Covid-19Mission and Culture

Army Ministry after COVID-19

A Reflection by Major Ismael Correa, Urban Ministries Director—USA East

The coronavirus pandemic has altered the way we carry out life and presented new challenges to corps throughout the world. The old motto “Heart to God, Hand to Man” is evident in soldiers, officers, and volunteers who continue to provide aide in communities across the world, delivering goods and services to individuals and families affected by the disease.

Congregational ministries have had to adopt “social distancing” norms. Many have taught themselves how to operate digital technology and get onto social media platforms. These assist them in fulfilling pastoral duties, leading worship, teaching the Bible, engaging in corporate prayer and Christian fellowship. Members connect and share encouragement, hope, and guidance in preparation for life after COVID-19.

In my twenty years of service with the Salvation Army and through continuous dialogue with officers, soldiers, employees, and volunteers, I have learned about ministry on “this side of the vineyard.” Let me highlight some lessons learned by way of reflection upon mission in the Salvation Army in light of the current crisis.

The Need for Integrity

Salvation Army ministry requires integrity. Soldiers and officers follow Jesus Christ, who exerted influence and leadership in community. Integrity is a priority virtue in Christian leadership. As shepherds, leaders must provide safe spaces for God’s people to experience their unfolding spiritual journey. Integrity involves exemplifying salvation war principles and practices so that other soldiers will emulate and realize that the fight for good in our communities is also theirs.

The Need for Inclusion

Salvation Army ministry should provide a sanctuary for the mind, spirit, and body. Many people seeking refuge are drawn to the community Jesus’ followers. They want a breathing space, where their thoughts can flow freely, without guilt or condemnation. Maybe there is no perfect space; we must bear in mind that, in a fallen world, “hurt people hurt people,” even while seeking healing and freedom. Those who cause physical, mental, and spiritual harm may have been hurt themselves. So, our corps aim to protect those who have been hurt and to provide space for healing—individual and collective. We do the loving; God does the judging. Salvationists are people who welcome and include others, regardless of their background.

The Need for Justice

For a true expression of Christian virtue, integrity and inclusion must be accompanied by justice. In accord with scripture, gospel proclamation must be accompanied by acts of extravagant love and kindness. For instance, Isaiah urged God’s people, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17); and James instructed first-century Christians, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Together, these virtues carefully and intentionally balance faithfulness to biblical teaching, doctrine, and tradition with radical compassion and pragmatic mission.

Corps officers and soldiers are justice advocates in their communities. They have a prophetic role as they confront principalities and powers to declare “the year of the LORD’s favor” (Isaiah 61; Luke 4:16–22; cf. Leviticus 25:10) to those in need of liberation. Since the Booths, Salvationists have realized that speaking truth is not enough; we must live it. Isn’t this Christian holiness? I am talking about being prophetic in both theory and practice. Soldiers and officers alike wrestle like Jacob (Genesis 32:24) with such challenges. Repeating well-worn, pseudo-religious moral talking points is not prophetic. Daring to speak up for the despised and unloved is. Such boldness calls forth redemption and reconciliation, which yields the mutual love needed for Christian community.

The Need for Divine Power

Salvation Army ministry depends on the Pentecostal power seen in the book of Acts (e.g., chapters 2, 8, 10, and 19)—charismatic and metaphysical, but also compassionate and just. In Acts 3, the newly ordained and commissioned apostles Peter and John encountered a disabled man. According to the social and religious customs of that day, he was excluded from worship in the temple and had to beg for sustenance. Peter told him, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6). He not only got up and walked, but he jumped and praised God!

God can do impossible things. He can even restore men and women to their identity and dignity, to experience being wholly human, endowed with hope and promise. The early church developed the ministry of deacons to supply the basic needs of the most vulnerable among them (Acts 6:1–15). That Pentecostal ministry was characterized by inclusion. For example, Phillip accompanied, explained the scriptures to, and baptized an Ethiopian eunuch who would also have been excluded from religious and social practices in Judaism (Acts 8:25-40). As Salvationists engage in mission, we should model such expressions of primitive Christianity in truly holy living throughout the world.

The Need for Human Responsibility

Salvationists compose a reflective/activist community. The temptations of individualism and institutionalism—what Schuyller Rhodes calls “the church’s original sin” (Prophetic Leadership Conference, Drew University, 2008)—confront us daily. We answer the temptations by practicing permanent revolution and faithful living. In this way, we progress in our expression of faith and justice. When we are faithful to God in word and deed, we can be agents of transformation. We can influence our corps and programs. As a reflective/activist people we operate in the dynamic tension between adoration and affirmation. Adoration acknowledges God’s presence in human experience. Affirmation declares what the Lord has done, is doing, and will do in and through the Salvation Army.

The Need for Dialogue

As followers of Jesus who have found our niche in the ranks of the Salvation Army and who live out this reflective/activist paradigm, we realize that sermons—whether we listen, write, or preach them—must be dialogues instead of monologues. Officers have been trained to speak 15-20 minutes each Sunday without expecting questions or comments. Soldiers and local officers who preach have the same monologue-centered preaching handed down as gospel tradition. What if we encouraged people to reflect and respond substantively during and after our meetings? How might the proclamation of the gospel enter and affect the hearts and minds of God’s people?

Looking to the Future

Ministry in the Salvation Army aims to create safe places for people to engage in their faith journey. It is developed and manifested within the tensions of compassion and justice, action and reflection. Salvationists are prophetic voices and agents of transformation in their communities. Their humble service plants seeds of change and reconciliation in the hearts of others, whatever their role or appointment. The Army needs soldiers, officers, adherents, and friends to persevere and resist the temptation toward individualism and institutionalism. COVID-19 has presented new challenges for our ministries, yet the task remains to continue transforming and reforming our communities so that the next generation can carry out a new hope and a new tradition of being-while-becoming a living community—the people of God.

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