THQ weighs in

THQ weighs in

Monday, May 25, 2015


My introduction to The Salvation Army in Tallinn was; being met off our cruise ship by a radiant Salvation Army Officer, Yulia, whose radiance was much, much more than just an outward appearance.  She really is someone very special which was clearly seen in the way she relates to people and the way they respond to her. 
With Yulia were two residents from The Salvation Army mens’ rehabilitation centre, who very graciously taxied us and took care of our every need, pushing Sven in his wheelchair, lifting it in and out of the mini bus and driving us around to places they thought significant to the FSAOF in assessing potential future mission support: we had a full 6 hours in Tallinn. One of the men had been in the rehab centre for two years, and the other, the driver, for just two months and the progress in their lives was evident. The driver, a man in his early thirties, was well groomed, smartly dressed and appeared proud of the responsibility and freedom this new life offered. However, as the day warmed and sleeves rolled up the tracks on his arm were evidence of his earlier life-style.

Initially they took us to the corps in the centre of the city. Soldiers and volunteers were already working hard in preparation for the distribution of food parcels for people who come for the three-times weekly free parcels.  They also have a feeding programme for the homeless, serving 120 persons three times a week. On the Army’s off days some of the churches take their turn.

We were also able to off-load the gifts donated by FSAOF. We had anticipated problems as we disembarked from the ship suitcase in hand; “Are you leaving us here in Estonia?” Sven mumbled something in Russian and we were waved through… I asked him what he’d said and he told me it was the same line he’d used countless of times before when bringing goods across the borders to Russia, Ukraine and Georgia: I showed them my passport with dozens of Russian visa stamps and said, “I’m Salvation Army soldier S E Ljungholm delivering aid to our corps and humanitarian aid center”! “Very well – carry on straight through, and thank you!”

The suitcase held beautiful, brand new-with-tags red uniform jumpers from Scotland for children, (22.00 Pounds – $33.50  each - The cost to the FSAOF just $7.50!) 10 long length microphone cables, that had been requested for the corps’ P&W group, and a sizeable monetary donation to support the on-going work of both the Corps and the rehab centre, who specifically needed new shoes for 26 men and pillow cases, things we take so easily for granted.
As more needs were shared, Sven’s hand went into his right hand pocket again and again – Sven knew from experience how support sometimes slows to a trickle; tears were shed as God’s love was shared.

Lt.Colonel Arja Laukkenen, a pioneer in re-opening the SA work in Estonia shared that sometime ago the Corps had made some renovation work and a non-Christian architect had a strong influence in the design.  A non-believer who obviously caught hold of the ethos of the ministry of The Salvation Army and what the Corps was setting out to do.  The entrance hall was quite large and on the ground was a labyrinth that encourages people to work and pray through some of their issues; there was no pressure just an opportunity to walk through the maze of their lives.  The end of the labyrinth leads you to a straight path taking you up to the mercy seat (The Salvation Army place of prayer).  At the front of the worship hall is a large white screen, and at the top of it the shape of the cross is cut out and behind it is a cross a sort of three dimensional display, however, wherever you stand in the hall, frustratingly the cross is never in full view, it is always just off centre from the cut out.  However, I soon discovered that if you stood on the straight path you had perfect vision of the cross and the path, through the mercy seat would lead you directly to the cross. 
Arja Laukkenen is assisting from Finland for five
weeks - retired but active beyond words!
What a powerful message and image, walking and praying through the labyrinth, maze of our lives, with God’s help seeking direction and being lead to the straight path that leads us straight to the cross.  I would love to have this imagery in the Lifehouses I minister in.

Having seen something of the life and ministry of the Corps at Tallinn, our friends then drove us to the workshop, area of where they work from the rehab centre, this is helping them to get their lives back on track and also giving them more hope of getting back into the workplace.  Here they chop logs, this is no small task as you can see from the photo, they then take them into the city to sell, or farms that exchange them for potatoes and other vegetables.  On this same sight is the shack they use for Bible Study on the edge of the Baltic Sea.

