On the Corner

A letter to new officers

by Bob Docter –

Dear Lieutenant,

Congratulations on your willingness to accept the most difficult, most exhausting, most enervating, most demanding responsibility ever asked of anyone. It’s true. Being a Salvation Army officer will provide you with dynamic, rapid mood swings that oscillate between maximums and minimums, ups and downs, backwards and forwards, highs and lows. (Try to stay around the middle)

You bridge the world of desperate despair with the mystery of hope. You connect the discards of society with optimistic anticipation. You facilitate the change of people willing to take the trip from doubt to faith, from discouragement to confidence, from darkness to light.

You have said: “O Lord,

I want to be a bridge
Though I’m not strong.
I want to be a bridge
So wide, so long
That over me from doubt
\ To faith may pass
The lad in search of God,
The seeking lass.

Put steel into my faith
And concrete too,
That men may travel
Over me
To you.
John Gowans

… And the way you’re going to do it is through the power of love.

Love demands a relationship, generously shared, willingly given, courageously advanced. It requires commitment to the “other.” This is the steel and concrete of your faith. Love takes the time to be fully present. Love refuses to allow our anger or contempt to conquer us and ‘cross someone off’ – to pin them on the pariah list, to ignore their pain, to classify them as less than human. Love doesn’t give up on anyone.

Sometimes we get so close to people, places and things that we really don’t see them. It takes someone else to point them out – all those finger marks on the wall; that cracked window needing repair; that disorganized office with stacks of stuff; that child with tears in her eyes. All overlooked. You’re so busy going in so many directions that your eyes and your mind ignore him, her or it.

Get your priorities straight. We’re in the people business. Relate!
I think the same the same problem of seeing things without processing them happens as well in our relationships. We see that very frail, thin, older woman at the corps and don’t even notice that she’s getting thinner.

We listen to this rather boring gentleman and fail to remember he lives alone, and the only time he has the opportunity to talk to other living human beings is at the corps.

We really don’t know that sour, withdrawn 15-year-old boy who, your told, seemed like such a terrific child when he was eight. You shake your head when they tell you he once participated in everything. Now, he’s attending less, no longer participates in youth activities, and his language with his peers comes straight from the street. You shrug your shoulders and move toward the safety of the17 other tasks that confront you.

I mention these actual examples to remind you that people are your principal concern. They matter most. Therefore, you must be skilled and knowledgeable concerning interpersonal relationships. It is not enough to believe that you have these essential requisites simply because you have lived to your present age.

So here are three thoughts for you in your first appointment.

1. Listen to people with full attention, an open mind and a loving heart.
This means you attend to the speaker with complete and total awareness of both the verbal (content) and non-verbal (process) parts of the communication. You are empathic – you feel with the speaker. You never appear rushed to remove yourself from the conversation. In a tense exchange, reflect back to the speaker both the content and process of their communication and, thus, provide the speaker with awareness that you have heard and understand the message. Watch your tone. It says more than your words.

2. Communicate that people really matter to you.
One way to do this is to be authoritative but not authoritarian. You are knowledgeable but not dictatorial. You are competent, but not simply in charge. The corps belongs to the soldiers. You are passing through and have responsibilities for the franchise and its brand. You are a democratic leader. Involve others in decision making. If you make an error, acknowledge it. Reveal a genuine caring spirit.

3. Visit!
You will learn much about how someone thinks and acts by observing how they live – how they relate to those around them – how they spend their leisure time. Make this a simple social visit and conclude with prayer.

You are valuable to every person you meet. Remember, we’re depending on you to win the world for God.

Love and prayers,


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