationists, and I look forward to the future articles expressing why so many feel excluded from those opportunities. Or perhaps more helpfully, we might explore why the covenant of soldiership is being viewed as unfavourable and unnecessary. Is it because our culture declares so loudly, 'I have the right to do what I like without being held accountable'? Or we simply choose to be our own god, instead of listening to the Holy Spirit?

     

    On Monday, April 19, 2021, Chris Lyons said:

    Whilst I greatly sympathise with the point of this article it leaves me with a disturbing question and dilemma. If people can be fully immersed in a Corps without becoming soldiers, what is the point of becoming a soldier? Should we then do away with soldiership (then change the name as we would no longer be an Army)?

     

    On Monday, April 19, 2021, Concerned said:

    I was not going to comment on this article, but the last line in Bill's comment I thought was particularly pointed, and reminded me of what an officer once said to me about the treatment we often give our own. "We're the only Army that shoots its wounded". 'nuff said.

     

    On Monday, April 19, 2021, Timothy McPherson said:

    I wish I had experienced acceptance and inclusion. When I was an officer, I came out as bisexual. I was terminated with cause for advocating for LGBT inclusion in The Salvation Army. Then when I tried to have my soldiership transferred to my local corps, both my corps officer and divisional commander refused to do so because I support marriage equality.

    Although I love the Army, I do not see this changing until they love and accept everyone and allow gay soldiers and officers to get married to each other.

     

    On Monday, April 19, 2021, Bill said:

    Many you I have mentored who left the army told me, they didn’t feel their gifts were valued because it was not “traditional.” Also the many rules and regulations for ......., are confining towards any newcomer to the army. One final note, we lose too many quality people because of the poor treatment of people that is swept under the rug.

     

    On Monday, April 19, 2021, Jason Locke said:

    Interesting article. I appreciate this thoughtful piece of writing. As a Christian who is a former Salvationist, I would say that the SA (indeed, the wider church), has impoverished itself with these ‘othering’ practices - all denominations have them. In many examples, they also can cause serious spiritual, emotional and mental harm.

    Here’s the rub: most communities want inclusivity on their own terms. And this often gets couched in the language of spiritual care. But radical welcome can have no agenda other than the Gospel agenda - love for self, love for neighbour and love for God. Everything else needs re-assessing - especially if there’s harm involved.

    I think it’s beyond the point now where churches can claim best intentions. Time to take a good hard look at whether we wish to be prophetic or comfortable: I’m not sure we get to have both.

    - Jason Locke Minister of Music, Islington United Church Etobicoke, Ontario

     

    On Monday, April 19, 2021, Fred Foster said:

    Wow !! If we could only embrace this " everyone is welcome to participate " environment and spread the word around our communities by word, email, Facebook , etc. , our church would fulfill God's will for all and our church attendance would swell beyond our wildest expectations. let's get it underway " TODAY" Blessings for all.

     

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