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/

‘Marching Towards Justice’ translated into Spanish

We’re delighted to announce that Marching Towards Justice (Marchando Hacia La Justicia) is now available in Spanish. It can be downloaded for free here on The Centre of Theology and Community website. Thanks to our friends in The Salvation Army USA Eastern territory for their support!

“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

East London Community Campaign Group TELCO Celebrates 20 Years of Driving Local Change

Cedric Lungiambudi and Kerstin Khan represent Ilford Salvation Army in the roll call
TELCO (The East London Citizens Organisation) yesterday celebrated 20 years of community organising and social justice campaigns to improve living standards through higher wages, increased employment opportunities, and pioneering affordable housing schemes. TELCO is the founder of the now national movement, Citizens UK.

TELCO’s 20 year highlights include:

  • Founding and sustaining the Living Wage campaign with marches through London’s east end in 2001.
  • Demanding as far back as 2004 that ‘The People’s Guarantees’ be incorporated into the London 2012 bid, guaranteeing Olympic Living Wage jobs, a pilot Community Land Trust, and an Olympic legacy of affordable family housing, construction skills training, and leisure and health facilities.
  • Pioneering urban Community Land Trusts to secure truly affordable renting and home ownership for local people.
  • Starting the Good Jobs Programme with apprenticeships for local 16-19 year olds, with nearly 100 so far benefitting from jobs or training through the programme.
  • Creating the Refugee Welcome programme which began as ‘Strangers into Citizens’, with local communities helping refugees resettle into their area. This is now a Citizen UK national programme.

From marching with thousands of locals through the streets of the east end, pressing for the dignity of a Living Wage, to pioneering genuinely affordable  housing via Community Land Trusts, TELCO has driven change nationwide. The model of community organising established by Telco, has been replicated throughout the UK, under the umbrella of the Citizens UK network.

Citizens UK executive director, Neil Jameson, said:

“TELCO brought together across east London, a wide and diverse grouping of congregations, schools, community groups, and local associations by reviving the tradition of community organising in the East End. This formed a new civic organisation that encouraged members to act as one on the issues and concerns they shared.  One of the most pressing issues was the low pay of many local people who, although working full time, were trapped in poverty and poor housing. Their wages made it impossible to make ends meet. Poor housing too was and continues to be an issue around which diverse community and religious leaders feel able to organise together, with a shared vision for better provision.”

The efficacy of the organising is evident through TELCO’s shaping of London 2012 into the ‘First ethical Living Wage Olympics’. Their pursuit of ‘dignity through a Living Wage’ since 2001 has now spawned 3,000 accredited Living Wage employers, lifting more than 150,000 people out of poverty.

TELCO continues today supporting local communities and refugee families, and urging London’s wealthy football clubs to pay all staff the Living Wage. Its dogged pursuit of land for housing, and its use of innovative models to help accommodate lower paid Londoners, is bearing fruit through the Community Land Trust initiatives which are now spreading throughout the capital and elsewhere.

Emmanuel Gotora, Lead Organiser for TELCO said:

“In 2004, our members backed the bid for London 2012 on condition that it delivered a true legacy for the people of east London. Our demands ranged from paying everyone a London Living Wage to including a genuinely affordable housing legacy through the pilot Community Land Trust at St. Clements.

“TELCO’s legacy is one of local people coming together to make a difference in some of the most deprived areas of the city and winning change despite the odds, to create the change they wanted to see.”

Fr Michael Copps, priest at St Francis Church, has been part of the campaign since 2004. His Parish is barely a mile from the first Olympic development at Chobham Manor. He is now pushing to get started on a bigger Community Land Trust project on the East Wick and Sweetwater development.  He said:

“We were asked to forgo CLT homes on Chobham Manor so we’re very pleased that the London Legacy Development Company have included a requirement that at least 20 homes on the Eastwick and Sweetwater neighbourhood should be CLT homes. Nevertheless, TELCO will continue to push for the first 100 CLT homes, as originally agreed by the Olympic authorities.”

CLT homes were once again at the forefront of the agenda at York Hall, where 1,000 delegates gathered for TELCO’s 20th Anniversary Assembly.

Keep an eye out for a more detailed report of the assembly, which will be shared in the next couple of days!

Salvation Army In London Welcomes Family Fleeing War-Torn Syria Under Community Sponsorship Scheme

The Salvation Army has welcomed its first refugee family under the Community Sponsorship scheme recently introduced by the Government. Fleeing conflict in Syria, the family had lost their home and been identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as being particularly vulnerable and in need of resettlement to the UK. Welcomed under the scheme they will now have the opportunity to rebuild their lives in London, supported by The Salvation Army and its community.

Read more here: http://news.salvationarmy.org.uk/salvation-army-london-welcomes-family-fleeing-war-torn-syria-under-community-sponsorship-scheme

More Room in the Inn!

By Major Nick Coke

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Look at this photo. What do you see? It’s a typical Christmas scene – The Salvation Army band out carolling. ‘It’s not Christmas until I’ve heard the Salvation Army band’, I can almost hear someone say. It looks a little chilly but even from this distance I can sense that warm, fuzzy feeling inside as the music rises and falls in my imagination. Strangely comforting, hopeful, beautiful.

Now take another look, but let’s turn the photo around. Same band, different perspective. This is not your usual carolling gig. This is a band playing carols for justice outside the Houses of Parliament. On this night they played for unaccompanied refugee children who remain stranded far from home.

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Standing nearby as the band played, I sensed the power of the Christmas story confronting a dark world in which children flee war and poverty only to be turned away. Together with 400 others from a wide spectrum of faith and civil society organizations we called on Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to ensure Britain plays its part in welcoming 1000 children to our shores. This year we’re up to 800, but surely we can make room for a few more this Christmas. There is room in the inn! There are those ready and willing to give shelter and a warm welcome.

