Meeting Christ in a night shelter: a post-Easter reflection on a Maundy Thursday evening

For the last eight years at Ilford Salvation Army we have run a night shelter over the winter season. This typically runs from the first week of December to the first week of March, sleeping 28 people every night in the upstairs hall of our church building in Clements Road. For the last couple of years, we have been working on an initiative called Project Malachi to develop a ‘pop up hostel’ using a modular, re-deployable building (like shipping containers). We are excited that manufacturing of the units has begun, and the building is scheduled to be completed later in the year. However, we were hoping it was going to be completed sooner but in light of some delays we pledged to keep the shelter open until people move in to Malachi. This was a big commitment for the church and volunteer team.

One of the unexpected blessings of running the shelter on an extended basis this year has been that it has been open over Easter. Because the shelter is typically open over Christmas, we make natural associations between that festival, the homeless Jesus and the shelter ministry. This year, we had the opportunity to be more closely attentive to the grounding of this work in the Easter story. An example of this was on Maundy Thursday.

We had scheduled to watch the Passion of the Christ followed by a Love Feast. However, the shelter was slightly low in numbers for volunteers at the shelter due to some having commitments at their own churches. With a low turnout to watch the film, we thought that a better use of our time would be to help with the shelter, and then gather later for the Love Feast. Before opening shelter, we gathered for prayer and shared a reading from John 13 and the new commandment ‘that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ This also prefigured the Love Feast later in the evening.

The evening was a little bit chaotic, with some people ‘under the influence’ but the team embodied that new command with meekness and strength. We fed the hungry – people desperate to eat the food (which had been kindly prepared by Muslim colleagues offsite and then delivered to the shelter); we gave drink to the thirsty – teas, coffees and juice quickly consumed; we clothed the naked – one of the men was needing a new pair of work boots after they had been stolen from where he stored them; we welcomed the stranger – a Salvationist from Ghana visited the Corps for the first time; we visited the imprisoned – one of the guests was discharged to shelter inappropriately by probation services (an issue we are having to battle hard to resolve); and we visited the sick – late in the evening, a lady was brought to us because ‘The Salvation Army will know how to help” – she was suffering with dementia and was found wandering in a park after ‘escaping’ from her supervised accommodation. All the members of the team worked together to help everyone who was in need. It was an interesting evening but, nevertheless, a blessed one!

At around 9:30pm, once things had quietened down a bit, some of us – both volunteers and guests – gathered in the main hall for the Love Feast. As we sat together, readings were shared from Scripture to help us focus on the love that God has for us, and our own need to be able to love more, and better. As we ate and drank, I found my attention drawn to my own vulnerability and frail human condition, and the way that I embody the conditions found in Matthew 25:31-46, inasmuch as they were visible in people who would be sleeping in the shelter that evening.

Without diminishing the particularity of my, or their, situation, our common humanity – humanity common with Christ, was realised yet again: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

It is in this sense that we find the work of the shelter, and any other enactment of embodied compassion – to be a practice of discipleship. Through our simple desire to be with and imitate Him, we are shaped more and more into His likeness.

Parliamentary Undersecretary for Housing and Homelessness visits Project Malachi in Ilford

Today, Heather Wheeler MP, Parliamentary Undersecretary for Housing and Homelessness, visited Redbridge to discuss the issues the borough is facing with a high number of people sleeping rough.  A number of organisations, including The Salvation Army Ilford, were represented at the roundtable meeting with the Minister, Leader of Redbridge Council Cllr Jas Athwal, and Cabinet Member for Housing Cllr Farah Hussain.  
— Read on popuphostel-ilfordsalvationarmy.nationbuilder.com/parliamentary_undersecretary_for_housing_and_homelessness_visits_project_malachi

Salvationist Thoughts: Acknowledging Privilege, History and Moving Forward | SA Justice

Salvationist Thoughts: Acknowledging Privilege, History and Moving Forward | SA Justice
— Read on sajustice.us/salvationthoughtsjessicasneed/

“This morning at 8:05 am, I dropped my son Daniel off for his first day of YMCA Day Camp. I’ve spent the past week prepping him for this day: signing forms, explaining the schedule to him, packing an earthquake kit into a gallon sized ziplock bag. Over the last 24 hours, I explained to him three times that his snack was in the baggie, and his lunch was in the lunchbox. Even so, as I dropped him off this morning in this new place with virtual strangers, my heart wasn’t quite at ease.”

