A History of The Salvation Army Men’s Social Service Department, 1891–1985*
Somebody’s Brother! O who then will dare
To throw out the lifeline, his peril to share?
Of those homeless transient alcoholics who, over the years, have resolved to allow the process of their own dissolution to proceed no further, who gathered their flagging and intermittent courage for one last active escape, one occasionally found himself, a few days after setting out on that desperate resolve, in surprising circumstances. Not, as he might have pictured himself, drowned or hanged or crushed, but alive, sober, and perched on the seat of a spring–mounted delivery wagon behind an elderly horse whose appearance, no less than the driver’s, drew pitying glances from kindly passersby.
A familiar sight: a dark green wagon, a patient old horse, and a client from the Salvation Army Industrial Home. ”Client”—what hope, what a force to blow upon the feeble but still living embers of manhood is contained in that word—a client! A person, an object of care, official and personal, an agent capable of self–improvement—a client! — a bum no longer, nor so soon to be a corpse as the man himself originally imagined — a Man, a Brother to Somebody, somewhere, at last.
Decades will pass, and this scenario, acted out against an infinitely variable background, will be repeated a dozen, a hundred, 10,000 times. The wagons will give way, slowly, after 40 years, to motor trucks, green, black, blue, then mostly red. Kitchens, dormitories, chapels, shops, warehouses, and stores will proliferate. The story will remain, in its basic elements, the same.
In June 1984, the Eastern Territory held a great Congress, one of those exuberant, overcrowded happy affairs, punctuated by brass bands, slideshows, stirring addresses, parades, and altar services so uniquely appealing to Salvationists. One of the large public sessions, on Saturday, June 9, was called ”A Celebration of Hope,” and as part of that, all too appropriately, the “Center Singers,” made up of men from many different adult rehabilitation centers in the East, sang twice; the first song was ”Oh Happy Day, When Jesus Took My Sins Away,” and the second was “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart.”
When they had finished, there was thunderous, heartfelt applause, an avalanche of hallelujahs and cheers that were as much for the men as for their performance—and affirmation from every cheering, flag–waving Salvationist in the great auditorium that the Center Singers and all the men like them in all the centers in the territory, and in the country, were somebody’s brother after all.
by E.H. McKinley