Together we sang a few especially adapted carols, accompanied by the band. New words to favourite tunes – here’s one:

‘In the bleak midwinter
Far away from home;
Children sleep as refugees
Scared and alone;
Snow is falling, snow on snow
In the bleak mid-winter
Not that long ago.

The streets they cannot hold them
Nor makeshift camps sustain;
The fear is that they’ll flee away
While confusion reigns:
In this bleak mid-winter
No stable place will do
Each child needs a place of rest,
Just like me and you.

What can we give them,
Civilians as we are?
If I were an MP
I would write a law;
If I were prime minister
I would do my part;
Yet what we can we give them –
A welcome from the heart.’

Here’s a thought. Why not use these words at a carol service this Sunday? And as you do, consider what you can do to help unaccompanied refugee children. Restart The Rescue Christmas Carols can be downloaded by clicking the link and a petition signed here

Fostering Carers: how working for justice changes us too

Following the passage of the Dubs Amendment, the Home Office is consulting with local authorities to determine how many unaccompanied children the UK will be able to accept. Since each council’s pledge will be determined by its fostering capacity our local Refugee Welcome Team has been working to promote fostering in Redbridge.

We’ve held an evening to promote fostering to those within our faith communities and to ask the Leader of the Council, Jas Athwal, to pledge to accept five Syrian refugee children. The evening featured presentations from CORAM, Home for Good and Redbridge Council about fostering, as well as testimony from Ernest, who came to the UK as an unaccompanied Albanian refugee, and Farduous, who came here as a Syrian refugee.

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Following the action, we took time to evaluate. This was an opportunity to celebrate people who had done well, congratulate individuals who had developed their skills and recognise leaders who had brought others to participate in public life. It was also an invaluable chance to learn specific lessons about community organising. How did you feel? What had gone well? What could we have done better? What had changed as a result of the evening?

My instinctive response to the final question surprised me. It wasn’t the answer I or anyone else was expecting. Because the answer was me. I had changed.

Before the fostering event, I and another member of the team went to meet representatives from the council for a pre-negotiation. I came away thinking that we were asking for the impossible. And so before our event I was a nervous wreck – what was I going to do if the Leader of the Council tried to deflect the question or, even worse, refused outright. I wondered, should we ask for something smaller – maybe ask for less children, maybe not even ask him to commit to act at all. But with the encouragement of others on the team, I found the courage to live with the tension and ask anyway.

Justice seeking demanded that I broke free from my concern about looking foolish. It required that I was prepared to fail if the Leader didn’t give us what we wanted. I needed to ignore my natural inclination to play it safe and disturb the present to better the future.IMG_0173
Of course, this wasn’t all that had changed. Together we had secured a commitment from the Leader of the Council to accept unaccompanied refugee children under the Dubs amendment, although we were disappointed he would not commit to a specific number in contrast to the Leader of the Council in Hammersmith & Fulham, Stephen Cowan, who committed to his borough resettling at least 10 unaccompanied children. Furthermore, we had recruited sixteen potential foster carers. But nonetheless, the change in me is important because it makes me a little bit more who God would have me be.

When the prophet Micah questions what the Lord requires of his people, he responds ‘ To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ (6:8)

God’s intention is that our justice seeking, our acts of compassion and our rhythms of discipleship are integrated and interconnected; each a vital and connected part of our spiritual formation.

Justice seeking inevitably arises from a frustration with acts of compassion that serve the suffering but don’t address the causes of the misery, However, justice seeking should also shape our acts of compassion so we serve in ways that empower and bestow dignity rather than foster dependence. Similarly, while justice seeking is an important expression of our discipleship, it is also a place where we are spiritually formed as God challenges us to change, highlighting the places where our character isn’t consistent with the person of Jesus and giving opportunity for the fruit of the Spirit to grow within us.

However, Adele Calhoun reminds us ‘experiences don’t necessarily bring wisdom, nor do they automatically transform us. We need to listen and reflect on our experiences in the presence of the Holy Spirit to learn from them’ (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook 2005: 57). It’s important that we take time to pay attention to how our justice seeking is shaping who we are, allowing it to transform us into the image of Christ.

Some prompts for reflection:

  • What do you personally find most challenging about justice seeking? Ask God to show you how this might be connected to aspects of your personality where He is leading you to change to become more like Jesus.
  • Look back over your diary for the last month – how much time have you invested in justice seeking, in acts of compassion and in rhythms of discipleship? Is there a particular area you’re not investing in enough?
  • Next time you engage in an act of justice-seeking, ask yourself ‘what’s changed?’ and write about this in your journal

Opportunities for Action:

Since January, when a small group of children were reunited with their families at St Pancras Station, another 178 children have been identified, living in terrible conditions in Calais, who have a right to be reunited with their families here in the UK.  Disappointingly, the government has transferred less than 50.  Worse still there are 14 waiting for up to 10 weeks, whose travel has been fully approved. It’s not good enough.

Join us in calling on the new Immigration Minister, Robert Goodwill to reunite these children with their families by the 25th of August.  There’s no reason these children shouldn’t be here in time to start school. Let’s challenge the Minister to find a way and show that we won’t take no for an answer.

In addition to this, The Welcome Summit on Saturday 10th September is a gathering for the groups behind the Refugees Welcome movement from right across the country.

It’s a moment, one year on from the tragic death of Aylan Kurdi, to come together and celebrate what we’ve achieved, take stock of the British response to date, and to plan, train and act together to build a more welcoming Britain. We will also use the time to build accountable relationships with key actors, from government ministers to UN agencies, around key issues including the protection of refugee children, development of community sponsorship, and building of strong communities.

You can read more about the details of the day here, and register your attendance here.