Welches continue to serve in the Salvation Army

Published 6:48 pm Monday, July 2, 2018

For Steve and Mary Welch, serving in the Salvation Army has been a way of life.

The Welches are majors in the Salvation Army and manage the Salvation Army command in Vicksburg. They were called to serve at an early age, and their three children are serving in different capacities in the Salvation Army.

“My parents were officers in the Salvation Army,” Steve said. “That’s the only church I’ve been a member of. We moved around a bit. When people would ask me if I was going to be a Salvation Army officer, too, I said, ‘If God makes it plain to me that’s what he wants.’

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“I got even more important of an answer as I got into high school age, because we moved three times during my high school years so I didn’t want my kids to go through that unless that was for sure what God had planned for me. He showed me later that was what he had planned for me.”

Steve graduated from the University of Indiana Fort Wayne with a degree in secondary music education.

“Looking back, I could basically see how God had it worked out, because basically I was a shy person. Music education helped prepare me to get out and face the public, because I had to do a recital and boards each year, and the student teaching helped.”

After graduating from college, he went to work for the summer at a regional Salvation Army summer camp, and then to the organization’s Southern Territorial Music Camp in Florida, where he met Mary, who was working at the camp’s canteen, and had a desire to become an officer in the Salvation Army.

Mary’s calling to the Salvation Army came through her grandmother, who was involved in the organization’s Ladies’ Home League program in Lynn Haven, Florida, where Mary lived.

“She asked me to come to a function one evening, and I became interested in what was going on,” she said. “I was soon involved in other Salvation Army programs and came to understand that God was calling me to be an officer in the ‘Army.’”

Called to serve

It was Mary who inspired Steve to become an officer in the Salvation Army.

After the two met at the band camp, they continued to correspond through the mail, until Steve went to see her in Atlanta for the 50th anniversary of the Salvation Army’s Southern Territory, and later joined her in Melbourne, Florida, where she worked for the Salvation Army center there. One night, he asked her to marry him.

“She told me, ‘I would say yes, but only if you’re called to be a Salvation Officer,’” he said. “I struggled with that for a few weeks, but I saw the message; if I was called to marry her, then I was called to a Salvation Army. In those days, both spouses had to be officers.”

They were married in Melbourne and entered the Salvation Army’s training college, where in 1980 they were each commissioned a Salvation Army officer and were ordained as ministers.

“It was a two-year course, covering preaching, social services, bookkeeping and accounting,” Steve said.

“Students worked in various ministries; there was a lot of hands-on training,” Mary said. “Now, you also have a two-year degree.”

Running a command, the Welches said, depends on where you are.

“Every community’s different,” Mary said.

“We’ve been communities with shelters — a special challenge there, having the personnel in place to agree with the mission of the Salvation Army,” Steve said.

“In Pensacola (Florida), we had huge gym program a lot of sports programs,” Mary said. “Elderly people were doing exercises.”

In Key West, Florida, they had five thrift stores in the Florida Keys, she said.

The challenges of running a command, Steve said, “depends on the community and how much support it provides. Here, we get a lot of volunteer support. The (ladies) auxiliary is instrumental.”

Active in Vicksburg

The Vicksburg command serves four counties, Warren, Sharkey, Issaquena and Claiborne. Most of the requests for assistance, Steve said, come from Warren.

Among the services the Salvation Army command here offers are an emergency food pantry to provide emergency aid to people in distress, lunches on Mondays and Tuesdays prepared and served by church groups, emergency utility payment assistance through the Power to Care Program with Entergy funded by contributions for people 60 and older and/or someone disabled emergency must be a reason.

The command also has the Angel Tree program to help provide Christmas presents disadvantaged children.

“We also have church services and character building programs, and activities for children and adults, and the thrift store,” Mary said, adding people who have suffered from disasters like fires can get help for vouchers to get clothing and furniture from the store.

Steve said couple divides the duties at the command. He said the team approach to managing the commands is necessary, “Because it is tough to do by oneself, and we do have some single officers, and sometimes they’re paired with another single officer because it’s really a taxing thing. For one person, it’s nearly impossible.

“In the past, we’ve kept each other from quitting. I think there was one time we both thought we had enough,” he said.

The couple has been stationed in areas that had no money, Mary said, “So that’s always been a challenge to use your resources as widely as possible; stretch them as far as you can.”

The Welches expect at this time that they may finish their careers in Vicksburg.

“Our official retirement date is 2020,” Steve said. “But we’ll find a way keep active; sometimes, there’s a need for officers in the field when there’s not enough active offices. You don’t retire from the ministry.”

Steve said the new leadership of the Salvation Army is putting more emphasis on the “why” of the Salvation Army.

“The ‘why’ is to save souls,” he said. “That’s our mission; to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs without discrimination. That’s why we do what we do. To preach the good news, salvation through Jesus.”

“God’s still got something for us to do,” Mary said. “Just maybe in a different capacity.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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