Nestled on the North Carolina Coastal plain, Goldsboro is home to a little over 35,000 people. The Salvation Army first opened in 1888 and except for a few months during the Depression, has continually served the community since that time. The spirit of service is alive and well in the present day.
Housed in a well planned and laid out building, the Goldsboro Corps serves as the epicenter to a wide range of outreach activities in the community. How does it all work?
- “It feels like home.” The most common expression I heard while talking to people at the corps was that “it feels like home.” The congregation is representative of races and ethnic groups, socioeconomic levels, a wide range of Army experience from the elderly who have attended since infancy to the newcomer who just discovered the Army. Here are the homeless and the rooted, the teen finding his way and the mentors quietly guiding them. Overall it is a rich, warm fellowship of different people who love and appreciate each other.
Saddened at the closing of their corps in nearby Wilson, the soldiers that remained had a choice of going to local churches or finding another corps. A handful decided to try out Goldsboro where they received a loving welcome. Although still missing their former corps, they use the old van from Wilson to travel each week to their new corps home in Goldsboro.
2) Outreach. The corps intentionally builds bridges into the community through its social services and other ministries. There is a vibrant outreach to the homeless in the community, so much so that the Army is the “go to” agency for any matters related to their welfare. Beyond the normal kinds of assistance, there is effort to embrace to them, getting to know their stories and understanding the full scope of their needs.
A further example is what is done through the canteen. When Hurricane Matthew devastated Goldsboro in 2007, the Army leapt into service. But after the community got on its feet again, the Army decided to continue to use the canteen in outreach. Heading that ministry is Caroline Stovall, who with a crew of volunteers, continues to reach those in need, including an invitation to further involvement through the corps activities.
3) Leadership. The corps officers, Captains Phillip and Sherrie Stokes, have an obvious deep love for the corps, the community and people to whom they minister. Their practice of kneeling in prayer at the altar each Sunday morning before the service begins, speaks of their servant hearts as they lift their people up to the Lord. They have vision, show adaptability as well as wisdom gained from their years of service.
The corps people are welcome to share their ideas. Captain Phillip explained, “When people come up with ideas, they come to us and ask, ‘Can we do this?’ We say, ‘Absolutely. Let’s go for it.’” That openness to soldiers’ involvement multiplies the effectiveness of the corps, allows them to be invested in what happens and encourages people to use their gifts for the Lord’s service. Captain Sherrie expanded, “You realize you don’t have to micromanage it all. Let them do it. Let them run it. (We just have) to own the stage and set the parameters. It works. If it doesn’t work, then we find something else.”
4) Positive attitude and actions. The corps people not only show a deep devotion for the Lord and the Army but believe strongly they are on the right track. They show great loyalty to their corps officers, feel appreciated by them and have confidence about the future.
Although in years’ past the corps had strong musical forces, they don’t anymore. Using CD accompaniment with screen projection, the absence of live music is not a hindrance to meaningful worship. And in the thrift store more is going on than people shopping for the latest bargains. Everything stops at 10 am each morning as the store manager gathers shoppers and staff alike so she can pray with them. In fact, some customers time their shopping to be part of the prayer circle each morning.
5) Discipline. Although there is great participation at all levels for soldiers to be engaged in ministry, there is also a spirit of discipline. Captain Phillip explains, “We’re intentional about who we make as soldiers and how soldiers are to act. We’ll have a conversation. And I might say, ‘Until you can get this figured out don’t wear your uniform.’ We have seen a higher level of dedication in our soldiers over the past five years.” As is often the case, when discipline is consistently and fairly upheld, there is growing confidence in the corps and the ministry.
Although a lot is going on that is positive, there are challenges as well. Operating with a relatively small population base means that finances are an issue. The building, while highly functional, could use a larger chapel. However, as it is constructed, the chapel would be difficult to enlarge.
The officers also face a common dilemma in growing families: balancing home life with their Army responsibilities. The Stokes have a family of six and while the kids are fully involved in Army activities, sometimes there is a feeling of being overextended. The problem is not unique to the Army. People in secular employment also must face the battle of the demands of work and a career while providing the best nurturing environment for their children.
Despite this, an attitude of joy prevails. Why wouldn’t it? Because the Goldsboro Corps feels just like home.