Shame on us!

Body Builder

by Terry Camsey, Major – 

I had a letter the other day that made me weep as I read it. It was from a lady 88 years of age, who wrote in response to my recent article, “Russell On My Mind” (March 25, 2003).

In it, you may recall, I was talking about the value of a good pastoral system at corps. I won’t identify the lady here, or the corps to which she refers, but I do feel that I should share some of the pain she shared with me.

Her father was a bandmaster in the UK and brought the whole family up in the Army. Two of her brothers were Salvation Army bandmasters, one was an officer, and all were soldiers. She recalls that, in her early days, the family used to attend holiness meeting, Sunday school, young people’s legion and salvation meeting every Sunday. If, for any reason, someone in the family missed attending, the officer was on the doorstep Monday morning.

After the family immigrated to America, she played piano at a corps in the Western Territory for over 25 years. Her husband died six years ago. Since then she has been confined to her apartment. No corps officer has visited her during those six years.

It is easy to understand why she feels that, after being a Salvationist all her life, no one now cares… and that people can easily be forgotten if they stop attending corps. “It’s a different Army,” she says, than the Army she grew up in.

I wonder how many others, just like her, are in our corps communities—people who used to attend regularly but who, for whatever reason stopped coming and were never followed up?

Apart from a corps officer’s responsibility to do visitation, I wonder what the census board is about at the corps this lady attended? It is, I believe, that group who share responsibility for pastoral care of those on the roll and who are these days being called (by the enlightened) what they are intended to be… the “caring committee.”

I remember C. Peter Wagner once commenting on rolls of inactive church members. He felt that these lists would be most valuable if given to some other church since, if people are not visited within three weeks of ceasing to attend, they are unlikely to recommit to that congregation.

(The question of prompt visitation is also critical in following-up visitors from the community who attend a meeting. The odds on their revisiting drop dramatically the longer the visit is delayed…if it takes place at all! Not to mention the fact that, according to the East London Evangelist of June 1, 1869, “From the earliest days of soup distribution (in the Army), all cases were visited and followed up”!)

Interestingly, an extract from the staff review of November 1928 highlighted the tension between evangelism and pastoral care identified 64 years after the Army took root:

“…the Army is confronted with a new situation. It now has to cater for the vast host of Christian people of the second and third generation whose needs are not the same as the unredeemed masses outside. The Army has now not only to seek the ‘lost publicans and sinners,’ but to feed the lambs and sheep inside the fold.”

That, presumably includes seeking out lost ones from the flock who once were part of it, as well as lost ones who have never been a part of it.

Oh, and a fascinating detail from my correspondent. Her cousin, Oliver Cooke, wrote the popular and powerful Army chorus, “I know a fount where sins are washed away.”

I say again, shame on us.


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