How the Salvation Army changed the world.

I grew up in the Salvation Army (have I mentioned that before?) listening to the stories of the Army before I was born.

I heard how the ‘Army’ produced the first safety matches. Taking on the UK match companies that left poor workers with the awful occupational disease Phossy Jaw.

Or how we began the employment agencies over 100 years ago, well of course we did. Suddenly we have a church that is saving alcoholics and the newly sober people needed steady work, how else would we respond?

Or how we helped bring about changes in the law of underage sex and child slavery by our part in rescuing a girl sold by her parents for £5.

This week alone, I’ve had two conversations with people who’ve mentioned how older folk give money to the Army because of what we did for their husbands in the war.

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It’s all wonderful… and yet…

It feels as though, the last couple days, the UK has suddenly woke to the scandal of our Government and it’s abusive benefit cuts.

How did this happen? How did they manage to, overnight, put parents in the position of losing £120 a week, receiving just 50p a week from the Government in housing benefit support?

But this isn’t an overnight thing, the government have been bullying the poor for several years.

The country have, over the past few years, been enjoying the ever growing number of TV shows about benefit cheats, scroungers, “too lazy to work” streets and the huge number of kids everyone on benefits have. I’ve watched people’s attitudes harden as they sit around their TV’s shaking their heads at the seeming audacity of scroungers claiming something they’ve never worked for.

At this point in my rant/post I need to add a Disclaimer:

I apologise in advance to my mum, nephew and anyone else who I name in this post. I love you all, but I’m so annoyed that I can’t be bothered to change names today.

Okay, that’s done.

I sat in the car with my retired Salvation Army officer mother a few weeks ago and she started telling me about a woman she had seen on TV. The shame that this woman received so much benefit and was on TV saying it wasn’t enough… that is, until I spent time with my mum breaking down the woman’s likely weekly expenses and mum realised it didn’t leave her with money for food.

My mum, who spent decades of active officership working with homeless and mentally unwell people had somehow lost her ability to recognise the situation of the poor.

Anyway, I wasn’t writing this post about benefit cuts…

My church has recently started asking for more people in the congregation to attend the weekly lunch club it runs. I went a few weeks ago and for £3.50, me, and 12 elderly people, enjoyed a three course basic meal.

My church (or Corps to those Army folk who don’t like to think of us as a church) is situated in a large and poorer part of South Leeds, surrounded by HMO’s (Houses of Multiple Occupancy). Drugs, addiction and prostitution is rife in the area, so a perfect location for an Army hall.

We have a lunch for anyone to enjoy, four times a week, for a mere £3.50. You’d think we would be packing the place with hungry locals, but in fact, lunch club is dying.

Yes, there are patches of nice housing in the area, and patches of elderly housing, but there’s a lot of single people, young single people on benefits living in HMO’s. (I’ve written about HMO’s in the past too)

A single young person on benefits gets £57.90 a week. If we imagine a situation where all his/her rent is paid by housing benefit (hopefully, this is the case), how much is left for that person if they live in a HMO?

Gas/electricity/water  £10-15 perhaps

Weekly bus pass  £15

Basic food (tea bags, bread, milk etc..)  £5-10

Mobile phone*  £15

Even with just these four essential bills it leaves just over £10 for main meals, TV licence, clothing, taking a girl on a date, a drink in a pub to talk to another human, basic toiletries.

Imagine too, the mental strain of living in a room smaller than some peoples bathrooms, having your cooker a few feet from your bed. Having to remember to take loo roll every time you need to go to the shared toilet, neighbours fighting through thin walls, and the stench of marijuana from the guy below.

How wonderful it would be for that single person to be able to escape the confines of the HMO and have a hot meal at my church in it’s spacious dinning room with access to free wifi. To be able to sit with others and talk to someone rather than feel imprisoned in the cell-like place they call home.

But as I pointed out in another blog post, £3.50 is too expensive for the most desperate people in my churches area.

I think we have a situation where our Army folk have forgotten what it’s like to be poor.

Again, this post wasn’t about the shame of the HMO’s…

This week I saw a new Lap dance club given permission to be set up in Leeds.

“What do you mean by another one” I hear you say, “How many do we have?”

Well enough that one website has a top 5 list of the best ones. One of which is within walking distance of my church I might add.

Do I need to explain what’s wrong with treating women as sexual objects? or how I’ve seen women in our legalised prostitution area charge less than a Costas coffee for sex?

And, yet, this blog isn’t about prostitution either…

Yesterday my nephew took me out for my birthday, (yeah, thanks, it was a nice day).

I’ve had a few chats recently with him about life, the Army, God and romance.