Following this they took us to the rehab centre where they live and support each other, it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere which I guess could be an advantage to them where alcohol and drugs are not so easily accessible.  Twenty six of them live here, they cook, eat and sleep together.  They pray and support each other daily through a twelve step programme.  It is possible for them to move on to their own accommodation but many of them prefer to live together in community so they still have the support and encouragement of each other. 
Every day they share prayer and Bible Study, this is part of their commitment to the programme that they have signed up for, this is not an optional extra, and every week they attend the church services at the corps.  On Sunday 17 May, 2015 one of the men was enrolled as a Salvation Army soldier and with the help of FSAOF will proudly wear his Salvation Army uniform.   As we shared a meal with a number of the residents others were telling us something of their faith journey and of how one day, they too hope to don an SA uniform.  Many have come to faith or grown in their faith through this programme and have experienced real change in their lives, others too have experienced change but acknowledge they have not got the same heart for the Gospel message as some of their friends, they hear it, believe it but do not feel it … yet.

Yulia, and her husband, the Corps Officers obviously have an important role to play in this life changing process. And it was lovely to see how the men genuinely care for Major Yulia and support her and her family in every way they can.  They seemed very protective of her and it was beautiful to see something of the love she has invested in the men being reflected back in their love for her. 

Taking time out from our holiday and visiting some parts of the work of TSA in Tallinn and meeting some very special people was an important part of God’s restoration and re-energising in Sven and my life as we recharge our batteries during this holiday to continue in our ministry.

For the FSAOF

Sunday, May 24, 2015

POSTED BY REQUEST -Provide all former Salvation Army officers with a pension,


This petition asks the trustees of The Salvation Army Officers Pension Fund, a UK registered charity operating a non-contributory pension scheme, to provide all former Salvation Army officers (full-time ministers of religion) with a pension, not just those who remain as officers until retirement. The Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson MP, has advised that the trustees can do this by presenting a petition to Parliament to amend The Salvation Army Act 1963.

The Salvation Army is one of the UK’s largest and most respected charities, a Christian movement which seeks the relief of poverty, offering its services without discrimination. But is the Salvation Army really being true to itself?
As well as providing spiritual care, Salvation Army officers are ordained and commissioned to undertake important leadership and management responsibilities which underpin the movement’s work among the poor and marginalised. They are also people who feel compelled to roll up their sleeves and offer practical help when it is most needed. As ministers of religion, officers are paid a small monthly allowance, but they are not regarded as employees in any legal sense and therefore do not enjoy the protection of employment law. This leaves them in a highly vulnerable position when things go wrong or trust is broken. Many officers have a spouse who is also an officer, which can make the situation doubly difficult if things go wrong. Sadly, there is a high dropout rate among officers, a very high proportion of whom resign before reaching retirement age. There are a variety of reasons for this, including ill health, family circumstances, disillusionment, mistreatment or even a crisis of faith.

In my own case, I resigned in 2011 as Director for Personnel in the north of England due to a breakdown of trust which followed on from my whistle-blowing on an important matter of principle. (My wife, also an officer, resigned at the same time for similar reasons). We continue to serve as Salvation Army volunteers in the city where we live but do not envisage becoming officers again. All serving officers live in rent-free furnished accommodation provided by the Salvation Army. In 2011 I was given a small resignation grant of £1378 to help secure accommodation, furniture etc and to help with living expenses until I gained employment, but was denied a pension when I reach pensionable age. My wife was also denied a pension.
The 1963 Act states that: "The pension fund shall be non-contributory and nothing in this Act shall confer any right on any officer or other person to receive or continue to receive a pension or a pension of any particular amount." Therefore the Fund is a Pension Fund in name only, since it has no members and the payments are according to rules which may be redefined at any point at the discretion of the Board. As a serving officer I had to ensure that sufficient funds were raised to make a substantial monthly payment into the fund, but these contributions were not linked to me as an individual. As this is the only pension scheme available to officers, it is entirely unfit for purpose in 2014 and has been for a long time. Effectively the Salvation Army has no true pension scheme for its officers only a charity that may or may not offer retirement allowances.

