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Acceptance, grace and mercy

Col Geannette Seymour
spoke to Colonel Geanette Seymour, a retired Salvation Army officer who has taken up a six-month appointment as assistant national secretary for mission.

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e-connect: How important is the work of The Salvation Army's social programs and services to our clients, to The Salvation Army, and to God ?

Colonel Geanette Seymour: The Salvation Army is called into being to engage in a social gospel (good news). The community of The Salvation Army, whatever form it takes, must reflect that essence in engagement in relationships that affirm worth and give value; that see the ‘other’ as made in the image of Christ.

In terms of practical ways, how can we affirm someone and give value to their life?

GS: By affirming them as who they are and what they are and where they are. And then journeying with them, rather than having goals and plans for them. Pragmatically, our services exist to bring about change. That’s the whole point. It’s about intervention or change.

But it’s also about where you start that journey; and the dignity with which it’s conducted. Can you see the person that you serve, so that they are not seen as ‘inferior to’… but rather as one with whom you build a relationship that has meaning, which will bring about the change you are looking for?

We journey with them, rather than make decisions on their behalf?

 In the 1960s we gained that beautiful quote from the civil rights movement – ‘nothing about us without us’.
GS: That’s exactly right, and it’s a good foundation to start with, because you don’t set out to ‘fix’ someone. To ‘fix’ a set of unacceptable circumstances. Because you really don’t know how that person think or feels about their circumstances. If you set out to fix it, you are making a judgement call – you are separating them from yourself, and therefore you don’t form relationship with them; you’ve got some form of authority, or power, over them.  

Social programs engage holistically in all four of our mission intentions – caring for people, creating faith pathways, building healthy communities, and working for justice – how do you see them working, in terms of priorities?

GS: I see them as being each necessary to achieve the other. There may be times when one mission intention may hold precedence over the others, at any given moment, for a moment. We are looking to achieve all four at the same time. And, at various times, various elements will be working better than others. It’s not one or the other…it’s got to be elemental, in total. If you’re not caring for people, you’re not going to create faith pathways. If you are not building healthy communities there won’t be justice. They are interdependent elements of the whole.   

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