I've been thinking a lot lately about that peculiar Christian movement that is so much a part of my life, The Salvation Army. Today the question on my mind was 'what are Salvationists particularly good at?'. Surely there is something distinctive that marks us out amongst our brothers and sisters of other denominations and faith traditions? Having invested nearly 150 years in this world-transforming mission, we must have become good at something along the way. Is there anything that we could honestly say that we do better than anyone else? Unfortunately, the most honest answer I could come up with was brass banding.
I need to clarify something here. The Salvation Army does some spectacular social work. We have some cutting edge programs meeting the most pressing of human needs. We turn up faithfully in the midst of disasters and we send help into the darkest of places. Yet very little of this is done by soldiers or even officers of The Salvation Army. Our greatest reservoir of social work expertise is undoubtedly our dedicated employee base, many of whom are not even Christians. I sometimes hear criticism of this development within the Army, as if professionals took over the work of loyal Salvationists by stealth in the night. Yet I'm still waiting to be overwhelmed by the number of soldiers undertaking social work degrees.
Imagine things were different. What if everyone who identified The Salvation Army as their church took this mission to the poor, the marginalised and the vulnerable of the world very seriously indeed? Imagine if you walked into a social work class at University and had just come to expect that half of the class would be Salvos. Imagine that we had nurtured and developed such expertise in our officer ranks that our uniform could be relied upon to designate the person in the room who would always have an informed opinion, finely honed by experience and education, on any subject of social policy or practice.
The unfortunate reality is that, too often, the person in the uniform is the person who knows least about these subjects. Of course, the general public love The Salvation Army for the work we do in the community. Many Salvationists have known that feeling of slight embarrassment when they're thanked for work that they've taken no part in. I think it's time to rethink our position. What will it take to be able to genuinely take credit for the wonderful work of The Salvation Army? Are we ready for it?