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A special message for the Preparers of the Way

by Robert Docter – 

My first thought on hearing the name of your session was that it was kind of a dud. It was hard to say—needed considerable explanation for non-Salvationists—did not make it through my spell-check—and was not a turn on. Then, I went to your welcome the other evening and got turned on to the whole Godspell, Isaiah, John the Baptist material and recognized that, truly, you are preparing to “prepare the way” for others.

During the next two years—study hard about your session’s first name—The Salvation Army.

Every corps or social service center has a first name. It is usually followed by the name of a city, and often, some other title gained over the years as a descriptor of its identity. The corps I attend is The Salvation Army—Pasadena—Tabernacle. Technically, your session is: The Salvation Army—Crestmont College—Preparers of the Way.

It’s impossible to explore the ethic and ethos of Salvation Army officership without a careful examination of the organization that defines its identity. The Salvation Army’s unique perspective on its role in society—on its mission—its music—its orientation to the complete message of the love and grace of Christ—its interpretation of the doctrine of holiness—its episcopal governmental structure based on a military metaphor—all these and many others make its expression of Christianity somewhat distinctive.

It seeks to be “moved with compassion”—compassion for the spiritually and temporally poor, destitute, disenfranchised and marginalized of the entire world. It wants to save them. Its goals seek to find, nurture and provide alternative choices for individuals who, along life’s journey, have strayed from the path of spiritual growth and become entangled in the undergrowth. It provides sustenance, support and inspiration for those pressing on with their pilgrimage. This support generates a consistent focus, a source of forgiveness, and tools for spiritual growth.

It works to facilitate a reconnection with God for those who have allowed themselves to become separated from him—who have, in their journey, encouraged impediments of character. It looks for ways to rescue those who find themselves isolated on the fringe of social fabric. The dimensions of the need for this “rescue” are not measured in dollars. There is nothing inherently sinful or redemptive about either wealth or poverty. All of us are enticed to ensnarement. The hungry and homeless, the destitute and despairing, however, present themselves with more basic survival needs that demand more immediate, and often, specialized attention. The Army recognizes this must be provided prior to the suffering individual being able to make a choice as to his or her relationship with God. In the words of General John Gowans, The Salvation Army seeks “to save souls, grow saints, and serve suffering humanity.”

It seems God has always wanted the Army located on the fringe of social need—close to a city-center—on the streets of the forgotten. God has always wanted the spiritually poor on our doorstep. God has always wanted Salvationists to be like Jesus—to be humanity’s servants—to confront aggressively the un-love, dis-grace and self-centeredness of the world’s status quo.

The Army is a prize fighter in the ring of life—bobbing and weaving—moving here and there—on the move—confronting the enslaving and degrading opponent at every opportunity. It is an army.

Take risks—as Commissioner Linda Bond said to you the other evening, knock down some mountains in your road building as preparers of the way—let the earthmover be the symbol of your session—don’t be swallowed up by the rigidities of our hierarchy or overwhelmed with immobility in dealing with our bureaucracy—make things happen—stay you.

Also—remember you are being acculturated—be mature—be sensitive to that as you are challenged to change somewhat from layperson to clergy—from soldier to officer.
And don’t forget to prepare.

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