It was 130 years ago today...

...Gore and Saunders taught Australia the Army way.

Edward Saunders
It was September 5, 1880 in Adelaide's Botanic Garden, that The Salvation Army commenced it's work in "the land down under". There are some who suggest that there were, in fact, earlier instances of Salvationists (or "Christian Missionaries" - i.e. pre-1878) who commenced the work in other locations. However, the history books as they currently tell it, take this day, 130 years ago as the "official" date of the Army's work in Australia.
John Gore

Interestingly, though we take this as the "official start date", at the time it was anything but "official". Gore and Saunders happened to meet earlier that year and, being Salvationists who had moved to Australia recently and convinced of the need of the Army in Australia, wrote to William Booth requesting that Officers be sent to Australia to commence the work.

Obviously in the late 19th Century a letter from Adelaide would take months to get to the "mother land" and so this wait, for Gore and Saunders, was way too long for the urgent need they saw around them. So... they didn't wait. They "opened fire" on their own. Something tells me, however, that they had truly captured the vision that William Booth had for the Army for the words that were shared in that first open air will go down in history as capturing the intent of this movement; "If there is any man here who hasn't had a decent meal today, let him come home to tea with me." Gore and Saunders commenced the first corps in Australia (now Adelaide Congress Hall), without permission, without 'officers', and without funding, property, committees, uniforms (dare I say it) or anything else other than the vision that they had captured from their time in the Army in England.

What an exciting time it must have been.

I heard someone say recently, there are two types of leaders; firstly, those who say "If you find a problem come to me and I'll solve it for you". Then secondly those who say "if you find a problem go and solve it and I'll back you up." I suspect that William and Catherine Booth were leaders of the second type. Clearly Gore and Saunders weren't reprimanded for starting the work on their own. They were applauded for it. Once they did, Booth soon supported this new work by sending officers (Captain and Mrs Thomas Sutherland) to help lead this small but vibrant group of new Salvationists. When they arrived in February 1881 they wore the first Salvation Army uniforms to be seen in Australia. We shouldn't read too much into this because uniforms were still not standardised, and it had only been "The Salvation Army" for 3 years at this point. Plus it was still 12 months before the Articles of War would come into existence. But clearly, the vision that William and Catherine Booth had for "winning the world for Jesus" was not only inspiring, but being well and truly communicated to, and captured by, every Salvationist. Clearly, Gore and Saunders understood this mission, and what it would entail - reaching out to those who "hadn't yet had a meal today". They got it. They understood it. And they acted upon it.

There is some significant theology at play here. In those early days there was not that much difference between an "officer" and a "soldier". It was more to do with "function" than it was "status", and so it was natural that two soldiers who met in "uncharted territory" should start the work themselves. That was what was expected of all Salvationists - Officers and Soldiers alike. They didn't need express permission, because they knew that they had it. This we would describe as the Army's understanding of the "priesthood of all believers". (Let me just state as an aside that I wouldn't subscribe to a theology of the "priesthood of all believers" myself at all. I think it's stating too much. Rather I prefer to speak of the "sole priesthood of Christ" and the "ministry of all believers" who are "in Christ". A slightly different emphasis, but the same desired outcome - all believers engaged in the ministry of making disciples of all the people groups in the name of Christ). 

Is this still the same today? Is it the case that Salvationists feel a natural sense of "permission" to engage in mission regardless of what role they currently fulfil (soldier or officer), what resources they have, and, importantly, what permissions they have?  Can we recapture that internal culture once again?

Before you jump to an answer let me recount a story I heard recently from Commissioner Kay Rader about The Salvation Army in Kenya. The Army is massive in Kenya, with well over 200,000 soldiers in the country. The territory had a congress event and as a part of the celebrations had a "march past". The Territorial Commander (leader of the territory) and the Chief Secretary (second-in-command) stood and saluted the hundreds of corps and thousands of soldiers as they marched past. Then came a group of people who had a sign displaying their corps name. It was unfamiliar to both leaders. They were dressed in make-shift Salvation Army uniforms, with cardboard epaulettes attached to their shoulders. The Territorial Commander looked to the Chief Secretary who looked back in bewilderment. Neither of them had heard of this corps or the people that made it up. It had just started all by itself. This mystery corps saluted their leaders, and the leaders saluted back.

