God, Europe and The Salvation Army
by Sue Schumann Warner –
Why a feature on The Salvation Army in Europe?
After spending 14 days in Poland, France, and England—talking with scores of Salvationists ranging from soldiers to officers to a newly-elected General, and observing the Army at work—I discovered there is much to be said about God, Europe, and the Army.
Most of it is encouraging. Some of it is of concern.
This is what I found:
Europe today is not the Europe of the Reformation; it is not the Europe of William and Catherine Booth. In most countries, God and faith are in question—and for many, both tilt toward irrelevancy. Most of Europe has reasonable, functioning welfare systems–leading to the thought that if the government takes care of things, why does one need to trust in God? In this environment, Salvationists are learning the importance of lifestyle evangelism, of living their faith in a tangible way within their neighborhoods—providing compelling reasons for friends and neighbors to ask of the hope that is within them. In former Eastern European countries, where communism created a spiritual vacuum for generations, the hunger for God is more apparent. Here, as elsewhere, the Army is opening doors in creative ways: classes are held to teach English to Muslim immigrants; child care and parenting classes attract young families with no religious backgrounds; youth are drawn to music, drama, and sports activities.
Struggles in Europe are similar to those in other places. Attendance is down, corps are closing, and finances are tight. These comments are heard in the Western Territory as well. And yet, the European communities have additional challenges with changing demographics, significant immigration problems, and myriad ethnic and cultural differences. Growth in many corps in France, for instance, comes from immigrants from Africa, not from new converts.
Salvationists are generous with their time, resources, and opinions. From interviews with General Shaw Clifton, Commissioners Paul du Plessis and Thorleif Gulliksen, Colonels Dick and Vibeke Krommenhoek, Lt. Colonel Alain Duchêne, Major Kelly Pontsler, and many others, I got a sense of the Army’s struggles, successes, and its state of being in Europe today. All were open and direct in their comments; all are committed to The Salvation Army’s growth and to its increased relevancy within European communities. Their willingness to be interviewed speaks volumes about their concern for our Army.
The Army is truly a worldwide body, with countries and people intimately connected. At the 2005 International Literary and Publishing Conference, held at USA National Headquarters, we met and developed friendships with editors of Salvation Army publications around the world—including those in the Europe Zone. When asked to provide articles for this special issue, all were quick to reply with meaningful reports on the Army’s work in their location. Without their contributions, this issue would not be possible—I am thankful for their kindness and generosity.
William Booth’s Army will continue to march across Europe—and around the world—as long as each soldier puts his or her foot forward. The life—the reality—of The Salvation Army doesn’t reside in its structure, its ranks, or its organization. It resides in the lives of its soldiers—whether they are a widow in a small corps in Berlin, a teen in France, a colonel at a divisional headquarters—or the General at International Headquarters. Each holds a place in the body of Christ unique to them and their talents. William Booth’s Army will march on as long as each is faithful to God and their calling.