A couple of years ago he gave up two years and a lot of money to train as a youth worker in the Salvation Army, and yet, I was sitting with him asking why his bible had a light covering of dust and he didn’t seem happy at his church, so much that he seems to have stopped going.

I recognised myself in him, as a young person, attending youth events and getting fired up by stories of the old Army. How, as a young person in the Army, he has the ability of changing the world for good and for God. I’ve seen his room filled with postcards and tokens from music schools and youth events that are supposed to remind him of his power to change the world.

Yet, yesterday I saw a young man with no outlet for his vision. I recognise myself, as a young woman, wanting to work with homeless people and being fired up by big church youth meetings, then coming home to my local church and being told there was nothing for me to do. I sat there, talking to this young man, trained by the church as a youth worker, but given no youth to work with, and so, he has an air of giving up about him.

Earlier that day he’d dropped off his money for another week of music school in the Summer and I worry how many young people feel hurt after a week of being built up, only to return to their church and find no part for them to play. I know it was one of the reasons I gave up church as a young person, and I see him in a similar way. I wonder too, how many vacant chairs in our churches were once filled by someone wanting to do ‘something’, but not given a chance.

Our young people are sent to camp to have the fire in their belly ignited, but then sent home and not given fuel for the fire.

“But they’re just young people”, I hear some of you older folk say,

You should come sometime, to the office where I get my university business support from. They’re you’ll see dozens of young people starting and running successful businesses, making a living and a difference despite having a lack of years.

And again, I say this blog post wasn’t about the lack of opportunity in our churches…

This blog is about how the Salvation Army in the UK once changed the world. I would have liked to have said How the Salvation Army in the UK is changing the world, but I’m not sure I can say that at the moment.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, we are doing many amazing things, it’s just, well…

Going back to the conversations I’ve had this week, you would think the public only think we worked in the war.

Our recent public face makes us appear that we’re more concerned with how a gay celebrity can have a uniform made that won’t cause us offence rather than the growing poverty concerns.

Last weeks Salvationist newspaper seemed more concerned with playing April Fools than speaking of the fire we should have for human rights.

I’ve heard more about people upset that they’re not bringing back the bonnet than upset that our neighbours are in need. I heard of a band master outraged about the joke including woodwind instruments in the ISB, so outraged that he was about to request a refund on a concert ticket because he didn’t want to hear woodwind. (Incidentally, this band master is the only one who allowed my flute into his band, so I don’t know why it’s such a problem). Is that his passion? His righteous anger is focused on buying a brass band concert ticket and the disgraceful possibility of having to listen to a few violins?

In a few years time, when those who fought in the world wars are gone, will we have people to replace those who give because of what we did 70 years ago?

We seem obsessed by asking our people for money, making sure our members buy fair trade, having matching church outfits, and driving our fancy cars to our fancy homes outside of the rough area of our church location.

I don’t have a fancy car or house and I live in one of those poorer areas, but I speak to myself as much as to the richer members of church.

Why am I (and fellow Army members) not doing anything about the hundreds of mostly men living within walking distance of church and living in poverty, loneliness and hunger?

Why am I (and fellow Army members) not picketing outside government buildings with placards stating that “the Army does not approve” of their cuts to the disabled and poor?

Why am I (and fellow Army members) not in the local public and committee meetings demanding the local council stop allowing more places of sexual exploitation?

Why are we content to play our music on quiet streets, playing songs people no longer know the words to, when we should be playing a battle cry outside parliament?

I hear you groaning at me, mumbling that the last TV series about the Army also showed us washing the feet of the homeless. Brilliant, and important to do, but so are many other Christian churches.

And yes, I recognise the number of soup kitchens we run, but again, standard church requirement these days.

We were called to be an Army though, not an average church. We were supposed to be at the front showing how it’s done, but we’re just another face in the crowd now. The early Salvation Army paved the way and left us a legacy that makes people and governments sit up and listen when we speak, but we’re wasting away and keeping far too silent on the war time issues.

Okay, okay, I’m ranting.

I’m angry, but as guilty as the next salvationist.

So why the rant?

I feel at a cross roads. I am in the Army, not because I was brought up in it, but because Christianity, for me, is also about action. I can’t talk about a God of Love and walk past my downtrodden fellow man and I want a church who feels the same way.

I also accept that I am about to start my final year at university and, well, time right now just isn’t a luxury for me.

I might be getting a degree in textiles, but my heart is for the homeless, if I was to choose between a job in a fashion house and less paid work with homeless people I’d choose the homeless person every time.

