While many procedures established by the Salvation Army in nineteenth-century London are still in place, its first U.S.-born general is moving the international organization toward greater flexibility in youth outreach.

The 1.4 million-member Salvation Army is in no hurry to dispense with its distinctive hierarchy, uniforms, and territorial divisions, but the denomination's leaders are re-examining their methods in order to be responsive to concerns from youth leaders.

At a January youth forum in Cape Town, South Africa, leaders including Gen. Paul A. Rader received feedback from young Salvationists, as church members are called, who desire their organization to diversify.

Rader chose church growth as a leading priority when he assumed the top command, placing a high value on keeping the Salvation Army culturally relevant in the more than 90 countries in which it operates (CT, Sept. 12, 1994, p. 68).

The Salvation Army's international flavor came to the fore at the forum, held at the University of Cape Town. Here, 500 soldiers gathered at the request of the 62-year-old Rader and his wife, Kay. Members ages 18 to 30 attended from 93 countries and broadly endorsed the denomination's military structure.

But they asked for more flexibility in the wearing of uniforms and more recognition in the command hierarchy of decision making from local churches, or "corps," as they are known. Some participants called for the introduction of water baptism and the celebration of Communion during worship services.

According to Capt. Geoff Ryan, a Canadian working in Russia, Rader's dialogue with young Salvationists is key.

"This is not just about the continued safe existence of the Army," he said, noting a need for the worldwide movement to "customize within limits."

STEEPED IN TRADITION: Most of those attending the forum saw a need to maintain Salvationist traditions.

"It makes us more effective," said Anna Marakoulina, 21, of St. Petersburg, Russia. She believes wearing her uniform en route to a university each day on public transportation opens up evangelistic opportunities. Marakoulina noted an occasional delay in receiving approval for Salvation Army projects in Russia, however, as these must be cleared up the command structure.

"As with a football team, you have to have discipline to make it work," suggested Michelle Gillmore, a 28-year-old staff nurse from Derby, England. A staunch traditionalist, Gillmore affirms Salvationist teaching that the sacraments of baptism and Communion are not essential for individual spiritual advancement.

Since its inception, the movement has viewed evangelism and care for the poor as principal callings. Several delegates, including Kenyan James Munguti, 21, want the Army to re-emphasize those original passions. "The Army has become relaxed," asserted Munguti. "People are going to the church for worship, but very few are interested in moving out to evangelize."

NEW STRATEGIES: Much of traditional Salvationist life, according to the youth, should continue. But the vibrancy of the movement is being repeatedly tested by shifting cultural norms, especially concerning premarital sex and illicit drugs.

Rader told CT, "We're affirming a message that has been our message from the beginning, and that is biblical standards of purity with regard to sexuality, and also the dignity of the human person."

Moving into new areas of ministry, Salvationists are providing long-term health and pastoral care for AIDS victims and their families.

AIDS teams work in conjunction with communities that have developed their own care programs. For example, they assist in setting up income-generating projects for needy families. In all, the Salvation Army is involved in 34 aids programs in 26 countries.

In Sweden, new approaches to reaching youth are being tested, according to Maj. Kenneth Nordenberg. Last August, the Army joined other religious and humanitarian groups working at Fryshuset, a former refrigeration warehouse in Stockholm's port.

The Salvation Army is one group providing spiritual guidance and counseling at Fryshuset, where 900 youth take part in club projects.

Nordenberg said the Salvation Army command has taken notice of such activities, but many more challenges remain, including finding ways to help children of alcoholics.

According to youth leaders in New Zealand and Australia, Salvationists often forgo their uniforms, meet people informally, then invite them to contemporary worship services.

Although the traditional brass band remains a fixture in the Salvation Army, the style of music is changing. Lee Du-Hui, a 20-year-old university student, hopes more lively worship, a feature of the international youth forum, becomes the trend in Korean Salvation Army meetings. "The brass band has become an end in itself in some quarters of the United Kingdom," said 23-year-old Michael Spencer.

Salvation Army leaders deny that the denomination is behind the times. "We don't regard ourselves as old-fashioned," Rader asserted. To him, the uniform—which varies from country to country—is a useful vehicle. "We are committed to militancy in our mission," Rader told CT. "We're called to be soldiers of Jesus Christ."

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