Salvation Army holds fellowship event
By Jim Troyer
Post-Bulletin, Austin MN
Jonathan Baxter, community outreach director for the Salvation Army in Austin, called Saturday’s event at Community Bandshell Park "a faith fellowship festival."
It would draw Christians from all the city’s churches together to a common goal of serving Christ by serving people in need. That could have packed the park, but it didn’t. A much smaller, though a very enthusiastic crowd, shared the music and the messages of faith and service.
An ambitious schedule, starting at 9 a.m. and running to 7 p.m., put a stream of pastors, representatives of volunteer organizations, gospel music groups, ranking Salvation Army officers, an adviser to the governor, and Austin’s mayor on the stage.
Lee Buckley, who since 2005 has served as Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s adviser for Faith and Community Service Initiatives, told the group about her "reluctant journey" to St. Paul and a role in state government. "I call it my ‘Divine Appointment,’" she said.
She works with a 14-member advisory council of leaders in faith and community organizations throughout Minnesota, helping to link the efforts of more that 600 organizations statewide. Her office coordinates efforts ranging from mentoring children to pandemic flu preparation.
The Rev. David DeFor told the group that neighborliness doesn’t start in Washington, D.C., or St. Paul. "It starts right here in Austin, Minn.," he said.
The lively crowd members tapped their feet and swayed to the music of the Praise and Worship Team of the Salvation Army Community Center, the Sounds of God from Rockford, Ill., and Harbor Lights from the Twin Cities.
Perhaps inspired by the beat of the Gospel music, Austin Mayor Tom Stiehm presented an upbeat assessment of "the biggest issue in town — immigration."
"When I came here in 1980, Austin was an all-white city," he said. "For some people, change is hard, but that’s where the world is now.
"We are all put on earth for a test," he said. "My job is to help people through this test. Difference is something we need to embrace, not push away. If we are going to stay competitive in the world and in Minnesota, we have to go forward not backward."
Asked if he were going to run for mayor again, Stiehm said "Yes," an answer that drew enthusiastic applause.
Lt. Col. Dan Sjogren, commander of the Salvation Army’s Northern Division, which includes Minnesota and the Dakotas, and Lt. Col. Rebecca Sjogren, director of Women’s Ministries, attended. Sjogren stressed the quest for Christian unity that the outreach represents.
"It doesn’t matter that we are Methodists or Baptists," he said. "What matters is that we are children of God and that we all need to work together."
A dark sky and an angry wind threatened the event in the morning, but not a drop of rain fell on the park. Baxter said he plans to make the outreach an annual event.
"I don’t want it to be just for the Salvation Army," he said.