On Pilgrimage: Salvation Army

Reclined on a leather coach with fair trade coffee firmly in hand, I’m watching a video of Bono’s speech at the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast. The mood is introspective and reverent, yet relaxed. The topic of the evening is “Good News for the Poor”—fitting, considering the passion and vision of this young church plant for social justice. I’m at the Freeway, a missional community aligned with the Salvation Army tribe, situated at the corner of King and Wellington streets in downtown Hamilton.

One of the Freeway’s six values is authenticity. This certainly was the most up-front and obvious feature of the Sunday evening worship gathering. No suits; no pretentiousness; no voice-of-God phenomenon; no highly talented, expensive equipment-wielding band performance. Just a raw love for Jesus brewed in a deliberate commitment to Jesus-centered (and coffee-facilitated) community.

Yet I found something in this casual setting that I hadn’t expected—though I should have—as a Pentecostal: a refreshing experience of the Presence of God. For the first time, I saw two beautiful expressions of Christianity coming together: love for the world’s poor and intimate worship, in Tim Hughes’ “God of Justice,” sung honestly by the church’s pastor, Pernell Goodyear. Yet he would be quick to point out that he is not the only “leader” at the Freeway.

Pernell spoke from Luke 4 about Jesus’ central message of good news for the poor. He was able to share story after story about the work members of the Freeway community were doing with and for the impoverished: a med-school student organizing missions trips to demolish houses in New Orleans and provide medical help in Africa; a six year old organizing a drive called “Pennies for the Poor”; and a twenty-something being inspired to a new church plant deliberately situated in the poorest neighbourhood of Sarnia.

So though I found neither trumpets nor uniforms, I’ve seen a new face of Christ, coming to light in emerging expressions of the Salvation Army. And yes, I’ve also found great hope (another of the Freeway’s six values): hope for the inner city, hope for a lived gospel message, and maybe hope for the future of the church itself. A wonderful beginning to a pilgrimage of hope.

Ecumenical Pilgrimage:
III: The Meeting House
II: Wentworth Baptist
I: The Freeway