Visitation for social change

Last Monday, we discussed ‘the craft of visitation‘.  We reflected on its importance to the role of a Salvation Army Officer: the need for all Salvationists to be involved in visiting, that visitation is a skill that can be developed, and that it is a discipline that is important to plan and prioritise.

IMG_0029In Thurday’s guest-post, Commissioner Birgitte Brekke-Clifton said “Building relationships this way is the key to ‘success’.”   In this context, we are defining success as ‘effecting social change’ and this is something Commissioner Birgitte knows a lot about, being one of the co-founders of Others, a Salvation Army social enterprise.  A social enterprise is an intervention in the market.  In Sally Ann – Poverty to Hope about the early days of Others, when it was known as Sally Ann, there is a description of a change in mindset that took place when people realised they should no longer be ‘recipients of development aid or charitable handouts’ but rather ‘business partners.’  Let’s consider how this ‘change in mindset’ might be applied to our practice of visitation in two ways:

First, we should recognise the people we visit as equals.

When we use the word ‘visitation’ there is a risk that we are only talking about developing the relationship between ‘pastor’ and ‘flock’.  Rather, we are talking about a meeting of equals – a meeting of partners.  In Marching Towards Justice, we argue that a visit should bear a likeness to the Trinity.  A visit should therefore be mutual rather than one-sided.  It should be co-equal, rather than unbalanced.  A visit involves giving as much as taking.

Second, we should remember that visits are about building power.  

121s - 7Power, which in community organising terms is defined as the capacity to act, is essential to effecting social change.  If you don’t have power, you can’t act.  Relationships are a way of building power.  Visits build relationships.  Therefore, visits are about power – the capacity to act.  Visits with people in your congregation build power within the congregation.  Visits with peer leaders build power outside the congregation and in the wider community.  Visits with ‘Power’ build power outside the congregation and open up the possibility of action.  Every visit builds the capacity to act.

In Sally Ann – Poverty to Hope, there are descriptions of various ‘visits’ – with shopkeepers, sex-workers, businessmen, politicians, Salvationists – all of which developed people’s capacity to act.  This was not networking.  These visits involved listening, sharing, mutual understanding, building trust, and developing each other.  Each visit built power – and as a result, lives were, and continue to be, changed through an intervention in the market for the common good.

Top tips for a visit that builds power:

1.  Practice telling your story.  Heart to Heart, a report from the Centre for Theology and Community will help.

2.  Order Sally Ann – Poverty to Hope and read it to learn more about how visitation can lead to social change.

3.  Evaluate your next visit. Do you have a better understanding of what really matters to them?

Questions for reflection:

1.  How do you feel about the word ‘power’?  Defined as the capacity to act, do you think it fits into the practice of visitation?

2.  When you visit, are you visiting an equal?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section

2 thoughts on “Visitation for social change”

  1. My previous comment on visitation was without the benefit of reading Marching Towards Justice. I was interested in the recent developments at Ilford, having been stationed at Leytonstone in the mid 1980’s.

    As I reflect further on the issue of visitation prehaps we should focus more on the strategy of visitation. Who to visit, why, when, where to visit, all of it needs care and sensitive planning in order to facilitate positive change. In one of our corps appointments that strategy was regularly discussed and planned with the CSM. We talk about evangelism, discipleship and social justice, but never give any focus to visitation. I have been concerned about this for some time glad you are bringing us back to our roots and hi-liting this important subject.

    God bless you.
    Neil Watt

    1. Hi Neil,
      Thanks for your comment!
      I agree that having a strategy for visitation is really important – and I’m convinced visitation is an essential element of evangelism/discipleship/leadership development/justice-seeking. These one-to-one meetings are the best way to weave the fabric of a community – without them, it all unravels!

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