On the Corner


by Bob Docter –

What do you suppose it is that holds your corps together? What keeps people coming back? What’s the “glue?”

Is it an emotional pull from which people get good feelings triggered by those around them, where they sense support and friendship?

Is it the thinking and credibility of the speaker – someone with excellent ideas – a skillful communicator – able to articulate a concise message with strong spiritual meaning taught in an interesting manner?

What is it? Could it possibly by the ethos of the corps?

This term, ethos, is one of my favorite words, but it remains “greek” to many – possibly because it is a “Greek” word. As such, it’s original meaning is accustomed place” – a place that made you feel comfortable. It is, however, not easily defined and is used in slightly different ways in slightly different situations.

Anthropologists have defined it as “the distinctive spirit of a culture or era.” The Global Ministries branch of the United Methodist Church defines it as the distinguishing character, beliefs, moral nature of a person, group or institution.”

I think of it as character, the manner in which we live-out our ethics – our morality and beliefs, how we actualize our values – especially in relation to our attitudes toward “others.”
As I began to explore the word ethos and asked my first question of you, I began to wonder about the ethos of my corps. Perhaps it would help you think about yours in the same way. These are important activities, because the corps is a representation of the broader ethos of the international Salvation Army.

So, here are some characteristics of my corps.

The strength of commitment to a basic belief system is consistently evident both as a representation of the church as well as in the significant caring ministry offered to those in distress or need. This is evident in a strong pulpit ministry, the effective social service ministry served by corps members and the tight relationship with have with the ARC program. Tithing is supported in a manner to guarantee that the church membership finances the church program while the community supports the social work. Strong programs involve all age groups and present activities designed to stimulate knowledge, interest, and growth. Our altar is used consistently and served by trained lay counselors. God has blessed us with dynamic corps officers over the years who, with lay leaders, facilitate all aspects of our ministry.

This ingredient of “togetherness” is an essential part of the “glue” insuring a continuing and growing congregation. The membership displays a strong commitment to the total group. Lengthy membership helps, and a large number of soldiers have been involved in the corps for several decades. Tensions exist in every group. When they surface, the officers and lay leaders work to provide all contributors to the tension opportunity to be heard and understood in a manner that moves toward acceptance and, where possible, resolution of the conflict. This often increases cohesiveness.

Consistent lay leadership
In the 70 years between 1938 and 2008 our corps had only three sergeant-majors. Each was different from the other but similar in the dimensions of strength of dedication to the Army and the corps. They shared together the principle that the sergeant-major led the membership. They agreed that the officer serves as the representative of the Army brand as administrator, spiritual leader, and full time coordinator of staff. He/she leads meetings and stimulates participation by the membership. The lay leaders feel responsible to communicate to incoming officers the values, traditions, and styles of leadership that are most effective with the church body.

Broad participation in Army service
Members of the corps have participated widely in service to the Army on national, divisional, and local commissions, committees and in advisory capacities to officer leaders.

The congregation and the membership in general is highly diverse culturally, racially, politically, by age, gender, background, education, and types of employment. We value difference in lay leadership appointments and select the best candidate possible for various roles. We seek goals of understanding cultural difference, recognizing variations in values and cultural identity, respecting all, and being culturally sensitive.

Specialize in something
In our corps, we have a considerable emphasis on music ministry. Our worship services include a full brass band and a 60 voice choir. Both have existed for a century or so, traveled widely to international venues and created many recordings. Services, also, often include more contemporary styles and singing. We also provide an outstanding music education program operating for children, adolescents, young adults, adults and seniors. The program is staffed by volunteers who are soldiers in the corps and participants in adult music ministry. The specialization should facilitate outreach to the general community.

The corps has strong commitments to traditional activities, events, programs. It perceives itself both as highly unique and as simply part of the great tradition of Army ministry. Some traditions have died – our open air ministry, for instance is very different but still active by a few in a local park as a ministry to the homeless. Others, like the style of our morning worship, the firm nature of lay leadership, our commitments to youth programming, programs like the Mother and Daughter banquet, the fall and spring music festivals by both the band and songsters, our Sunrise service and special Easter service as well as a series of events at Christmas. This list is not complete. It only hints at an ethos of strong participation, pride of heritage, longevity, compassion for the sick, the poor, the homeless and destitute. We strive to celebrate “family,” and work to show Christian love to all.

I hope this communicates the ethos of one Army corps. In the Army, we perceive ourselves as “friendly, open, caring, evangelistic Christians. It is good for us to examine on occasion the accuracy of these perceptions.

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