Morning worship, Sunday 27 January 2013, 10.45am
Led by: Envoys Bert and Pat Kidd
You’d need a heart of stone and a complete absence of scruple not to admire the Salvation Army. They work hard and they do good, they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty, and they provide comfort and support to some of the most broken and damaged in our society … and God knows, any of us could be just a financial setback and a bad decision or two away from destitution.
It turns out the Salvationists are also lovely, friendly people, and genuinely delighted to welcome newcomers to their Sunday worship. I was only one of three such outsiders and it was handshakes all round, though I really hadn’t expected a hug into the bargain. Altogether it was a doughty band of 30-odd, more than half of them in uniform, and for the first time in my Soul Search mission I sensed that I was among a group thoroughly united by long acquaintance and common purpose, and the stronger for it, as was evident from their “how-do-you-do? testimony”, in which they prompted one another to stand up and talk about their faith, whether at length or with a simple “happily walking with God”.
The music was good, as I’d expected it would be. After all, why should the devil have all the best tunes? Hymns were accompanied either by brass band or piano, and there were songs by both adults’ and children’s choirs. I’d never before been to a service where the leader stopped the band in the middle of a hymn in order to read out selected verses, but it seems to make sense if you want to emphasise a particular point before resuming. There were some old favourites – the Old Hundredth, Walk in the Light, and How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds, which prompted an “Ain’t that the truth!” from worship leader Envoy Bert Kidd – and singing was generally lusty.
The service opened with a reminder that homelessness is a crisis which Christians are called to address, and with an invitation to a special service later that day on the same theme. In keeping with this, the sermon, by Envoy Pat Kidd, was on “setting the captives free”, with reflections on Matthew 17:17-19 and John 11:38-44 and on William Booth’s Vision of the Lost.
With suitably military precision, the service finished at exactly mid-day, followed almost immediately by an unscheduled fire alarm, much to the amusement of the Sunday school children who it seems had just been singing a song called “Church on Fire”. But thankfully it proved to be a false alarm.
Could I do what the Salvationists do? Could I be like those in Booth’s vision who “actually jumped into the water, regardless of the consequences, in their passion to ‘rescue the perishing’?” No, I can’t see myself ministering to drunks and prostitutes; I’d be scared out of my wits, and I know I don’t have the kind of faith that can override that. Would I worship with them again? Yes, I probably would, and they’re the first of my Soul Search churches of which I can say that. I left with the band’s final hymn tune still running though my head:
Courage, brother, do not stumble
Though thy path be dark as night.
There’s a star to guide the humble,
Trust in God and do the right.
Those lyrics sum up the Salvation Army perfectly. Their faith isn’t brash or vainglorious; it’s humble, practical and driven by their trust in God. I couldn’t do it, but thank goodness they can.