Clearly something is going right when a Salvation Army corps can appear "out of nowhere"!!!

How do we recapture that sense of "permission inspired by a clear vision" within The Salvation Army in the West where it appears to be lacking? How do we mobilise the soldiery to engage wholeheartedly in the mission of the Army without the sense that it's "the Officer's job" to do it all, lead it all, or permit it all? What kind of leadership does that call for? What will it take to get back there?

I suspect that it starts with leaders who say "if you find a problem go and solve it and I'll back you up" and actually mean those words. That means encouraging innovation, allowing for failures and stuff-ups, and praising success - both with words and funding those activities that are actually achieving the purposes that we believe God has called us to. 

These are huge problems, and I don't pretend to suggest easy answers to significant problems, but we have to start somewhere and it may as well be with us.


  1. 4th paragraph can I say Amen to that. Let's encourage more people with that vision. The vision to see a problem, the vision to see problems can be solved. The vision to know that they are the ones who need to take the action.

    I hear a lot of words from some Christians, including Salvation Army leadership in some places empty words from hollow leadership.

    Lots of people have vision, lots of people share prayers, share concern and well meaning words and that might be all well and good but prayers don't keep the homeless warm on a cold night. A vision, alone, doesn't put food into the empty bellies of a hungry family.

    Vision, alone, doesn't help a family struggling through sickness in their family.

    Vision, alone, doesn't help those hurting to grow strong in their lives, their relationships and grow into the fullness of life that Christ spoke of when He said I came that you may have life in all of its fullness and abundance.

    Para 6

    Sadly we seem to see a third type of leader, not just those willing to delegate and not just those willing to do the work but we also see some that live according to the creed: "If you see a problem lets, together, go looking for someone who will deal with it for us."

    Sure there are some who are concerned that they and their leaders don't become overworked, but that problem isn't as big as many make it out to be I would suggest.

    I've seen corps closed down, I've seen corps close activities down, sometimes with people still wanting to attend them. Whether this is for lack of leadership or lack of leaders wanting to lead that particular group, many will debate, but the focus seems to be on having a vision and hoping someone else will take up that vision and do the work needed.

    It is encouraging to listen and read of those, particularly those new to the Army, and new in leadership who take the approach, we have a vision, we have the power and we will do this together.

    We hear people talking about the importance of children, but I have to ask, where are the people offering to help teach scripture in schools, if we don't turn up to teach scripture in schools we will loose that right, and it is a right protected by our Constitution.

    Let us encourage our young people, our young leaders, the school students, the university students, those just entering the workplace. They have the willingness, the enthusiasm, the vision and the work ethic the Army is known for.

    They need the support and encouragement from "the organisation". I believe more are stepping out and doing things and reviving that active role of an Army that did things.

    We hear people talking about the importance of the family, the importance of role models .... what are we, as a church, doing to help prepare young people for adult-hood. For a biblical Christian life in a challenging world?

    What are we doing to teach health, fitness, music, life skills, work skills, sports and hobbies, bike riding and bike repair, fishing, gardening, crafts and all other manner of skills and activities that could be passed along or are we happy to leave it to someone else at the community colleges?

    Let us not leave it up to someone else, however if someone else is doing something, please, please please get in there and help them. Far too many leaders (in my experience) aren't getting the support they could be offered, when I say support I don't mean critique from the bleachers.

    We cannot expect the officers to do it all, it looks like in the modern army most of them are so snowed under with paperwork they have little time for anything else.

    We can be a part of the living vine or part of the firewood that is cut off and burned because it is dead .... as for me and my house we are going to serve God as part of a living vine, and I greatly appreciate those all around us living their lives in a way that inspires us to do and be more of what God empowers within us.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Inerrent, Infallible, Inspired... Interpreted?

An Exercise in Self-Deception

Sermon: Matthew 13:1