An Army raised to serve the world – let’s celebrate, Australia!
BY LERISSE SMITH
A major birthday celebration like no other will take place next week when The Salvation Army celebrates its remarkable 140 years of Social Services in Australia with an international conference to be held in Melbourne.
The five-day event at the Grand Hyatt Hotel and Project 614 venues from 8-12 November will shine a bright light on the significant milestone of Social Services, delivered by an Army raised to serve the world, with the theme ‘Everyone has a work to do’.
The conference program will feature an array of local and international practitioners in the social services field to reflect, share and celebrate the rich history of helping Australians in need. A myriad of workshops will run throughout the event, plus presentations of research and discussion papers from community sector representatives, with a special celebration and thanksgiving service on the fifth and final day.
And the overarching vision for the significant occasion has been simple for the organiser, Major Jenny Begent, Assistant Secretary for Mission.
“I wanted everybody in the room,” said Jenny.
“I’m a big-picture person. When I thought about the conference, it was not just about celebrating that we have come 140 years and that we’ve actually done some amazing stuff in there. I also wanted to see a Salvation Army that was a really vibrant part of its community, and that if we weren’t here, we just wouldn’t be missed, it would be catastrophic. That’s what I wanted to say.”
The humble beginnings of the Army’s Social Services date back to 1883 when the ‘Prison Gate Brigade’ was established to provide an outreach service for men released from Melbourne Gaol. Major James Barker established the program that was the first Salvation Army social program anywhere in the world, and from that time onwards, it grew rapidly.
Today, our Social Services support those in need in Australia and around the world as strongly and passionately as ever in four major streams – Homelessness, AOD (alcohol and other drug) Services, Youth Services, and Family Violence.
Additional arms include Community Engagement Services, including emergency relief and chaplaincy, Aged Care, Moneycare, Strategic Disaster Management, and the Red Shield Defence Services within the Australia Defence Force.
“It is incalculable to put a number to how many people have been supported by The Salvation Army’s Social Services over all the years,” Jenny said.
“It started with a 500-pound grant from the government. That’s about $955. Today, we invest more than half a billion dollars into our services annually.
“Our ability to provide vital support right across Australia is possible thanks to the support of government and the generosity of our donors, volunteers and corporate partners. The confidence these dedicated supporters have to invest in us is a testament to the trust the Australian community has in The Salvation Army to always be there and make a difference when it’s needed most.”
The international conference celebration will showcase a huge line-up of 10 keynote speakers, 28 speakers and four moderators. The decision-making process behind how the event would be shaped and presented and determining the myriad of workshop topics has been a major project for Jenny and her team.
“It has been a mammoth task,” Jenny explained. “We started off with the notion that both myself and our conference team wanted to ensure that people understood who The Salvation Army was and that we were faith-based, and that’s an important element of who we are. We also wanted people to understand our roots and where we came from.
“I wanted to ensure The Salvation Army understood its place in the world, that we actually have an important place in the world, and from the get-go, we were about the poor and the marginalised, the people on the fringes.”
Jenny added: “We want to say we are not just about the local community. We are actually also about a global context and working towards ensuring that we have a voice to say where systems don’t work for people and keep people poor. We are asking people like guest speaker Nick Bryant (a former BBC foreign correspondent and now columnist) and the politicians, how do we do that, and how do we partner with you to get that done?”
“So, from that, we progressed from the start of the conference down to the last day, which is really intimate, which is about how do you and I, the social mission, and the church, actually do this well?”
Making a difference
The first two days of the international conference will look at the community and the world people live in and how The Salvation Army can continue to make a difference in the world. From a global perspective, the second day will be more intentional about an Australian context and what it means to be a faith-based agency in the world today. It will feature Cassandra Goldie (CEO ACOSS); the Honourable Bill Shorten; Michael Sukkar; Michael Lennon; Stephen Crittendon; Julie McCrossin; Andrew West (ABC religion report); Adam Bandt MP; Patricia Faulker (Jesuit Social Services); Bronwyn Pike (CEO Uniting Vic. Tas.).
Jenny said there were many people who thought the time of faith-based agencies was long gone, so the first few days of the conference would look at how relevant The Salvation Army was and what the faith-based agency brought to local communities that others did not.
“Is there something special about what we do?” said Jenny. “We are going to argue that yes, there is.”
On the third and fourth days, the focus will be on being more intentional about how The Salvation Army connects internally with the church side of the organisation.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” Jenny said. “We’re going to try and have conversations around how we can help each other and how people who might sit in the pew on Sunday could find a meaningful service space in one of our services. It might just be picking up kids from school twice a week or looking for ways in which we can engage and integrate. How we can be more of a matched set rather than separate entities?”
A celebratory youth event will be held on Thursday night, with the conference’s last day being a celebration and thanksgiving service of the Salvos’ social and spiritual service to the community, incorporating music, worship, plus a time of lament.
“There will be a time of reflection and lament because there are times when we got it badly wrong, such as the findings of the Royal Commission, the way we managed Indigenous people in the early days, and our treatment of the LGBTIQ community,” Jenny explained.
“There are things we need to say such as look, we’re sorry we got it wrong, and we do pledge ourselves to do it better and to be totally inclusive, so what we heard on day one of the conference has a reverberating effect in the community.
“And that one small act of kindness actually ripples – and can ripple globally.”