On a recent Sunday I attended Buckhead Church where Andy Stanley pastors…Wearing my Salvation Army uniform. I received a few sidelong glances. During meet-and-greet time, the lady with whom I was shaking hands asked ‘what uniform is this?’ When I replied ‘The Salvation Army’ a broad smile came to her face as she brought her other hand to grasp mine and say ‘I love and am so thankful for your ministry’. I thanked her and said God bless you as I inwardly beamed. In that moment I was so proud of the lineage of ministry I was attached to simply by wearing this tunic & tie.
It got me thinking. First, this lady does not know me but has been touched by the ministry of the Army in some way. Displaying that the uniform is a recognizable item in our culture. That’s nothing new. Next, it made me realize that my actions (while wearing it) could determine someone’s view of the entire Army based on my behavior. Also, not completely a revelation. Lastly, it struck me that a simple article of clothing was able to help start an uplifting conversation at a time in our culture when face to face interaction is at a minimum.
Being a young Salvationist, I have been at the heart of many a discussion over the validity of wearing the uniform. I do not know your stance but here is where I choose to stand. It is my personal belief that the uniform is a powerful connector and should be recognized as such. The main detractors I’ve heard are: not necessary to wear to church with everyone else wearing the same, its main use is street evangelism, makes guests uncomfortable when attending TSA, it can actually take away from evangelism when people mistake it for police or other ‘officials’.
My quick response would be those are valid reasons that need to be addressed but that the uniform is not the root cause of those issues. The issue lies in how the uniform is disseminated. I’m not sure how it is with you but in my life experience I have seen a push to get as many people in a uniform as quickly as possible. Soldiership classes are rushed or shortened. Covenants are signed and then regretted when the signer comes of age. It is only denied to those who have done some visible unforgiveable sin. It is easier to denigrate something when it has lost its unique & special message.
So this leads us to congregations full of uniforms. It is only a barrier if we allow it to be. If everyone in our Corps is wearing a uniform then we need to go out and reach more people. Secondly, to put it simple, guests are not put off solely because of the uniform but because of the stuffy behavior exhibited by those wearing it. Lastly, if you are mistaken for another official in public then we are not doing a good enough job of being out in the community.
Maybe we give the uniform away to easily. Perhaps we go back to making a rite of passage. For example, to earn your uniform as a Marine you must go through some of the toughest trials and test in your life.(Basic Training) They fight through hard work all the while knowing that to achieve their goal means service, commitment and even harder work. I’m not saying we must venerate the SA uniform but at least get to a point of respect where it’s honored more than just a ‘Members Only’ jacket.
For further reading consider checking out: http://salvationist.ca/2010/06/the-witness-of-worship/