Having gladly given 23 years of my life to serve full-time with the Salvation Army in the UK and at a mission hospital in Zimbabwe (for 3 years) at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, I feel badly let down by the Salvation Army. My wife gave 32 years of full-time service, including 9 years as sister-in-charge of a leprosy hospital in India. Between us that amounts to 55 years of full-time service without a penny of pension to show for it. We have received much kind assistance from friends and family, but we know there are other former officers in a much worse situation.

In a half hearted attempt to address the problem, in 2013 the trustees agreed to provide some former officers with a retirement allowance, where resignation had been on or after 01 January 2007 and where at least 10 years service had been completed. This offer was later withdrawn on the grounds that the Charity Commission could not authorise a policy of making ex-gratia payments. The Commission did say, however, that allowances could be made to former officers within the Salvation Army’s charitable objects, i.e the relief of poverty. The Salvation Army has decided therefore to means test former officers when they reach pensionable age and only those who qualify for the government Pension Credit scheme will be entitled to a Salvation Army pension. The Commission’s suggestion that former officers can be treated as poverty-cases is entirely inappropriate, since the poverty will have been largely caused by the charity itself! This does not even begin to address the underlying moral question of why the dedicated service of a former officer should be looked upon differently to that of an officer who continues to serve until retirement. The latter will certainly not be means tested before receiving a pension! Currently there is an anomaly which means it is possible for someone to become an officer later in life, serve 10 years and retire with a pension and access to subsidised retirement accommodation. There are former officers who served as many as 35 years or more, but because they resigned before reaching statutory retirement age, they receive neither pension nor subsidised accommodation - this is discriminatory and ethically unacceptable. The Salvation Army is a very wealthy organisation. (In 2012/13 its income in the UK was more than £181m - as recorded on its annual return for the Charity Commission). It also has large investments and a vast property portfolio. It can afford to do the right thing!

Please sign this petition to support the cause of former Salvation Army officers. It is only the pressure of public opinion which will bring about a change for the better for this vulnerable group. The Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson, has offered his sympathy to the position which former officers find themselves in following many years of service for the charity but has confirmed that the Charity Commission has no power to intervene as long as the charity is acting within its governing document (in this case the Salvation Army Act 1963). In the past the Salvation Army has successfully sought amendments to the Act for other reasons, but not it seems in relation to pensions for former officers. This could be due in to a conflict of interest on the part of trustees, all of whom are senior Salvation Army officers who will become beneficiaries of the pension fund in due course. The Charity Commission are aware of this conflict of interest but have stated they are unable to challenge it as the conflict of interest has been authorised by the governing document.

The Salvation Army claims to be committed to supporting victims of modern slavery. Indeed it is responsible for delivering the UK government's contract to manage support services for adult victims of Human Trafficking. Imagine how it feels to be a Salvation Army officer who needs to withdraw from that role, for whatever reason, but knowing that doing so will cost you your security in old age. Whilst it cannot be equated to the suffering of a trafficked victim, it effectively amounts to entrapment. To me it feels like slavery.

In 2015 the Salvation Army celebrates its 150th birthday, but clearly there is still great need for cultural change, including a move away from cult-like behaviour and a dependency culture. Help make it a birthday to remember by encouraging this cherished organisation to really grow up, regain its integrity, and take its responsibilities seriously by living out its espoused mission to relieve poverty and stop discriminating against its former officers.
This is morally and ethically wrong and needs to stop! If it doesn’t then donors may think twice before supporting an organisation that does a lot of great work but treats some of its former ‘workers’ with contempt in a manner which is both unkind and morally reprehensible.

Trustee Lieut-Colonel George Pilkington
Trustee Commissioner Clive Adams
Trustee Commissioner Marianne Adams
and 5 others
Trustee Colonel Sylvia Hinton
Trustee Colonel David Hinton
Trustee Lieut-Colonel Ivor Telfor
Trustee Major James Williams
Trustee Major Richard Welch

Stop mistreating your officers (ministers). They all deserve a pension, not just those who remain as officers until retirement.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Inclusivity #17: BREAKING NEWS!

