e-connect talks with the four mission department heads, Major Jenny Begent (head of social mission), Captain Stuart Glover (head of community engagement), Dr Elli McGavin (head of policy, research and social justice) and Captain Steven Smith (head of mission resources).
In January 2019 the Australia Territory is due to be fully operational; the four new mission department heads have sat down to talk about where ‘we’, the Salvos, are at currently, and where we are going.
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Asked if the mission department was now working though a national approach, or was settling on a ‘two territories’ approach (hanging onto diverse territorial frameworks from the old Eastern and Southern territories), the answer from Major Jenny Begent is clear.
‘We’re looking at a national approach,’ she answers, clearly and firmly, ‘and… the sooner the better; the sooner we are all on the one page, the better off we’ll be.’
So, while there are territory-specific issues coming out of last year’s Diversity* conference for the Australia Southern Territory, for example, such as a practitioner’s understanding of the concept of ‘intersectionality’**, they do hold national implications when it comes to implementation.
‘Practice is important,’ Major Begent explains, ‘right across the nation. I would want us to have a collegiate and coordinated approach to the way we do business, whether we do it in Toowoomba or Wagga Wagga or Broome or Hobart.
‘You want to be able to walk through any service The Salvation Army runs and receive a service that is holistic but kind, caring, welcoming and open... where the individual is treated with respect.’
To help us achieve that, Dr Elli McGavin says, The Salvation Army needs ‘to decide what type of advocacy we want to do, and then understand the participant’s, or client’s, voice a bit better. We can then link that voice with other information.
‘We have some good, sophisticated advocacy out there being done locally. Some of it is quite sophisticated advocacy, but currently it is in isolation, so certainly a lot more coordination across the country will be helpful.’
So, there is a great deal of active learning and mapping going on at present, and a lot of discussion about how we want to treat people; what we want to do and what we want to say. Captain Steven Smith says ‘we want to build on where we are strong and focus our energy into what we want to be known for in transforming Australia.
‘Key to this,’ he adds, ‘is understanding how we can best facilitate holistic mission for the whole person, in our local communities. This needs to guide our decisions and everything we do.’
All four mission heads understand the importance of aiming for holistic mission.
‘I’m not sure that “mission” can be differentiated between what Jenny’s responsible for – some of the stuff that’s large, chunky social mission – and the way we engage with the community in a local corps-based setting, or through a Doorways-based program,’ Captain Glover says.
‘For me,’ the captain continues, ‘mission is mission. We express it in different ways. Sometimes it looks like a faith-based expression. Sometimes it looks like a social expression.
‘We need to get away from the language of a corps-based or faith-based expression of mission versus a social expression of mission. That’s why the department is named the mission department. Part of the Australia One idea is that the silos are broken down, so we are meeting the community at their point of need.’
The point of need in Australia is becoming wider.
The Salvation Army has an increasing client base, with expanding client need, ageing and diminishing internal membership, a reduced funding prescription and changes to the specificities of federal and state funding models.
In many sectors of social engagement, Major Begent notes, there are large-scale changes designed to empower individual clients; yet the same changes and proposed additional changes (read funding cuts) are placed in a punitive setting.
This, she explains, lies within ‘the context of the current government rhetoric around what it means to be able to work, which sees unemployment as the fault of the person who is out of work, rather than the fault of a wider structure’.
As well as dealing with the internal dynamics of the national Australia One restructure, The Salvation Army is floating in a sea of social welfare reforms that threatens to return to the old 19th century philosophical model of the ‘deserving poor and the undeserving poor’.
At such a time, as these four colleagues well know, the Salvos need to meet people at their point of need, through a holistic, unified approach that comes from the heart of The Salvation Army and shares Salvo mission through compassionate community engagement.
* The Diversity conference was timely, as ‘diversity’ is one of The Salvation Army’s new national values; integrity, compassion, respect, diversity and collaboration https://www.sarmy.org.au/Global/SArmy/Other/australia%20one%20project/Documents/mission-values-liftout-fullFAQ-FINAL.pdf
** Intersectionality is a window into the interconnected nature of social groupings and categories such as gender, race, sexual orientation, age, class, etc., as applied to a person or a cohort of people. The nature of intersectionality, as posited, can create positive and negative treatment and bias, to the advantage or the disadvantage of the people described or categorised.