Church Army May March to Different Tune

Article excerpt

STAFF WRITER

Bruce Smith can envision a time when the Church Army divests itself of its militaristic image, shucking off army-style dress and titles. Even so, the newly installed national director of the Church Army in Canada says any decision to eliminate the uniform and army image would likely be made internationally, not just in Canada.

To Anglicans in some parts of the country, the image of the Church Army - represented by officers in grey uniforms with epaulets (now gone the way of spats) - is familiar. Church Army officers are involved in street and prison chaplaincy, missions to seamen, and drop-in centres in almost every diocese in Canada. Only the provinces of Saskatchewan, Quebec and P.E.I. are without them.

But with only 91 members of the Church Army in the whole country, including 30 honorary officers, many Anglicans remain in the dark about the organization.

Capt. Smith, installed last October, is trying to throw some light on the subject.

He polled the House of Bishops at their spring meeting to gauge support for the Army and how effective it was considered in focus areas, including ministries to youth, compassionate service, parish-based outreach and evangelism projects.

Results of the poll were largely positive. Most bishops thought the Army was doing good-to-excellent work in all areas. Only six of 31 bishops who completed the survey said they would not consider Church Army participation in their dioceses. (One bishop mentioned in the survey that tight church budgets mean "we have to use our money to employ clergy.")

But the bishops pointed out the challenges the Army faces in trying to enhance its relevance in today's church. One asked if there might be a way to emphasize the Church Army as a lay ministry, not a back door to ordination, which has happened in the past. Another noted that most Army captains have been used as "substitute priests in our diocese," and have done well, but "that it is not what they were trained for."

Still other bishops were concerned about the evangelistic stance of the Army and suggested that it should be more mainstream.

Established in Canada in 1929, the Church Army celebrates its 70th anniversary next year. That occasion, says Capt. Smith, will encompass plans to retool the Army's focus. …