Our Lord entered this world in a stable, the humblest of beginnings for the King of kings. The Virginia Piedmont Corps (Culpeper, Virginia) also was born in a stable. Housed in a building that was a stable during the Civil War that was used both by Generals Grant and Lee as the town of Culpepper changed hands during the conflict. Made of solid brick, the building dates back to 1830 serving today a godly purpose. Under the command of Lieutenants Jared and Rachel Martin, initial work was done through home meetings until 2018 when the move was made to the present site.
While the present building is well located in the bustling downtown area of Culpepper, it lacks the space needed for the corps to grow. A quiet financial campaign is being conducted to find a more permanent and spacious home.
Despite the limitations, the corps is growing at a good rate. With no mother corps to lend leadership, resources or guidance, Virginia Piedmont has had to build from the ground up on its own. “Divisional headquarters is very supportive,” Lt. Jared said, “but they are nearly 100 miles away.” It is most common in new church plants that they are partnered with a mother church (corps) because the initial work is especially lonely and difficult. Nonetheless, remarkable progress has been made in the last two years especially.
There are several key factors that have led to the progress they have experienced.
- Leadership: Lieutenants Martin are a winsome, intelligent and resourceful couple. Their patience in explaining the Army to a community where it was virtually unknown has resulted in appreciation for the Army and its mission. They are well known at various community events.
- Outreach: The ways that people in the corps have been contacted for the Army varies widely. Among the ways people have been contacted are open-air, Christmas kettles, social services and community events. Coupled with this is a welcoming atmosphere within the corps that is evident in the people who attend.
- Vision: Although the corps is relatively small presently, it has a core involvement of nearly 100 people, with an average attendance on Sunday morning around 30. Because of the limitations of the chapel, it is uncomfortable when the numbers creep up over 30. Nevertheless, the vision of the officers and those who attend is for the corps to be much more than it is now. The idea of outreach permeates all discussions as well as what needs to be done and in what sequence.
- Meaningful worship experience: A new corps generally does not have the benefit of years of local officer development, music or a cadre of soldiers to assist with ministry. Working with what they have, the corps has a nice contemporary group to lead the singing, employs people in all phases of the program, they fully use every square inch of space for Sunday school, morning worship and children’s church. The messages are well planned and well presented.
- New growth: Other than the officers, every person who now calls The Salvation Army their church home is new in the last two years. Although it may not sound impressive to say the morning attendance is around 30, there would be few corps I in the Southern Territory who could boast increasing their attendance by that number in the same span of time. It is much harder to attract the first ten than the next ten yet the corps has shown steady growth until recently when it has plateaued, but as indicated earlier, the meeting space has reached a saturation point which limits growth.
The youth programs are vibrant, involving scores of youth each week. Young people do not mind being herded together as much as adults do which has contributed to the vitality of the youth outreach.
Although there are many positive things happening, there are problems as well. In addition to the limitations of the building, making soldiers has been slow. Many Army ways are unfamiliar and some hard for newcomers to understand, such as the Army’s position on the sacraments. Some are reluctant to wear a uniform, despite the benefits of having a higher profile as a follower of Christ afforded by one. It is likely that when a few key people decide to fully identify as Salvationists there will be an overall advancement in this area as well.
An additional issue has been the transient nature of some of the families of the youth. A number of junior soldiers have been made, only to be lost when a family unexpectedly relocates. This is normal in the life of any corps but in a corps trying to get its foothold it is even more keenly felt.
Finances are a challenge. The area where the corps operates is largely rural, with the population of Culpeper topping out at a little over 16,000. The small base for fund raising restrains gathering the resources needed for a most robust advance.
Lt. Rachel reflects the spirit of a pioneer officer. “We pull out everything we can, and we try. If it doesn’t work in this context, we try again. So, it’s a little here and there, very slow, steady progress and a lot of relationship building.”
When a corps is opened, there is little or no equipment, no paper clips or pencils. Everything needs to be acquired. At first, the task can seem overwhelming. Where do you begin? Who will identify with the mission of The Salvation Army and join up with us? How can we win souls and develop them in their walk while trying to balance all the other responsibilities that go with being The Salvation Army in a community?
The Virginia Piedmont Corps is a good example of how it should be done. A little here, a little there and a corps is born.