Being so close to the end of uni I keep thinking about life when it ends and I admit, I don’t quite see a place for me in an Army not in action. I wasn’t made for the wealthy lifestyle or the 9-5 office job, I was raised amongst the homeless, raised to fight for the needy and I’ve sat idle for far too long.

I have friends, in a church, who give everything they have so they can help others, and I look at my friends church and it appeals to me… it appeals to me very much.

And yet, I’m very much aware that I’m here, as a member of the Salvation Army, by no accident. Even my textile degree projects seems to have the Army running through them.

How has it come to the point where a non-uniform wearing salvationist has to say what the leaders should have been saying?

…6…7…8…9…10, okay deep breath.

I don’t know where this rant is taking me, I don’t know whether anyone will feel the passion I feel in this, but well, as another birthday passes, and I adjust my year of birth to fit my alleged age again, I just felt something on my heart that I needed to speak.

I worry about our world, whether my neighbours will manage with the next round of benefit cuts and difficulties. I recognise a hurt people taking their anger out in the voting booths and I worry for where this will lead us.

A quote often used these days is this:

“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if, one only remembers to turn on the light”  – Albus Dumbledore, a great wizard, and perhaps in another life, a Salvationist.

We are supposed to be the lights that point to Jesus, truth and righteousness, we’re part of an Army that grew from poverty and the slums that sadly are returning, but without ignition, we’re just dull, grey bulbs.

Rant over.

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Links for more reading:

https://glynnharrison.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/when-william-booth-took-on-the-big-manufacturers-of-safety-matches-and-won/  Also read the link to the article this was written about talking about the Church of England and the dreadful Wonga.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39484897

http://michaelgallagherwrites.com/lizzie-blaylock-books/bridge-of-dead-things/eliza-armstrong.html

*I know many wealthier people think a mobile is a luxury, but try job searching without a phone and you’ll realise how vital it is. You can’t even claim benefits without making a lengthy phone call and having internet access.

That’s how you make a soldier

Recently I was in Manchester for a few work meetings and had a long lunch break. It was a Sunday, so I looked up the local corps and found they had a meeting at 12noon. Perfect time for me to go.

It was a friendly corps, one of those smaller, but growing places that I love.

A few other visitors arrived and I realised it was a special day, the enrolment of three new salvationists. A family, mum, dad and son.

In the usual UK corps, we can be a bit boring (maybe somber is a better word), especially when it comes to new soldiers and adherents. Usually, at some point in the meeting we call the folks being enrolled to the platform, a flag is brought out. The words are spoken, forms are signed, we stand in silence and raise a hand to promise to support the new people, then a few photos and it’s all over.

Maybe that’s why the uniform isn’t valued by some of us anymore. It’s nothing to celebrate.

Manchester Central was a different kettle of fish!

At some point in the meeting, without warning, a man at the back of the hall shouted out, “Please rise for the Salvation Army’s newest soldiers”, then with flag unfurled he marched in with the three new people following on.

“That’s a nice welcome”, I thought.

Three chairs were placed at the front for the new soldiers to sit in, then one by one they were brought to the platform and individually made soldiers. Not a mass gathering as I’ve seen, but the officer (who mentioned this was the first time she had done this) went through the whole process separately for each person. Making it a personal commitment. Each new soldier was asked to kneel and sign the articles of war (which we, as a whole congregation had previously read out), and each time we waited patiently while the soldier spent time at the mercy seat before moving to the next soldier.

This wasn’t a rush job, the band wasn’t eager to play and no one cared that the meeting was running on. Each person went through the ceremony as though they were the only person being made a soldier that day.

Then something I found really interesting, soldiers were asked to come forward and put the epaulets on the soldiers shoulders, as though, in that very moment, they became one of us, a part of the family.

Each person gave a testimony and I realised this was a whole family, coming to the church as one, but each making the commitment as an individual.

Finally, welcoming in the new soldiers, an old fashioned glory march.

Anyway, I share it with you, a small, but growing corps, that’s not yet become the somber, everyone looks the same, type of corps some of us have become.

Cloth and Memory – The Salvation Army Uniform

We have been looking at cloth and memories people may associate with a fabric or clothing. Again, I’m slightly changing the way we were asked to write about this. I was asked to write memories from four people as well as my own as separate statements.

I instead chose one cloth – the Salvation Army uniform – and wrote one summary on everyone’s memories.

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Image from http://www.sps-shop.com/ladies-classic-wool-rich-jacket-long-5016-p.asp

Almost everyone I spoke to said pretty much the same thing. They like to see the Army uniform, they think people respond to the uniform and believe it gets them places they wouldn’t be accepted without it. These comments came mostly from friends who wear the uniform and responded to a call for memories on facebook.

