Many of the people who know me well will know that I used to be in The Salvation Army and that I stay in touch, through Facebook, with many people in The Salvation Army. When one of them, Greg Tuck, returned from the USA to Johannesburg to fetch their son whom they adopted from Firlands, one of the children’s homes of The Salvation Army, invited people to come and hear him preach at their Holiness Service on Sunday 17 May at 10:30 I thought this was a good opportunity to visit.
I looked for a listing on the web so that I could check the time and found that their web presence is poor to non-existent. I found a listing for The Salvation Army, Southern Africa, but none for the the Johannesburg Corps. This meant I had no real idea what time to arrive.
When I arrived (early) I noticed that the area is as pressurised for parking as it ever was, and that some people attending another church had parked in The Salvation Army basement. Nothing was queried by the security guards downstairs.
The mission of The Salvation Army is to the poor and destitute, but also to the whoseover which includes many long time, middle class Salvationists. The area around the Johannesburg Corps is inner city, Braamfontein, but the building surrounds were clean and hygienic. The front door is kept locked and people access the building from the back. This is not particularly suited to evangelistic style outreach, but it seems to work as the hall was comfortably full, but not so full that the balcony upstairs had to be opened up. The 10:30 service is in English and there were many black people in the meeting, some of whom don’t speak the local indigenous languages and some of whom probably choose to worship here because it suits them. The black/white ratio is about 50/50.
Captains Brendan and Leanne Browski are the corps officers now, and Brendan led the service while Leanne told the children’s story, a little tale of two cups, one dirty on the inside and one dirty on the outside. Greg Tuck was preaching and that was my motivation for attending this particular service.
Because I used to worship at The Salvation Army I was surrounded by warm welcomes from both the welcoming team and many of the people who knew me. I was amused to discover that I was sitting in the usual seat of other people but they took up their places in front of me and only admitted that they usually sit there when I asked directly. My offer to swop seats was politely rejected and they pointed out that they don’t own the seats. I wasn’t made to feel uncomfortable in any way about my choice of seat. In addition, The Salvation Army uses very comfortable seats.
If one is not familiar with the hive of buzzing and chit-chat which precedes an Army worship meeting it must be quite startling and seemingly irreverent. This was within my comfort zone because it is a characteristic of The Salvation Army worship with which I am familiar.
The service began with the words: “Welcome in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” and I truly felt welcome. Song books (hymnals) are provided, but they were unnecessary because the words were displayed electronically. The Bible reading, and there was only one, Psalm 84, was also displayed electronically, although I followed along on the Bible app on my phone.
The Salvation Army’s music ministry was very strongly represented. There was a traditional brass band, a choral number from the Songsters (choir), a contemporary worship group with a trumpet and keyboards and, as I was leaving, the Songsters for the next service (one of the African language Corps called the Gauteng Corps) were practising downstairs in the parking. One of the nice touches since my days of worship there was that the band worship item was explained in the bulletin, with the words. It was a meditation on “As the deer pants for the water.” This fitted the theme to which Greg spoke very well.
The style of worship is friendly and informal, family oriented and occasionally boisterous. I forgot to time the sermon, but it did not seem to be unduly long or short, probably about twenty minutes. Greg was emotional as one can expect at this turbulent but joyous time of his life, and he is a powerful preacher, speaking from the heart and sharing his personal testimony. He used Psalm 84 to show how God had sent blessings of showers in the dry and thirsty land all through his life. He did not drag the invitation to the mercy seat (a particular feature of Salvation Army worship) out, and Brendon used the last song as an opportunity to invite people to respond. Several people did. The invitation period did not feel forced.
I found the experience of worshipping with The Salvation Army again after many years away to be very pleasant. I have no idea if there was after-service coffee, but suspect not, because there was no general invitation to stay. I stood around talking in the hall until the very end when almost everyone had left.
My overwhelming impression was one of friendliness and a desire to have me back in the(ir) fold. It felt good to be a Christian and worshipping the Lord at that particular place and time. I will certainly be back for special services in the future, assuming always that I get to hear about them. “Secret Service” does rather describe the evangelistic efforts of this particular corps.