Originally created 04/22/00

Salvation Army battles poverty, spiritual and material



The first night he bunked at the Salvation Army on Greene Street, William Carpenter struggled with his future. Could he make it in Las Vegas again? Could he make it on the streets anywhere?

His thoughts soon took a practical turn. The Salvation Army was "gracious enough to take me in, no questions asked. They accepted me sight unseen directly from (Augusta State Medical) prison. Otherwise I don't think I would be alive," said the 60-year-old, who suffers from a heart condition.

The Salvation Army post on Greene Street helped him secure housing and obtain supplemental Social Security payments because of his disability.

He is the first graduate of the post's Step Out program, which provides counseling and assistance based on a participant's medical, academic and psychological needs. It changed his life, said Mr. Carpenter. "Not only the alcoholic aspect of it but a spiritual change also."

The Salvation Army describes itself as "Christianity with its sleeves rolled up," Mary Dyer said. She recently joined the staff as director of development.

The Greene Street post served more than 100,000 meals last year to men, women and children. Of the shelter's 108 beds, 95 are full on any given night.

The Augusta area's four thrift stores make clothing, furniture, small appliances, toys and other household goods available for nominal prices. The stores also provide employment opportunities for people needing job skills.

The Salvation Army is there to help anyone who is down and out regardless of the need, said Maj. Phillip Murphy, corps officer in charge of the Augusta post. Its goal is to get people back up on their feet so they can stay there. "The secret is to help the families and individuals just enough" without causing dependency, he said.

Each person and each family is unique in terms of their past and where they want to go with their lives, he said. "The majority are from right here. They go from paycheck to paycheck, just barely making it. If anything happens -- I don't mean anything big, just something that throws everything off financially -- then they are down and out," he said.

Maj. Murphy grew up across the street from a post in Memphis, Tenn. "Every time the doors opened, my mother took me and my two brothers to the army. That was our church home from the beginning. It has been a part of my life all my life."

In 1973, he and wife Donna were ordained and commissioned lieutenants after attending the Salvation Army School for Officer Training in Atlanta, now called the College for Officer Training. She also is a major.

Rank in the Salvation Army denotes time of service; major represents 20 years. Higher rank depends on additional responsibilities, Maj. Phillip Murphy said.

The Salvation Army started in 1865 in London and has spread to 105 countries. Founder William Booth "wasn't trying to start an army, but it just so happened that God wanted an army started. And he used William and Catherine Booth as his instruments," said Maj. Booth, who also is pastor of the 100-member post chapel on Gardner Street.

There are few theological differences between the Salvation Army and other Protestant denominations, although it does not have sacraments such as communion or baptism, Maj. Murphy said.

The Salvation Army is part of the Holiness movement, he said. "We are part of that movement and always have been, especially because of our music," although the corps does not manifest outward, charismatic gifts.

The corps' band heritage is traced to the Frys, a musical family in the church's early days. Founder Booth was always looking for something to attract people to the gospel, Maj. Murphy said.

"When you get down and low, music really makes a difference to everyone," said Grace Hammock, director of social services for the Augusta post. She is a member or "soldier" of the Salvation Army and, like Maj. Murphy, plays alto horn, a brass instrument similar to a French horn.

She has worked more than 20 years for the Salvation Army, taking breaks to raise her three children. "This is what I like to do, and, in fact, I think this is where God wants me to be."

On occasion, she gets discouraged. Sometimes people come in with a bad attitude, she said. "You cannot let that affect you because that will put you down quicker than anything. You have got to be upbeat and pray that `There, but for the grace of God, go I."'

She would like to think that she wouldn't have a bad attitude in adverse circumstances, but she's not so sure -- she understands the bad attitudes, she said. "It is hard for people when they are down and out and don't know which way to go."

But people usually are aware that the Salvation Army is there to help them, she said. "You aren't going to push them, but you are going to give them time to clear their minds and try to get out there and do" for themselves and their families.

To volunteer in a thrift store, ring bells at one of the Salvation Army's kettles during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season or donate clothing, furniture, automobiles or other goods, call 826-7933.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.