Both  sides say Ireland has voted to legalize gay marriage
May 23rd 2015

DUBLIN (AP) -- Irish voters have resoundingly backed amending the constitution to legalize gay marriage, leaders on both sides of the Irish referendum declared Saturday after the world's first national vote on the issue.
As the official ballot counting continued, the only question appeared to be how large the "yes" margin of victory from Friday's vote would be. Analysts said the "yes" support was likely to exceed 60 percent nationally when official results are announced later Saturday.

Gay couples hugged and kissed each other amid scenes of jubilation at counting centers and at the official results center in Dublin Castle, whose cobblestoned central square was opened so thousands of revelers could sit in the sunshine and watch the results live on big-screen televisions.
"We're the first country in the world to enshrine marriage equality in our constitution and do so by popular mandate. That makes us a beacon, a light to the rest of the world, of liberty and equality. So it's a very proud day to be Irish," said Leo Varadkar, a Cabinet minister who came out as gay at the start of a government-led effort to amend Ireland's conservative Catholic constitution.

"People from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community in Ireland are a minority. But with our parents, our families, or friends and co-workers and colleagues, we're a majority," said Varadkar, who watched the votes being tabulated at the County Dublin ballot center.

"For me it wasn't just a referendum. It was more like a social revolution," he said.

In the first official result, the Dublin North West constituency voted 70.4 percent "yes" to gay marriage. But the outcome was already beyond dispute as observers, permitted to watch the paper ballots being counted at all election centers, offered precise tallies giving the "yes" side an unassailable nationwide lead.

Michael Barron and Jaime Nanci, a gay couple legally married in South Africa five years ago, celebrated with friends at the Dublin City counting center as the reality sank in that, once Ireland's parliament passes the complementary legislation, their foreign marriage will be recognized in their homeland.

"Oh.My.God! We're actually Married now!" Nanci tweeted to his spouse and the world, part of a cavalcade of tweets from Ireland tagged (hash)LandslideOfLove.

Political analysts who have covered Irish referendums for decades agreed that Saturday's emerging landslide marked a stunning generational shift from the 1980s, when voters still firmly backed Catholic Church teachings and overwhelmingly voted against abortion and divorce.

"We're in a new country," said political analyst Sean Donnelly, who called the result "a tidal wave" that has produced pro-gay marriage majorities in even the most traditionally conservative rural corners of Ireland.

"I'm of a different generation," said the gray-haired Donnelly, who has covered Irish politics since the 1970s. "When I was reared up, the church was all powerful and the word `gay' wasn't even in use in those days. How things have moved from my childhood to now. It's been a massive change for a conservative country."

Ireland's deputy prime minister, Labour Party leader Joan Burton, said Ireland was becoming "a rainbow nation with a huge amount of diversity." She said while campaigning door to door, she met older gay people who described how society made them "live in a shadow and apart," and younger voters who were keen to ensure that Irish homosexuals live "as free citizens in a free republic."

The "yes" side ran a creative, compelling campaign that harnessed the power of social media to mobilize young voters, tens of thousands of whom voted for the first time Friday. The vote came five years after parliament approved marriage-style civil partnerships for gay couples.

Those seeking a "no" outcome described their defeat as almost inevitable, given that all of Ireland's political parties and most politicians backed the legalization of homosexual unions.

David Quinn, leader of the Catholic think tank Iona Institute, said he was troubled by the fact that no political party backed the "no" cause.
"We helped to provide a voice to the hundreds of thousands of Irish people who did vote no. The fact that no political party supported them must be a concern from a democratic point of view," he said.

Fianna Fail party leader Michael Martin, a Cork politician whose opposition party is traditionally closest to the Catholic Church, said he couldn't in good conscience back the anti-gay marriage side because "it's simply wrong in the 21st century to oppress people because of their sexuality."

