Better Together

Under God’s guidance, The Salvation Army is greater than the sum of its parts, because we are better together.  by David Reardon

Salvationists and Army employees from across the country’s four territories gathered in April in Dallas for the Better Together Conference. Delegates from Emergency Disaster Services (EDS), Social Services (SS) and Community Relations and Development (CRD) came together to learn how to collaborate and work better together. The week-long conference had more than 1,800 in attendance, as well as Salvationists from 20 countries around the world. At the opening plenary session, National Commander, Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder, had everyone turn to each other and say, “We are better together this week because you are here.”

He and Commissioner Jolene Hodder went on to remind everyone that The Salvation Army is in a position now similar to our position in World War I, when people didn’t know who we were until we got out on the frontlines and provided service to those in need. Commissioner Jolene Hodder called the COVID-19 pandemic another “doughnut moment,” where we were able to serve and make ourselves known to an entirely new generation. “We’re not called to move forward alone, but we are called to move forward,” the National Commander said. “For heaven’s sake, let’s do it together.”

The second plenary session featured Art Taylor, who came onto the stage leading everyone in singing the classic hymn, “Amazing Grace.” He then explained six concepts that would bring the idea of “better together” to life: impact, faith, generosity, collaboration, diversity and trust. The eye-opening keynote illustrated the Army’s powerful force for good. He also told everyone about his podcast, “The Heart of Giving,” which recently premiered an episode featuring the National Commander that was recorded live at Better Together.

As a special treat, everyone traveled to The Star, the world headquarters for the Dallas Cowboys, with whom The Salvation Army has a longstanding, fruitful relationship. The group was welcomed by Charlotte Jones, the executive vice president of the Dallas Cowboys, who reflected on the history between the two organizations and all they’ve accomplished together. Awards were presented to teams who have done outstanding work in their fields. The award for Emergency Disaster Services went to the Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Division; the Social Services award went to the Charlotte Area Command; and the Community Relations and Development award was won by the Northwest Division. The Northern Division of the Central Territory received a special Collaboration Award for the combined ministry of officers, employees and volunteers from all three disciplines for their loving response to a broken community after the murder of George Floyd.  The keynote speaker for the evening was Christian comedian Michael Jr., whose performances are a unique blend of fun, clean humor and motivational meditations. 

In addition to the week’s plenary sessions, more than 125 breakout workshops were offered, and delegates had access to a large exhibit hall and networking area where many of the Army’s partners had set up informational exhibits. 

Of particular note were two “Match Factory” sessions, named for William Booth’s life-changing match factory in London. Modeled after the hit show “Shark Tank,” employees and officers were invited to come before a panel from the Commissioners’ Conference to pitch new ideas in the spirit of the Army’s history of innovation. Several inventive ideas were showcased, including an electronic kettle bell which uses flashing colors instead of a traditional clapper; an initiative to bring healthier foods to Salvation Army shelters and programs; and campaigns to increase the numbers of volunteer kettle ringers, along with other innovative ideas. Many of the ideas had already been implemented at local levels and the creators were looking for broader, national support. The winning Match Factory presentation came from Brent Rinehart from Charlotte, NC. Rinehart pitched an app that will connect to users’ banking accounts and add automatic “round up” donations to approved purchases on a card. 

Between the community, the workshops and the atmosphere, Better Together 2023 served as a refreshing retreat, and a reminder of our mission and goals. Under God’s guidance, The Salvation Army is greater than the sum of its parts, because we are better together.  

The Spirit on the Move at Better Together

Hundreds of Salvation Army officers were in attendance at the Better Together Conference, and even some of the international visitors had red epaulets on their shoulders. All the officers were invited to a meeting where they were given time to worship and commune together. Colonel Susan Bukiewicz recounts a very powerful moment from this meeting when the Lord was at work during the altar service.

“Two women officers approached me to pray with them. One of the officers is originally from Russia, the other officer is originally from Ukraine. The Ukrainian officer’s husband is currently serving in Ukraine as a disaster services officer. She was understandably concerned for his safety and asked us to pray for him. 

The young Russian officer offered a beautiful and passionate prayer for the safety of her officer-sister’s husband and prayed for peace to prevail. The chair we were kneeling at was damp with our tears and we felt the peace of the Holy Spirit fall upon us as we joined our hearts in prayer. It was truly a God-moment I will never forget.”