- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — They are a selfless group, these men and women who sign the Articles of War, endure training school, get commissioned as officers and then work tirelessly, moving often and earning little, all to protect people from the enemy.
Army recruits? Military academy cadets? Naval officers?
Try the Salvation Army, an army for God complete with military titles, lingo, uniforms and regulations. William Booth, the Army's first general, started the evangelical Christian church in England in 1865 to offer "soup, soap and salvation" to London's slum-dwellers.
Gen. Booth chose the name and military model in 1878, hoping to duplicate an army's discipline and mobility. Many members admit it's an unusual method, but consider the uniforms and language valuable reminders of their duty.
"It's a feeling of belonging to this organization," says Capt. Alan Phillips, commanding officer in Martin County. "We feel as if we are in a daily war with Satan. So we call our pastors 'officers' and we call putting money in the offering 'firing a cartridge.' That's like firing a gun at the devil."
But in the United States, the Salvation Army has done so much good work providing food, clothing and shelter to the poor that its church often gets overlooked.
"Most people don't know we're a church," Capt. Phillips says. "They just think we drive around in these trucks picking up furniture or we stand around ringing bells at Christmas."
The annual kettle program when volunteer and paid workers ring bells and ask shoppers to throw loose change into their red kettles is the Army's most recognizable project of the year. Kettle and mail donations made during this season help provide gifts and food for millions of poor families nationwide at Christmas, and pay for other programs the rest of the year.
In Palm Beach County, commanding officer Maj. Charles Smith expects to distribute $200,000 to $300,000 worth of food certificates and gifts to 10,000 needy children this season just part of the Army's $5 million social services operation in the county.
But serving the needy is only part of the doctrine Gen. Booth established for the Army. He wanted to first fill empty stomachs and provide warm beds, and then provide a dose of Christian education, a salvation lesson or a Scripture reading.
That's how the Salvation Army grew from a mission church with Sunday services held in tents and on the streets, accompanied by brass bands into a legitimate, although small, denomination. The church has about 450,000 members in the United States.
Its role in the United States is unique because, although it grew slowly after arriving in 1880, the Army eventually became an important part of the social services network, providing aid to the homeless, addicted and poor.
"In the rest of the world, we are known as a church first and a social services agency second," Maj. Smith says. "In America, it's a social agency first and a church second."
And although many people think Salvation Army members are homeless or impoverished, Capt. Phillips says only about 25 percent of his congregation fits that description. He's had executives and a doctor in his churches. Many members are simply middle-class folks who support the work.
Like Violet Eaton. A third-generation Army soldier, she remembers getting teased for belonging to the "Starvation Army." Years ago, she felt compelled to call a little boy's mother to explain the Army because the boy had been calling Mrs. Eaton's son "Salvation Sam."
"We don't go to the Salvation Army to get things," Mrs. Eaton told the woman. "We go for religious services."
Mrs. Eaton began attending as a child, moving around the country with her parents, both Army officers. She signed the doctrine statement (which the Army calls "the Articles of War") like many Army children at age 15, becoming an adult member, or senior soldier.
Growing up, Mrs. Eaton learned to play baritone for the Army band and manned kettles every Christmas. Her father also made sure all seven of the children followed the Army's strict moral guidelines: no dancing, no movies or theater, no playing cards, and no alcohol or tobacco.
Today, only the drinking and smoking bans remain. Soldiers must agree to those when they sign the Articles of War. They receive uniforms, with blue epaulets, which they usually wear for church services and formal appearances. Officers, the Army's clergy, wear uniforms with red epaulets.
Officers typically spend five to seven years in one place, acting as pastor and social services administrator, before moving again. They also must do more than simply marry within their faith. The Army, which has ordained women since its inception, requires that clergy marry within their "rank." They also lose their ordinations if they divorce, although the "non-guilty" party can be reinstated.
The Army provides housing, furnishings and transportation at each assignment, but officers don't earn much money. Families typically have a month to pack their photos, clothes and knickknacks before moving.
Capt. Phillips who together with his wife, Capt. Cheryl Phillips, makes less than $40,000 a year calls it the life of a nomad. He knows the frequent moves are hard on their three children, but he doesn't mind the Spartan lifestyle himself.
"We're not in it for the money or the perks," he says. "What we're in it for is the lives that we change everyday. That makes it worthwhile."
Mrs. Eaton felt the same, mostly until she turned 30 and still hadn't found a nice Army officer to marry. After attending training school and working up to captain, she resigned and moved to Washington, where she met her late husband, Charles, in a Methodist church.
But she returned to the Salvation Army full-time in 1972 when her family moved to West Palm Beach. Today, she plays the organ and recently retired from the church's 30-piece brass band. "It's more fulfilling to me," she says of the Army.
She, like many, knows some of the rules are unusual and might hinder the Army's growth. For one thing, there are those uniforms. (Capt. Alan Phillips says, laughing, that many people ask if he's a pilot or a bellman. Others want him to take their luggage at airports.)
But avid Salvationists believe these things also set members apart and create strength.
"It's a different way of worship, but I think you'll find a unity in the Salvation Army that you won't find anywhere else," Mrs. Eaton says. "It's just like a big family."
Some of their terminology borrowed from the military include:
Adherents: Church followers who have not committed to the doctrine, but consider the Army their religious home.
Articles of War: Doctrine statement signed by members and clergy.
Cadets: Seminary students.
Corps: Church, refers to building and congregation.
Firing a cartridge: Giving money during the weekly Sunday offering.
Getting promoted to glory: Dying.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide