Mark A. Kellner, is a journalist living in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is currently a national reporter for the Deseret news, and has written about issues of faith and freedom since 1983. (From FSAOF.blogspot.com)
As The Salvation Army celebrates 150 years of operation, its American unit appears financially in excellent shape. Forbes magazine last year ranked the group No. 2 on its list of the country's largest charities.
The Salvation Army, Forbes said, receives annual donations of just over $2 billion, and about $2.3 billion in grants and government funding. Forbes ranked the group at 90 percent for "fundraising efficiency," which it defined as "the percentage of private donations left after subtracting the costs of getting them."
Management guru Peter Drucker once said without any qualifiers, that The Salvation Army was "the most effective organization in the United States."
But the efficiency of the Army's fundraising and administration isn't limited to its American operations, current international leader General André Cox noted.
"I think (William Booth) would be pleased to see the readiness and compassion of Salvationists today where we respond rapidly to emergency and disasters, but also to human need," he told the Deseret News via email. "I saw an example of this in Ireland recently where the Army, in collaboration with the local authorities, opened up an emergency shelter program from scratch within two weeks. That is impressive, to say the least."
One prominent American supporter was the late Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald's hamburger restaurant co-founder Ray Kroc. Three months after her death in October 2014, Kroc's estate announced a $1.5 billion bequest to The Salvation Army. The gift was earmarked to construct special centers where physical fitness, the arts, education and worship would be emphasized, after the pattern of a $90 million Salvation Army center Kroc financed in San Diego during her lifetime.
The gift allowed the group to, as Lt. Col. Busroe put it, "supersize" its community work. The Kroc centers, of which there are now 26 across the country, were placed in communities that presented a proposal for funding and operating the centers.
In May, the Army's national headquarters released a study that showed the 25 centers constructed before the most recent in Camden, New Jersey, delivered more than $258 million in "annual positive social and economic impact" for their communities, or roughly $10 million per centre.
The community impact goes beyond tangibles, noted Steve Wilson, president of the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Chamber of Commerce. By having a Kroc Center in the city, The Salvation Army is a major employer, he said, with "a direct impact on the livability of the community, which is critical to the expansion of the economy and moving people into the area."
'Invading' Coeur d'Alene
The northern Idaho resort community of Coeur d'Alene isn't the kind of place you'd imagine needs the influence of The Salvation Army. The wealth generated by the mining and lumber business in the town's early history paved the way for the "millionaire's row" of high-cost homes along the city's famous lake and affluence among many residents.
But Maj. Ben Markham, the pastor and commanding officer of the Coeur d'Alene Kroc Center, said the appearance of wealth paints half the picture. There are "some pockets of extreme poverty" in and around the city, and at the three public schools closest to the center, more than half the students receive free or subsidized lunches.
The Army didn't have a physical presence in the city for decades, a long-ago outpost having folded into history, Maj. Markham said. When the Kroc grants became available, Coeur d'Alene jumped at the chance to put in a proposal. According to city spokesman Keith Erickson, "We didn't have a community center, (and) we needed a place to come together."
The $80 million, 12-acre Kroc Center includes a chapel/performing arts center, teen activities center and game room, aquatics center (where the local high school swim teams train and compete), sports training, recreation center and recording studio. Coeur d'Alene is the smallest American community to win one of the facilities, city spokesman Erickson noted.
Justin Shiflett, a 38-year-old former Coeur d'Alene police officer, didn't know The Salvation Army held worship services when he and his wife, Jennifer, 39, became members of the Kroc Center's recreational programs. In 2010, the couple was "looking for something different" in their religious experience, he recalled, and Jennifer suggested the weekly worship services she'd learned took place in the facility.
Within two years, the Shifletts became "Senior Soldiers," or adult members, of the church. Justin stopped working as a private investigator and came on staff as the congregational life manager, working with other parishioners. Jennifer, a former Pampered Chef consultant and team leader, took a part-time job helping with Christmastime fundraising.
Eventually, the pair felt a call to become Salvation Army officers. In September, they'll be at one of the group's regional seminaries for two years of classroom and field training, while their three children, 7, 11 and 15, attend a local school near the seminary.
On graduation, they could be assigned anywhere in 13 Western states, or three U.S. Pacific territories.
"It's exciting," Shiflett said of his family's future. "There's a sense of calm and a sense to us of what we'll be doing for the next 25 years is totally part of God's plan. We're pretty excited, because the opportunities are pretty unknown."
There were "some naysayers" about the bid to place a Kroc Center in Coeur d'Alene, said Erickson, but the center has "exceeded expectations," getting 14,000 paid users of the athletic programs. The city, he said, "had to build a parking garage to accommodate" visitors, including those coming from Spokane for plays and concerts there.
He said construction of the center spurred completion of the city's Prairie Trail, a four-mile walking/biking path that connects the city's northwest section with downtown, he said.
Gateway to the future
The Kroc centers, of which seven are located in the West, are a "thrilling" part of the Army's mission to reach others, said Commissioner James Knaggs, who is the top Salvation Army official in charge of the group's Western U.S. region.
On any Sunday morning, he said, 13 percent of the worship attendance is in the Kroc Center congregations, with the balance spread among approximately 275 corps, or smaller churches. In Kapolei, Hawaii, near Honolulu, he said, 900 turned out for Easter Sunday worship at the Kroc Center there.
Commissioner Knaggs, twice nominated for the movement's top global position, said the impact the Kroc centers have on church attendance isn't surprising. The Army, alongside its social service success, wants to have a spiritual impact on as many people as possible.
The regional leader acknowledged that balancing the two isn't always easy. "The question of social services versus church is a real question everywhere, and there’s a tension everywhere about it," he said.
Commissioner Knaggs said that maintaining that balance falls on local Salvationist pastors. He said the movement hires professionals to deliver the social services while depending on its clergy to add a spiritual element.
"In some places the social services are stronger than the church," he said, "but as long as those services have an officer somewhere in the picture, the heart of God is going to be present."
General Cox said the movement can't be complacent about its successes. "If we have (learned) anything in these past 150 years it is the danger of becoming settled and comfortable in our places of worship and how easy it is for us to shield ourselves from the great needs out in the real world," he said. "We need to feel less comfortable in our (meeting) halls and get out more" to preach the Army's Christian message.
Part Two - Conclusion
Mark A. Kellner, is a journalist living in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is currently a national reporter for the Deseret news, and has written about issues of faith and freedom since 1983.
Mark is a former Salvationist and I was pleased to serve alongside him and his wife Jean in the New York Central Citadel Corps, where I and my wife Kathie served as the commanding officers for six years..