On the Corner
by Robert Docter –
Colonel George Church once taught our corps to sing this little chorus with an appropriate accent:
When you go to the Awmy meeting you get fevah!
When you go to the Awmy meeting you get fevah,
And from that fevah—you nevah—recovah!
I went to an Awmy meeting recently—the welcome of the Heralds of Good News Session of cadets—a traditional territorial event—good crowd.
While still engaged in the act of worship, of course, I observed a number of things that stimulated my thinking. We are members of an organization very much alive after almost a century and a half—an organization in touch with the present, willing to change, but somewhat unwilling to be very proactive in relation to much of what we do.
Many of our forms, symbols and traditions remain staunchly present, but an even greater number of changes within our Army here became quickly apparent. I realized these changes were not really new—they had been sneaking up on me for the past several years—but that night I saw them in a much different way. They were now an accepted reality. They were now institutionalized—beginning their own journey to tradition.
When multi-corps groups assemble, we have become much more multicultural. This has brought new languages into our worship service. We are confronted with different value structures—different life styles—different worldviews—widely varying backgrounds and levels of acculturation into the new dominant culture of our society—a culture that is multicultural. This is beneficially instructive for us, and hopefully this multiculturalism will begin to reveal itself more regularly in individual corps settings.
I looked up at the new cadets. Less than one-third of the session has a Euro (WASP) heritage. The others reflect the multiculturalism of the western United States society in general. Session members led the congregation in prayer in three different languages. Just about all of them are married. The average age of the session members has grown by well over ten years in the past decade.
While the officers and soldiers present in the audience reflected a multicultural heritage, the power structure of the Army in America is still very traditional—white males of European descent. This is also reflected in gender roles where male domination exists. This does not, I believe, reflect racism or ethnocentrism. It does, however, clearly indicate that we failed in the past to consider some form of affirmative action specifically designed to prepare interested females or non-white persons for broader levels of leadership.
While we hold on to many traditional worship forms, we are considerably more open with different approaches. We still have some representation of bands and songsters, usually in larger corps, and the level and quality of their musical presentations tends to be far superior. We now accept and enjoy the use of non-Army praise choruses in conjunction with the traditional forms.
We still clap our hands when we sing, but I’ve noticed a major change in the rhythm of the clapping. Where once we clapped on every beat of the melody, we now limit the clapping to beats two and four.
We still stand to sing, but the singing lasts much longer and becomes a major vehicle for witnessing. No longer do we simply stand to sing three verses and then sit down. The choruses we sing tend not to be written by Salvationists and usually engage in a much stronger use of feeling as a key to opening one’s relationship with God. In the past, we have seemed to emphasize more heavily the use of thought as the doorway. Today, as the culture changes, people seem to crave feeling in their lives.
We still have one or two testimonies in the meeting, but, for the most part, they seem to be more formally prepared statements with the speaker standing in the pulpit rather than participating voluntarily from the congregation.
The welcome of a new session used to engage bands and Salvationists in a large parade. For the most part, we have abandoned the street in every way except at Christmas, and we haven’t been willing to discover any other ways to reach broadly the communities we serve.
In some corps, internal technology has added to the ease of conducting large meetings. Items and words of songs are projected on a screen. Often, a speaker will use Powerpoint with the sermon as means to engage, inform, and instruct the congregation. Powerpoint tends to stimulate thought at the expense of feeling. The best teaching uses both.
Regardless of our forms or traditions, when we genuinely work at our worship and invite God into our lives—when you go to an “Awmy” meeting, you still get “fevah.”