We strive to be the best at what we do and a model for others to emulate.
Excellence means being the best you can be – both personally and organizationally. When we talk about excellence, we talk about innovation and effectiveness, and about modelling our core values in everything we do. That is excellent indeed.
In Action – Excellence
Life in Canada is not always easy. As a newcomer to the country, it’s not only the weather that can be a shock to your system. Louise Fernandez has experienced it many times over, having worked through the complicated process with her husband when he immigrated from Cuba, and now, on a daily basis, as she shepherds her clients. The Salvation Army’s Immigrant and Refugee Services program she created in Montréal seven years ago is designed to help those who fall through the cracks. “We’re here for those who don’t qualify for government assistance,’’ she explains. ‘’And if another organization offers the service they need, I will make the first contact. Our focus is on those who have nowhere else to turn.”
Louise’s commitment to this ministry and these new Canadians goes over and above normal office hours. Once she found herself at a hospital in the middle of the night holding the hand of a lonely mother giving birth. “I am passionate about helping those who left their country behind and chose to start a new life in Canada. I am privileged to be able to welcome and help them.”
When we talk about excellence in The Salvation Army, it’s people like Louise and programs like the Immigrant & Refugee Services that we are talking about. Going the extra mile, striving to be the best you can be, both personally and organizationally, and a model for others to emulate – the bar is high, but Louise and many others lead the way. That is excellence indeed.
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Glimpse from the Past – Excellence
Excellence, the quest to be the best we can be and a model for others to emulate, has been a mark of The Salvation Army since its inception.
In its earliest days, The Salvation Army was often seen as a collection of renegades, unconcerned with social niceties. It was during those formative times that the call to provide a voice for the unheard, to shine a light into some of the world’s darkest places became deeply embedded in the ethos of our organization. And this imperative has birthed excellence through innovation in some of the most unlikely places.
Back in the late 1800s, match factories were renowned, but for all the wrong reasons. Most of the workers were women and children. To produce the matches, wooden sticks were dipped into yellow phosphorus. Inhaling this toxic substance caused a condition known as “phossy jaw” – rotting of the bones of the face which caused horrid disfigurement. And on top of this unsafe environment, the employees in these highly-profitable factories were paid extremely low wages.
Appalled at the physical and economic travesties suffered by the match factory workers, William Booth knew there had to be a better way. So in May 1891, The Salvation Army opened up a factory in London. The “Darkest England” safety matches were made with non-toxic red phosphorus. The factory was clean and well-lit. There was a tea room and staff were paid one-third higher wages than elsewhere. And Booth’s response did not end in the factory. The Salvation Army ran campaigns urging grocers to stock only safety matches, providing further pressure on the industry to change its practices.
Booth’s innovative response to match factory conditions raised the bar for the industry in England. It forced other factories to follow his lead. They stopped using the toxic yellow phosphorus and wages and working conditions improved. So having achieved their purpose – to boost pay and change match factory standards – The Salvation Army closed its factory in 1901.
Industry maverick is not part of a standard job description for a Salvation Army leader. But Booth, along with many others in his footsteps, was not content to simply wait for others to find a solution to an untenable situation. He knew that better could be done, so he made it happen. And others followed.
“We strive to be the best at what we do and a model for others to emulate.”
Those could have been Booth’s words. From the match factory to today’s Salvos Legal initiative in Australia, the call to excellence through innovation is ongoing.
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Faith & Life – Excellence Excellence. I have to confess that the first image that popped into my mind was Mr. Burns, the rapacious industrialist from the TV series The Simpsons. I could see Mr. Burns sitting at his huge desk, tenting his fingers and saying (in that greedy rasping voice of his) “Excellent!” as another of his nasty schemes comes to fruition.
Mr. Burns, by his actions, by his everyday behaviour, defines excellence as a continuous quest for superiority. He is constantly in competition with others, struggling to outdo them and come out on top. Now all of these things may have some value in a business environment or the sporting world but is this definition of excellence acceptable in a Christian context? The answer to that question has to be a resounding NO!
Our territorial description of excellence states that “We strive to be the best at what we do and a model for others to emulate.” When we aim for excellence do we want our role model to be Mr. Burns or our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? The answer is, of course, obvious.
As I looked for scriptures that would guide us all in this quest of being the best we can be, I kept coming back to Hebrews 12:2 (CEV) which tells us that “We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete…..” As individual Christians, as Salvationists, as a movement, a denomination (or however we view ourselves), all that we do and are has to begin with Jesus. We need to be defined by who Jesus is and by how he demonstrates excellence.
Excellence is not about us patting ourselves on the back because we’re better at preaching or teaching than that other guy, we run a bigger shelter than that other group or we do more hampers than those people ….it’s about our everyday activities and tasks being God centered not self-centered. Christian excellence is all wrapped up in Jesus’ commandment to “Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, CEV)
Pursuing Christian excellence is an act of worship. It is as much an act of worship as singing, praying, or preaching. Excellence is what Jesus modeled for us.
John 13 tells us how, the night before his crucifixion, while Jesus and his disciples were gathered around the Passover table, Jesus got up from the table, removed his outer garments, wrapped a towel around his waist and washed the feet of those who later would betray him, deny him and abandon him. His direction to them? “I have set the example, and you should do for each other exactly what I have done for you.” (John 13:15, CEV)
We strive to be the best at what we do and a model for others to emulate because the one we serve has already done this and more for each and every one of us.
Major Geoff Groves is the corps officer at Midland Community Church on beautiful Georgian Bay in Ontario.
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