Salvationist Thoughts: Responding to the Humanitarian Crisis on the Border | SA Justice

Salvationist Thoughts: Responding to the Humanitarian Crisis on the Border | SA Justice
— Read on sajustice.us/salvationthoughts1-2/

“When the United States first started separating children from their parents at the border, I was devastated. Not just because I find it absolutely abhorrent that we would treat any human in this way but because as the daughter of an immigrant I can’t help but to think about my dad every time I see a family detained at the border.”

Why did the officer, the pioneer leader and envoy write a blog? Because… | disciplesofthecross

By Ben Cotterill and Ryan Wileman featuring Roger Coates
Today (30th September 2017) we celebrate the 16 Salvationists who have begun their training to be Salvation Army officers in the UKI Territory. Within our celebrations, though, is the sober recognition of the fact that this low number represents the continuance of a trend decline in the quantity of candidates and cadets. We thank God for those stepping forward, but we also look to God with this concern! As in most strands of Christian life, we hold positives and negatives in live tension. …

Read the rest here.

Stories: The heart of organising | The Centre for Theology & Community

Dave Morris has been an intern based at Ilford Salvation Army, from the Centre for Theology and Community. You can read some of his reflections here!

“Dave Morris took part in this summer’s Urban Leadership School, interning at Ilford Salvation Army. In this blog, he reflects on the central role of sharing and listening to stories in the practice of community organising.

Something that has brought together all of the interns on the Summer Internship is story-telling. In the remembering and the telling we have all learned so much about ourselves and each other. Sometimes we are in stitches laughing; other times they’re followed by a weighty silence. But every single story has given me insight into who that person is.”

Salvation Army Officership: why no one wants our job

by Captain John Clifton (Ilford Corps) and Lieutenant Ben Cotterill (Keighley Corps)People become Salvation Army Officers for different reasons. For some, it’s because God wrote it for them in the sky. For others, it’s because they were inspired by other officers, often parents making a difference in the world. For others again, it’s because something finally gave way after fifteen years of running from the call whilst others took heed of these all too common Jonah-like testimonies and said ‘yes’ in a heartbeat!

But it’s rumoured that this September’s intake of Cadets (trainee Salvation Army Officers) will be particularly low, possibly the lowest ever.

A simple comparison shows that in 1990 there were 1,793 UK active officers, in 2000 there were 1,539 and the most recent stats for 2017 show there are 1,042. The following table shows the rate of decline in cadets being even steeper in proportion to the astonishing decline in our soldiership membership.

With more people retiring than being commissioned there will of course be implications; officers running multiple corps/centres, retired officers being called on to undertake active appointments, corps/centres un-officered, crucial roles in departments and other jobs led by people who may not even be Salvationists or Christian to name but a few.

How has it come to this?

Salvation Army officers are afforded the wonderful privilege to be released from secular employment to focus on leading the mission of The Salvation Army. However, when officership was instituted in Victorian Britain it was the norm for people to stay in their job for the entirety of their working lives. Today, “job hopping” and having numerous careers[1] in a working life are now the norm although this trend has apparently slowed since the financial crisis[2].

Furthermore, as the membership of the Army increasingly leaves ‘darkest England’[3] well behind and joins the swelling middle-classes, home ownership, often changing jobs and settling down has become the norm. The idea of committing to one vocation and being told where in the world to live does not fit comfortably into this norm. At the same time our multi-cultural diversity has not been reflected in the cadets at training college.

So, is officership out-of-date?

Well, it has rightly become recognised as being one option in a marketplace of vocational choices. Another healthy development is that it no longer receives higher kudos than other vocational choices. It seems also that there are good numbers of people who are deeply committed to the mission of the Army who are seeking out opportunities as full-time employees, with specialist niche roles, as opposed to generalist ministries. There is generally a healthy understanding of the ‘priesthood of all believers’ in The Army. We know about the immediacy of God’s grace and that its not the role of an Officer to administer salvation. However, sometimes we forget that we still require people to fulfil particular functions in the life of the Church. We still need people set apart for the task and vocation of leadership. It’s important to celebrate all avenues of leadership, including Officership.

