While doing some of the research for Marching Towards Justice, we were excited to re-discover some of the great advice that is held in Orders and Regulations for Salvation Army Officers (O&R). We focussed particularly on the sections on ‘visitation’, which is defined there as personal contact with people… where they are to be found, with a view to furthering each other’s spiritual interests. We take it as self-evident that seeking to further someone’s spiritual interests involves a concern about their material wellbeing.
For example, if you’re concerned about how somebody’s Bible study is going, you also need to be concerned about whether they are being paid a fair wage in order to put food on the table for their family, or whether the children have enough space to do their homework, or whether the whole family feels safe on their way to work or school. While the earthly and spiritual might be formally distinct, the two are joined together so tightly that neither can survive separation. It is therefore implicit that a visit should lead to action.
When working through the various editions of O&R, there were a few key quotes that really resonated with our reflections on community organising. Here are the quotes, and why we appreciated them:
“Visitation is one of an officer’s most important duties. If discharged with skill and diligence it will add to the effectiveness of his/her influence”
This quote, which is actually the first line of the section on visitation in the 1987 edition of O&R, resonated with us because we agree that visitation (or one-to-ones in community organising language) is one of, if not the, most important tasks of an Officer. We also appreciated that it is a skill that can be improved and developed. In other words, it is something that can, and should, be taught, practiced, and evaluated. For this reason, visitation can be considered to be a craft: the use of a particular skill or knowledge in order to produce something. In this case, it produces a public relationship.
“All Salvationists should engage in visitation”
While we recognise that other commitments (work, study for example) might mean some people have less time to commit to visitation, we appreciated that it is the task of every Salvationist and not just the Officer. Visitation, time spent in one-to-one meetings, is what weaves the fabric of our communities and it is vital that every member of the community is investing in this work.
“Systematic planning is essential if visitation is to attain its full measure of effectiveness”
This quote recognises that visitation is not something that happens by chance. It is an intentional practice which requires commitment and organisation, recognising that people’s time is a valuable resource. It also suggests that, given visitation should lead to action, there should be a plan around the timing of visits.
We found the content of O&R at once encouraging and challenging. It was encouraging because it resonated with our convictions and experience. It was challenging because it reminds us of the times we have let other things become the priority. In either case, we are inspired to be better and hope this is the case for you!
Two top-tips for a good one-to-one visit:
- Ask ‘why?’ questions. Find out what makes them tick, what issues make them angry, and what they have done about it.
- Evaluate afterwards by asking “Do I know what their self-interest is? What motivates them? What makes them tick?” and “Have I established a relationship with this person? Do we have the basis to take action together?”
Four questions for reflection:
- Do you visit?
- How is this different/complementary to pastoral visitation?
- How far ahead do you plan your visits with people?
- Do you evaluate your visits?