Some in Martin's party - the perennial heavyweight in Irish politics but decimated since its ouster from power following Ireland's 2010 international bailout - did privately oppose the amendment, but only one spoke out in favor of the "no" side.

John Lyons, one of just four openly gay lawmakers in the 166-member parliament, waved the rainbow flag of the Gay Pride movement in the Dublin City counting center and cried a few tears of joy. He paid special credit to the mobilization of younger voters, many of whom traveled home from work or studies abroad to vote.

"Most of the young people I canvassed with have never knocked on a door in their lives," Lyons said. "This says something about modern Ireland. Let's never underestimate the electorate or what they think."

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Response #3 Inclusivity #17: For better or worse, the fate same-sex marriage

Some twelve years ago, on Nov. 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling that allowed same-sex marriages. That was the start of what today has become a reality in 37 states, with an addition 12 on the fence; an astonishing sweep for an issue that in those early days was regarded as a “time bomb” and a “national tragedy.” 
The attitudes toward the right of gay couples to marry have changed at a remarkable rate. In 2003, polls showed that 37 percent of Americans were in favor of same-sex marriage; today, the rate has almost doubled, largely due the cascade of federal court decisions that found that state bans on such marriages were unconstitutional. 

The momentum though was slow to build. It took five years before another state, California followed Massachusetts’ lead. But, following an initial heady start the court ruling in March 2008 allowing same-sex marriages was trumped eight months later by Proposition 8, a statewide referendum in which voters chose to ban them.

Same sex couples can now marry legally in 37 states - AL, AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, HI, ID, IA, IL, IN, KS, ME, MD, MA, MN, MT, NC, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, UT, VA, VT, WA, WV, WI, and WY -

This year the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in several marriage legal cases. A favorable outcome could bring the freedom to marry to same-sex couples nationwide. This spring, Freedom to Marry will continue its work to demonstrate that all of America is ready for the freedom to marry. Nearly 72% of the U.S. population lives in a state currently issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples state-wide.

What’s ahead for freedom to marry in the USA? And will religious institutions have a final voice?

For better or worse, the fate same-sex marriage bans across the nation now rests squarely with the U.S. Supreme Court. Arguments suggest that the court is profoundly divided about redefining an institution as traditional and central to human culture as one-man, one-woman marriage while recognizing that denying it to gay and lesbian couples may violate equal protection guarantees enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

What the court is being asked to do: recognize that cultural life in America has evolved to the point where a fundamental right to marriage should be extended to same-sex couples, despite an acknowledgement that that was never the original intent.

"This case isn't about how to define marriage. It's about who gets to decide that question," Bursch, who was making his ninth appearance before the Supreme Court, said as he opened his argument. "Is it the people acting through the democratic process or is it the federal courts?"

The church, including the Salvation Army, has every right to refuse to perform or acknowledge same sex marriages within its walls. Church leaders can decide who is good enough to be baptized, enrolled as members, ordained and elected to lead.  But in good conscience can they/we then turn around and say they're/we're not judging anyone? 

I believe we agree that we should not have the right to force our church/SA policies and religious beliefs onto the rest of the USA population through legislation. However, we would remind all that ours is a position long recognized by our nation; the sacrament of marriage was a religious institution well before it became a legally recognized bond by the state thus, the reason why so many people voted against Prop 8.

Perhaps we, the religious body, ought to consider completely removing the term "marriage" with the next proposition. Regardless of sexual orientation, everyone should be granted a "civil union". (and equal rights). Perhaps we should rid ourselves of society’s nominal marriage term and encase it solely as a religious term. It will take some doing but we might begin by instituting civil unions and equality. How can the religious right argue that?

The thing to note is that this Christian attitude can be linked to different attitudes in the public debate. Paul's texts were written 2000 years ago and they were expressions of contemporary values then and form the basis of varied contemporary Christian values today. 

Our country, no matter the spiritual and religious slogans, banners and quips we adorn it with, is a secular one. ‘Marriage’, for those that seek it can do so in their own spiritual way, separate of the state.

Sven Ljungholm