Of the Cloth – A conversation with an Adherent

My definition:

Adherent – a member of the Salvation Army who doesn’t wear a uniform
Soldier – a member of the Salvation Army who wears a uniform

What the Salvation Army website says:

‘While you do not have to be a member of The Salvation Army to attend worship meetings, or to receive practical help and support, there are two ways of making a commitment through the church.

Becoming a soldier – a member of a Salvation Army church – is a voluntary personal commitment arising from a personal spiritual conviction. 

Adherent members do not wear the uniform but are committed to The Salvation Army as their church and, as such, can identify themselves as members of The Salvation Army. It is the opportunity to explore your faith and how you best express is.

Salvation Army churches are led by officers (ministers). All officers are soldiers who feel they have been called by God into ministry through The Salvation Army. They then begin the process of becoming a Salvation Army officer. This afternoon I had a coffee with Bev, who attends a Salvation Army church as an Adherent. I wanted to find out what made Bev choose to be an adherent instead of a uniformed soldier (Salvationist) and whether the physical uniform played a part in her decision.’

This afternoon I had a coffee with Bev, who attends a Salvation Army church as an Adherent. I wanted to find out what made Bev choose to be an adherent instead of a uniformed soldier (Salvationist) and whether the physical uniform played a part in her decision.

Bev started coming To church as a new mother to the mum & tots group over 30 years ago and pretty much stayed. Bev is a qualified child carer and foster parent, so continued to be involved in parent & child groups and Sunday schools.

Although being a part of the church now for over 30 years it was only three years ago that Bev became an ‘official’ member as an adherent. The reason was simply that she was asked.
Bev seems pretty much part of the furniture at the church and I guess people automatically assumed she was a member. It isn’t a big thing for Bev, “I was happy going along and didn’t feel I needed to become a member to believe”

Being an adherent has made no real difference to the role she takes at church, she works hard, perhaps five days a week, helping with lunch clubs, parent & child groups, the two youth clubs, holiday clubs, Sunday school and when she has time she helps with the cleaning. She is a valuable asset to the church, yet doesn’t wear a uniform so is unable to take an official role in the church. Then again, Bev was working hard for the church long before making it official as a member.

In interviewing Bev, there is a sense of frustration, of feeling unappreciated.

It’s understandable that she feels frustrated about not feeling recognised for the week in, week out commitment she makes. She mentions the annoyance at special events.

One occasion in particular when an important church official was visiting and suddenly a uniformed member wanted to help out with food preparation, later they were publicly thanked for their hard work at that particular event. “Some take the praise when others have done the dirty, they don’t thank the ones that do it every week, but then thank each other”. I recognise what she says, how often at big events the caterers are brought in the be thanked for their hard work, yet many of those are one time helpers, being brought in for standing ovations, when the ones who work every week hide at the back.

She mentions that recently a uniformed member moved from another church and took over the job of a non-uniformed member without asking whether that was ok.

Bev speaks of “them and us”, I ask if she means uniform and non-uniform members, but she tells me it’s between the haves and the have-nots. However with the cost of the uniform being so high I wonder whether it amounts to the same thing.

Bev says she simply couldn’t afford the cost of a uniform and even some of the casual items of clothing are out of her price range, wearing a uniform is out of the question. However, when volunteering at the church she wears a Salvation Army polo shirt, paid for by the church as part of her ‘work clothes’.

I asked Bev, if she could afford the uniform, would you wear it?

“I wouldn’t wear it, people wear it and I don’t think they’re true Christians and shouldn’t wear it. I feel sometimes I am a better Christian than the uniform wearers. I think it’s wrong to think that wearing a uniform to give you a sense of being better than someone else is wrong.”

I’ve also seen this attitude to the uniform before, the sense that putting on the uniform somehow makes you a good Christian, makes you feel superior to people in the church who choose not to wear it. It’s not what the uniform was designed to do and certainly not a Christian belief.

You’re either a sinner or a saint, and saints are dead people. Wearing a uniform or not wearing one doesn’t raise your status in anyway.

Not wearing a uniform means Bev can’t take an official role in the church, she can’t become YPSM (in charge of caring for the young people) because she isn’t in uniform, but people don’t see the amount of youth work she does without it becoming official.

Like many people, the uniform is out of price range for Bev. This hasn’t stopped people becoming soldiers though, the corps sometimes will buy the uniform for the person when they can. I asked what would happen if the corps (church) offered to buy her a uniform. A definite No. “Everyone would know I’m a charity through the network (leadership) meetings. I’m not a charity case.”

I know myself, as someone who couldn’t afford a uniform. Society has left people claiming benefits with a sense of shame, TV programmes showing benefit claimants as scroungers, the government checking disabled people with the belief that we’re mostly faking it. People in full time work having to use food banks rather than the government change work laws. There is a sense of shame about having to ask for something, a bigger shame than I’ve ever known about being poor.

The church should be different and I know what Bev means. We should be equal in the church, a lot is said about the New Testament and it’s ‘all is one in Christ’ from Galatians 3, but they mostly are talking about male/female equality, not slave/free (rich/poor). The uniform should be something we can all afford, or nothing at all.

Bev also talks about the style of it. If she wore it (around £250 for the full uniform) and saw a man on the ground in need would she feel able to kneel down and help him? Bev laughs, “not in that tight skirt.” Again I think about the parable of the Good Samaritan. I’ve heard how the uniform gets soldiers into places where they couldn’t if they were not in uniform, but they mean the few times when the Army have spoken out about political decisions. It’s not practical to help when the need arises.

I asked Bev, is there one situation that you remember when you’ve been made to feel less than equal for not having a uniform.

Bev tells me of a time when a uniformed member called her the washer-upper, rather than use her name. I think about this for a moment then close with two questions.

1. Is an adherent a lower form of membership? “Yes”

2. Are you equal to a soldier in the corps? “No”

It’s a shame that two membership types have created a hierarchy, which was never the plan. But I also recognise what she says, and I know, deep down, others do to.

My blog usually comes with images, and I thought what would be a fitting image, perhaps an invisible man to identify with Bevs feeling of not being appreciated, but then I remembered a poster from the Salvation Army in Canada.

Published by bettyvirago

Betty Virago is an award winning textile designer. Based in Yorkshire, England, and known for her Northern Folk dolls and the Quilts of Hope project.

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