We know them by their red kettles and their thrift stores, but both around the world and right here in Cedar Rapids, The Salvation Army does so much more.
Every Salvation Army location has the same mission, which has been the same since the organization’s inception. In short, it is “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.” Yet each location carries out that mission in slightly different ways, responding to the needs of each individual community.
“Here in Linn County, our niche is feeding people,” says Lieutenant Michael Sjogren, an ordained minister who serves in Cedar Rapids with his wife, Lieutenant Kristina Sjogren, also an ordained minister. “In Waterloo, there’s a need for shelter, so they run three shelters,” says Michael Sjogren. “Here in Linn County, we feed people.”
In Cedar Rapids, The Salvation Army serves 50,000 free meals a year. Most of those meals are served at The Corps Community Center at 1000 C Ave. NW. The Community Center has a well- appointed kitchen adjoining a spacious gym. Tables are set up in the gym for breakfast and lunch every weekday, Monday thru Friday.
The Community Center has a full-time kitchen manager, but much of the work is done by volunteers. “They do a lot — food prep, cleanup and serving,” Kristina Sjogren says.
The Salvation Army’s mobile kitchen, sometimes called the canteen, goes out to deliver meals on Saturday. The red and white truck has a complete kitchen, and a serving window on the side. Most of the time, the canteen provides breakfast and lunch to three shelters in town. Then it returns to the Community Center to provide meals to residents in the neighborhood.
On Sunday, brunch is provided in the smaller kitchen in the building’s basement during the time between Christian Ed — Sunday school for all ages — and the worship service. “Really, we provide meals every day of the week,” Michael Sjogren says.
To help provide summer meals for children when they’re not in school, The Salvation Army has incorporated the USDA Summer Food Service program into its summer day care program. Funds from that program cover the cost of meals for those under 18 so The Salvation Army’s money can go further. There is never a charge for any of the meals The Salvation Army serves; they’re for anyone in need, no questions asked.
In the summer, The Salvation Army’s community garden, located right across the street from the Community Center on C Avenue NW, provides fresh vegetables for the meal programs.
In addition to serving prepared meals, The Salvation Army also operates a by-appointment food pantry; anyone who needs assistance can just call to meet with a staff member who will help them pick out food items to take home.
In addition, The Salvation Army provides social services, including referrals to local organizations that can help with job training, health care and housing.
On any given day, The Salvation Army’s Community Center is bustling with programs. “This is a very active place,” says Michael Sjogren.
The Salvation Army got its start in 1865 when William Booth, a Methodist minister in London, began to take his message to the poor and destitute of the city, people who were not welcome in the mainstream churches of the time.
“He knew people needed to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but he found that most people were worried about their next meal and where they’d stay that night,” says Lieutenant Michael Sjogren. “He realized it was important to get people fed and sheltered, and then share his message.”
Soon after the organization was formed in England, Salvation Army members, known as Salvationists, migrated to the United States, seeking out places where they could serve people in need.
The Corps in Cedar Rapids was founded in 1888; missions also were established in Waterloo, Dubuque and Clinton at about the same time.
Why an “army?”
William Booth considered himself a “soldier of Christ.” The military structure is still used today. The head of The Salvation Army has the title of General, and ministers hold ranks similar to those in the army.
Salvation Army officers are ordained ministers in the church, and serve as husband and wife teams, providing leadership to both the church and social service programs at their location. This has been the case since the beginning, when William Booth and his wife, Catherine, began the ministry of The Salvation Army.
Lieutenants Michael and Kristina Sjogren, husband and wife, have been in Cedar Rapids since 2009. Michael Sjogren is a pastors’ kid, the son of a husband-wife team of ministers who served communities in the Midwest. He met his wife, Kristina, when they were serving her church in Rockford, Illinois
The Salvation Army’s ministry is grounded in faith, “It’s why we do what we do,” says Lieutenant Kristina Sjogren. Christian worship is an integral part of the mission of The Salvation Army.
You might not be aware that there’s a worship center inside the Corps Community Center on C Avenue NW, but it’s there, right at the heart of the building, complete with bright stained-glass windows, pews, an altar and an electronic keyboard to accompany singing.
Every Sunday at 11 a.m., members and guests gather to pray, sing hymns, hear a sermon and enjoy fellowship. There’s no need to get dressed up. “We take anyone as they are,” says Lieutenant Michael Sjogren.
Services at The Salvation Army are similar to many mainline Protestant church services. Salvation Army founder William Booth was a Methodist minister, so it arises out of that tradition.
Before the weekly service, The Salvation Army hosts Christian education — Sunday school for all ages, including adults — at 9:45 a.m. on Sundays. On other days, there are many small groups that meet: a women’s group, a seniors’ group and several youth groups.
The public is always welcome to attend and share in The Salvation Army’s ministry. For more information, call (319) 364-9131 or go online to www.tsacedarrapids.org.