On the other hand I had friends come to me with other thoughts, but not wanting to speak them on social media.

John went to the Salvation Army college with my parents.

 ”I still wear uniform in retirement – full uniform – perhaps because of joining SA at 10 and being in uniform from then! Also strict school uniform and military cadet uniform for 4 years – it seemed natural discipline. But also, it made everyone aware of what I was as I worked in hostels and around the local community. In the Irish Republic the SA was specially respected and I was welcomed and used by the police at accidents, fires and bombings, also by government officers and the Roman Catholic churches and convents, and by local people facing serious problems. Back in the UK, it was much the same – in Scotland up to 2000 we would still wear old style uniforms with high collars as the bands and songsters did! Again, particularly welcome in Catholic areas. People would come to us in the street with needs and problems – and with gratefulness and assistance. Contrarily, when younger colleagues did not wear uniform or at least, in centres SA badged red or blue overalls, they were ignored or turned away by individuals or by police in emergencies and had to put uniform on to access situations. In our last years, we returned to my wife’s home village in the Fens because of needing to care for her parents and my mother, all very elderly and unwell 90+. The corps had lost its quarters and had shared officers from 20-30 miles away having to drive in to do meetings. We were doing regional work at first but I took on the corps and was able to visit all but one family on foot. Seen most days around in uniform – gave up my other post – and people stopped me and said they thought the Army had closed, pleased to see it was open again! A clear, obvious quite traditional uniform is to me still important worn on the streets and in the community.”

The Army uniform has changed little in 100 years, this image is from my family album

No, it’s not a happy funeral, it’s my grandparents wedding. The white cord across my Nana’s chest is the only sign that she’s a bride.

Well at least she didn’t have to spend thousands on a wedding dress!

My friend Fran said,

“As a Catholic (admittedly not a good one…would be in confession more than owt else!) Myself and others have great respect which the uniform denotes . I can imagine it may be uncomfortable to wear and outdated etc but to outsiders it’s identifiable and respected. Many many years ago as a teenage runaway I spent time in a Salvation Hostel and I have nothing but praise for the people in uniform who supported me not just by providing bed and board but emotionally and installing self confidence. I think the uniform is a visible reminder and helps people to distinguish between others in situations.”

The uniform is respected (mostly) but in my opinion she’s right about one thing, it’s uncomfortable and outdated.

I was at church on Sunday watching a Salvationist trying to walk in high heels. She said something on the lines of, I hate wearing heels, I can’t even walk in them.

“Why do you wear them then?”

“Because they look better than flat shoes.”

Actually, I didn’t think so. I’m a believer in sensible shoes, and not damaging your spine for fashion. I was about to give her a talk on how Dolly Parton has damaged her feet by wearing high heels, but thought better of it.

To most people the Army uniform indicated a Christian who goes out of their way to help, which is great… except.

The uniform, I feel, is such a cumbersome outfit that it does little to help in times of need.

We all have seen images of the Salvation Army helping the homeless like this…

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That dry-clean only uniform, healed shoes and 10 denier tights are hardly “I’m here to help” attire. She may seem ready to help in this possibly posed picture but in reality I wonder how happy she’d be if the guy puked up on her jacket.

It’s not something you can boil wash.

Some years ago I worked for the Army in one of their hostels. It was a time when people were trying to change the hostels and some had gone to the extent of making hostel staff wear uniforms, albeit a less outdated one.

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Sure, receptionists and office staff might feel a sense of pride wearing it, but a lot of my job was taking long term rough sleepers to appointments. When there was talk about me possibly having to wear a uniform at work I was very against it. In my opinion there was nothing more demoralising for a man than sitting next to me on a bus and not feeling my equal. To have people look at the two of us sitting and chatting and catching sight of my Army logo, feel shame, anger, regret, sympathy for the probable homeless person I was talking to; That was not how I wanted to treat another human being.

A uniforms purpose can be to create a sense of superiority or power. It has no place in an equal relationship and It has no sense when helping to build confidence in someone not in that uniform.

Wow, strong views. (you can always respond to this blog) but they are my views.

An old friend, Wendy, says this…

” I use to wear Salvation Army uniform, I felt so proud, it is great knowing most members of the public recognise the uniform and that the Salvation Army have helped and cared for so many people for so many years „ even now when I see someone in the Salvation Army uniform , I smile knowing that no matter how much I have struggled , they have always been there for me”

The uniform lets people know you are a Christian, but is this always a good thing?

They say a uniform gets them places where they would be accepted without. Is it right though, to take advantage?