How we hold these trends in tension with the need to develop leaders of our mission is a challenge. It is really positive that non-officers are released into pioneering ministries and specialist roles, but not every corps can produce capable local leaders at a given point in time and will need officers. So, has God stopped calling people? If yes, what does this mean for us? If not, why are numbers so low?

Are people saying “no” or ignoring their call to serve as officers? The reasons for this we believe are many: waiting for a spouse to ‘get the call’; being put off by bad officers; confusion over what constitutes ‘calling’; being hurt or seeing others handled badly by the Army; feeling inadequate as a leader; theological and faith issues; a reluctance to lose their autonomy; a sense that the ship is sinking so better to find a new sea worthy ship outside of the Army. We could go on.

Now we’re not suggesting that every person with a hint of leadership skills, social competence and desire to serve God should necessarily be an officer. After all, we need local leaders. But we’ve met too many people over the years who are called but don’t take the next step.

Between us, we have nine years experience as Officers. This is more than some, less than others. For our generation, that’s quite a long time in any job. What we have seen tells us that God has more to do with our Army. We’ve seen families come to know Jesus. We’ve seen people arrive as refugees from warzones and receive a warm welcome in our churches. We’ve got to know people on first-name terms, from those sleeping rough on park benches to those sat making laws on parliament benches. Every day, we get to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unlovable, and befriend those who have no friends.

We’d love for every Salvationist (and every Christian?) to ask themselves whether God is calling them to be a Salvation Army Officer. We are convinced if people opened their heart, then more people might make the seemingly outrageous decision to offer themselves.

We want the best leaders, the humblest souls, world-class intellectuals, straightened-out street brawlers, passionate teachers, recovered drunkards, powerful business-people, public servants, white anglo-saxon, recently resettled refugees – people from all walks of life who are deeply resolved to love and serve God all their days – to step up.

Why not you!? Most leaders in The Bible had something wrong with them to start with – murderers, liars, cheats, the mute, the comfortable, the not so special – you name it they’re all in there.

Leading won’t be easy. That doesn’t get you off the hook, it’s just something you need to expect. The opposition and challenges are inevitable, but they’re never unbeatable.

Tony Blair once wrote that the Labour party created a situation for itself where ‘normal’ people felt inclined to walk away, leaving the manically ambitious and the weird in their stead (now it’s also been said that no-one sane every changed the world!). But it is just so important that this generation brings through obedient, capable and teachable leaders (amongst other things) who continue their adventure in the Army for God’s kingdom.

God has not stopped calling and the need is as greater if not greater than ever before.

So why not you, why not now?

Also published at: https://disciplesofthecross.wordpress.com/2017/05/06/salvation-army-officership-why-no-one-wants-our-job/

[1] Research by Lifelong Learning and Linkedin outline the trend of job hopping.

http://money.cnn.com/2016/04/12/news/economy/millennials-change-jobs-frequently/ and https://www.theguardian.com/money/2008/mar/31/2

[2] An article in the Financial Times suggesting job hopping is slowing down. https://www.ft.com/content/966b870e-f904-11e6-bd4e-68d53499ed71

[3] William Booth wrote ’Darkest England and the Way Out’ in 1890, a vision of Booth to transform society.

What is a Citizens UK Assembly? – Citizens UK

While hustings might be quite familiar to Salvation Army involvement in public life, we’d really recommend reading this explanation of a Citizens UK assembly.

http://www.citizensuk.org/what_is_a_citizens_uk_assembly

Policy Statements 2017-2018 | The Salvation Army

http://www.salvationarmy.org.au/en/News-and-Media/Latest-News/Politics-is-harming-those-who-need-our-help-the-most/

“They were here 20 years ago. They are here 20 years after.

20 years ago there was an organiser called Neil Jameson, who had to have as many one to one face to face meetings as possible in East London. There was no hidden agenda this disciple of Civil Society and Democracy was carrying with him. He was all about getting the East End organised. “Organising was what East London needed most in those days as it does need it now” says Bishop Paul McAleenan, who was a local priest at St. Scholastica’s in Clapton 20 years ago and now the Bishop of the Diocese of Westminster. Bishop Paul was there 20 years ago at the founding assembly and he has once again come back to join the 1000 strong delegates to celebrate the 20th year anniversary of The East London Citizens Organisation (TELCO).”

Read more at: https://bekelewoyecha.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/empowered-are-organised.html?m=1