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Shrug the hug?

Today, Salvos Online introduces a new weekly column called ‘Mal on Monday’, where Major Mal Davies looks at the lighter side of Army life. During his 20 years as a Salvation Army officer, Mal has experienced the highs and lows of officership and also the humour and laughter that often comes with it. So, get your week off to a positive start each Monday morning with a cuppa and a giggle courtesy of Major Mal.


Freddy was a rough sleeper who engaged with a corps I led and became a regular user of our services, as well as – God bless him – attending our Sunday morning meetings.

He had a see-sawing relationship with life; some days we’d get happy Freddy, and some days we’d get cranky Freddy, generally for good reason. He was a large man with a large beard and large hands that gave a vice-like grip to his handshake.

As Freddy became more familiar with the place, he also became more emotionally attached and would often shed a tear as he spoke of how we’d positively impacted his life. He said things like, ‘I don’t know where I’d be without you,’ and ‘You are the only ones who look out for me’.

Freddy could also have done with a regular bath and washed his clothes. And I say that in love, having spent a lot of time sitting alongside Freddy and chatting with him about life.

Then – because of his appreciation for us and some emotional fragility – he took to hugging me. One minute he’d be talking and shaking hands, the next minute he’d pulled me in and was giving me a bear hug, often while crying on my shoulder.

When he did that, I’m almost certain I could hear small animals moving around in his beard. Perhaps a chirping sound. Definitely small eyes looking at me. That beard was an ecosystem unto itself, and when it brushed my face, I could sense tiny creatures moving ‘house’ to my beard.

So, should I have shrugged the hug? At first, I considered it, but then I thought, ‘No, the man needs a shoulder to cry on; if it’s not your local pastor, who else is it going to be?’

Hugging at church was severely impacted by the pandemic years and has had a polarising effect on people; some folks just don’t hug anymore, while others hug more because they missed being with people so much.

Generally speaking, apart from carefully chosen individuals, I’m not a hugger. When dear old widower Mrs Gladstone hugs me after the Sunday meeting slightly too tightly and slightly too long, I tend to go tree-like rather than engage her in some bizarre wrestling manoeuvre.

And while I’m aware she’s simply saying hello and not trying to roleplay a passage from Song of Solomon, nevertheless, I feel slightly awkward – which is my issue, not hers.

Maybe we need a ‘hugging protocol code’ for church attenders, possibly including a badge folks can wear that either says, ‘Free hugs’ or ‘Cursed are all ye who enter here’. Something that makes it clear if you’re a hugger or not.

As for Freddy-type huggers, beware men (or women, no discrimination here) with large unwashed beards. Sharing Christian greetings is one thing; sharing unknown species of insects is quite another.

Note: Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the innocent and because, often, I can’t remember!

– Major Mal Davies and his wife Major Tracey are the Corps Officers at Adelaide City Salvos


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