Neighborly love in Pottsville

by Robert Mitchell

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.”—James 2:8

You’re truly among neighbors when you come for worship at The Salvation Army in Pottsville, Pa.

“We’re all about our intentionality to get to know our neighbors,” says Lieutenant Betty Ellen Barrett, the co-commanding officer in Pottsville. “Whenever anyone comes into our corps, we refer to them as our neighbors.”

One way they welcome their neighbors is through a quarterly Family Fun Night that recently drew 70 people to the corps and included a variety of board games, open gym time, and a meal. Barrett says the senior soldiers at the corps are encouraged to invite friends and the main goal is to build relationships.

“We do the Family Fun Night because we’re trying to promote real community amongst the people in Pottsville,” she says. “It’s really a nice time of fellowship. It’s really grown since we’ve gotten here. We have people who have come and made The Salvation Army their church.”

Barrett’s husband and the co-commanding officer in Pottsville, Lieutenant Derek Barrett, says about 10 people have started coming to worship services on Sunday morning because of Family Fun Night. The overall numbers on Sunday morning have jumped from about 10 to 15 to 50 or 60 a week.

The Barretts, who came to this low-income community of about 13,000 people 14 months ago, are all about building relationships and often hold informal gatherings at their home to get to know people.

“We don’t want our corps to just be getting together on Sunday morning, so we’re intentional about doing things during the month,” Lieutenant Betty says.

Her husband added, “We’re trying to bridge the gap between the community and the church.”

Lieutenant Betty meets with two different groups of women at McDonald’s or local coffee shops to “build deep-spirited friendships.” The corps also offers a Bible study during the week, children’s programming, music training, and a soup kitchen and choice food pantry.

“We’re very intentional about praying with people before they leave the corps and inviting them to corps and programs,” she says of those who come for help.

A few families have started attending the corps from the soup kitchen, as well as a Friday devotional and prayer time. The corps also joined others in the community for a prayer walk on the National Day of Prayer on May 2.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth where our programs are bridging over to the corps,” Lieutenant Betty says. “Almost all of the kids in our music program go to the corps and recently we’ve seen them bringing their parents.”

Lieutenant Derek adds, “A lot of that has to do with people knowing that we’re here and that we’re a church.”

For more information about The Salvation Army in Pottsville, Pa., visit