I knew a man who worked for the Army and wore his uniform as part of his job. One day, driving through town he saw a homeless person who he knew. The person was in obvious distress so he stopped the car and got out to help.

The homeless person had moments before injected drugs and seeing a man coming towards him in uniform grabbed his needle and stabbed the Salvation Army man with the syringe. He mistook the uniform as a police uniform and didn’t want to be arrested.

I think there are times when a uniform, as it is, is more of a hindrance.

The Army has changed the uniform in some way, I remember stand up stiff collars and the awful bonnet.

Wendy mentioned the new uniform,

” I have seen some of the new uniform , I was shocked how much it has all changed „I must be still stuck in the past”

But it remains outdated, unfashionable, and not fit for the job of helping others in need.

In the army you usually start wearing a uniform from age 7, then when you reach 16 you can choose whether to stop wearing it or change to the adult style uniform and a lifetime commitment to the church.

I don’t remember being asked whether I wanted to wear a uniform, I do remember the pressure when I wanted to stop wearing it. The thoughts that you’d have no friends, since all your friends wore a uniform, even being told I’d have no one to sit with in church because all my friends wore a uniform and sat with the choir.

I remember being a teenager and having a member of the church (a friends father) put his hand on my bottom most Sundays as I left the church, because he liked how I looked in uniform.

I remember in my 20’s doing ‘pubs’, going around the pubs asking for donations and selling the war cry, and the number of men who touched my legs and tried to grab me to see if I had suspenders.

Yep, it’s clear to say my memories of the cloth that is the Salvation Army uniform are not positive. I’d like to see a more acceptable uniform, one you can throw in the wash when you’ve spilt soup on it at the food kitchen. One I can run in when a person falls and needs help getting up. One I can change a tyre in without worry. One I can wear putting my arm around a homeless man without him wondering what type of lingerie I have on under that skirt and in those heels.

I want a uniform that fits purpose, gets the job done, not one that sends a “help yourself” message to every randy old man.

But my biggest problem is the cost.

The church, set up in the slums of the East End, known for it’s work amongst the poor, admired by social groups worldwide, does not welcome the poor into membership.

The uniform is purchased by the wearer, that means, you have to find the money to buy the uniform yourself.

There is another church, similar to the Salvation Army, who wear a style of uniform.

The Jesus Army have a jacket that is given to each person on becoming a church member.

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When I became a member of the Jesus Army I was given a jacket with someone’s name crossed out inside, that jacket was property of the church and when I left the church, the uniform stayed.

And why not? I had no use for it.

I hear of ex-salvationists with uniforms in cupboards gathering dust, hidden in the attic, buried with the wearer (I think my Nana really believed she’d be wearing her uniform in heaven) even one guy who left the Army and used his uniform to line his dog basket.

The full uniform, to buy new, costs around £400. That buys you a skirt, blouse, jacket, hat and coat. Trimmings, shoes and ongoing hosiery purchases not included.

How many people on benefits can afford that?

Someone mentioned this week that the Salvation Army is a church for the middle classes, it’s a shame, but maybe they’re right.

When I decided to wear a uniform I was offered no financial support, no one showed me a scheme where I could buy a second hand uniform. The Army has a yearly holiday at Butlins and a competition that the Army shop ran every year where the first person in the door on sale day could buy a uniform for £10, My sister-in-law offered to sleep outside the shop to be the first one that day and buy me a uniform.

I refused to let her. I’ve slept on streets enough and I’ll not have a member of my family do it, even for a cheap deal.

But plenty of people have done.

The Army uniform became the pot of gold that made poor people feel they needed to act destitute to buy one.

Being on benefits, with no way of buying a uniform I did something that was wrong, but I have no regrets.

I stole it.

My need to belong, to be accepted in the church as an equal, made me a thief.

But there are alternatives.

In Australia they sell more relaxed styles of uniform, Salvationists who can afford it, travel there and bring back styles even I might consider.

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http://commerce.salvationarmy.org.au/default.asp

In America the Army has inspired artists and designers to make t-shirts that are acceptable and hopefully make others ask the wearer what it’s all about.

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http://thesalvationarmy.merchline.com/

One day, the UK salvation Army will, I hope, move forward. Maybe even realise the cost and style is off-putting.

Perhaps, one day, a second hand uniform service might be more than a dream.

Chris, my fourth friend is a Salvation Army leader. I’ve spoken to her several times about the uniform. She tells me how important it is that no one feels the uniform is only for the elite.

The church she ran found the funds to buy a new uniform for every new member. That way everyone was treated as an equal. Those unable to pay weren’t made to feel less than anyone else by accepting charity because everyone received the same no matter of their financial status.

That is an Army I would be proud of.