by Major Chick Yuill –
Someone asked me recently what Thanksgiving means to me and I had to give them three answers. The first answer was the one I would have given until three years ago. It was simply that I had a vague idea that Americans celebrated Thanksgiving towards the end of each year, that they ate significant quantities of turkey, and that it had something to do with the Pilgrims. Other than that, it was not something of which I, as a Brit, had any personal experience.
The second answer was that I now know a great deal more about Thanksgiving. I know, for example, that it’s always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, that it was originally observed by the Pilgrims in gratitude for their first harvest in North America in 1621, that it became a national holiday in 1863, and that besides consuming vast amounts of turkey-which I love-Americans also devour heaps of pumpkin pie-which I loathe!
The third answer was that it was Thanksgiving which first introduced me to the great American tradition of volunteerism. Here at the TAB, in common with may other Army corps, we cater for many of our local citizens-in our case, about 600-who would otherwise be alone at this festive time. The wonderful thing is that we don’t do have to do this work on our own. The members of our advisory board drive the event, various community groups offer their help, individuals call to offer their assistance, with the result that the whole thing is a tribute to the spirit of volunteerism that contributes so much to the American way of life.
If you’ve always lived in the United States, you may wonder why I’m making such a fuss about something you probably take for granted. Believe me, this doesn’t happen in quite the same way anywhere else in the world. It’s not that other nationalities are lacking in kindness. When there is a natural disaster or some unexpected tragedy, people in every country rally round and get involved. But that’s not quite the same as the American attitude, an attitude that assumes it’s my responsibility to make a difference to my community rather than relying on the government to solve every social ill. It’s a great attitude and, as a relative newcomer to these shores, I really appreciate it.
Come to think of it, I have heard the Army described as the greatest volunteer group in the world. But much as I admire volunteerism, that is less than the truth, as anyone who knows their Salvation Army history will agree. I take you back the year 1878, to a May morning in the Booth household in London. William Booth, his son Bramwell, and their saintly lieutenant George Scott Railton are examining the proof copy of the annual report of The Christian Mission. The front page contains the statement:
THE CHRISTIAN MISSION: Under the superintendence of the Rev. William Booth is A VOLUNTEER ARMY.
William will have none of it. ‘No,’ he says. ‘We are not volunteers, for we feel we must do what we do, and we are always on duty.’ Without another word, he takes his pen, scores through the word ‘volunteer’ and writes above it the word ‘Salvation.’
Thank God for volunteers, for those who give valuable time and hard won expertise to assist us in our mission. We honor and respect them. We would struggle without them. But, as for those of us who call ourselves Salvationists, we must never forget that we are commissioned to a vocation beyond volunteerism, to a life of sacrificial service for the King and the Kingdom. Anything less is a denial of that founding moment when William Booth stumbled on the name for which his mission had been waiting.