by Dr. Maribeth Swanson
The guiding question during the planning of the first Virtual Territorial Social Services Conference was, “Are the Salvation Army’s officers and staff thriving or just surviving?”
Planners recognized the unprecedented physical, emotional and spiritual challenges faced by frontline personnel during the pandemic. The registration of more than 500 officers, employees and volunteers reinforced the deep-seated need for a respite and lessons on enhancing their self-care and ideas for providing casework services amidst COVID-19 restrictions.
The virtual two-day conference offered four plenary sessions led by dynamic national and international speakers, and 18 workshops on topics and practices designed to promote staff hope and resilience in the ever-changing service delivery environment.
The conference began with a time of reflection and prayer led by Major Ruth Fay titled “Remembering Our Community” to honor officers and family members lost to COVID-19. Keynote speaker Dr. Susan Baili Haas emphasized the importance for Christians to recognize the interconnections of our faith life, physical, emotional and mental health so we can serve through these challenging times. Plenary speaker Sarah Smarsh, author of Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, highlighted the often-overlooked dynamics of rural poverty. During a panel discussion Lt. Colonel Dean Pallant, secretary for communications in the United Kingdom and Ireland Territory, shared our calling to “practice presence” and discussed key theological and social ethical questions facing The Salvation Army worldwide.
Racial unrest this past year led to greater awareness of the need to understand racial disparities, catalyzing us to ensure culturally sensitive and equal access service delivery. Workshops on this important and complex issue included “Closing the Health Disparities in the African-American Community during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” “Supporting Latino Individuals and Families during the Pandemic,” and “Lighthouses and Lifeboats—Serving without Discrimination”.
The final plenary speaker, Dr. Marcus Arrington, senior pastor of Parklawn Assembly of God Church, left no doubt as to where and what the Army should be doing. His message affirmed The Salvation Army’s calling “to be the light to this broken and fallen world.” His powerful message left conference attendees feeling validated and inspired.