New officers in Duluth break the mold
Most Salvation Army officers (pastors) in the United States grew up in families with strong ties to The Salvation Army.
Captains Bryan and Teri Ellison do not fit that mold. They became officers late in life, having previously known little about The Salvation Army.
“We used to drive by a Salvation Army building when we lived in Waterloo, Iowa, not understanding why they had scriptures posted out front,” Captain Bryan said with a chuckle.
Oh, how the times have changed: Captains Bryan and Teri are now the leaders of The Salvation Army in Duluth, Minn. They have dedicated their lives to spreading the gospel and serving people in need through the life-changing work of The Salvation Army.
Prior to becoming officers, the couple spent most of their lives together in cities across Iowa, where Captain Bryan worked in education and as a youth minister. Captain Teri worked in education as well, later becoming a stay-at-home mom. The couple has two daughters, now ages 13 and 16.
Below, Captains Ellison explain their path to officership, their goals to better serve children and families, and their excitement about the Duluth Salvation Army’s 125th anniversary.
How did you meet The Salvation Army?
Bryan: We were living in a small Iowa town called West Union. I was working at the local high school as a paraprofessional. I’d wanted to get back into ministry after taking a break from it for two-and-a-half years, so I began helping to plant an evangelical church in town. The new pastor there had heard that The Salvation Army in Mason City was hiring a youth minister, so I asked about it.
Mason City Salvation Army officials noted your and Captain Teri’s strong work histories and educational backgrounds. Instead of hiring Captain Bryan as youth minister, The Salvation Army approached the both of you about becoming officers. What went through your heads?
Bryan: I was intrigued, because I had fallen in love with The Salvation Army’s mission. This is what the church is called to do – help people.
Teri: To be honest, I had no interest in becoming an officer. I was already a Christian, and I felt I had no empty areas in my life. I thought my calling was to be a stay-at-home mom. Becoming an officer would mean going to Salvation Army Officer Training School for two years, and Bryan and I already had college degrees. Plus, officers typically have to move around a lot. I didn’t want to move.
What changed your mind, Captain Teri?
Teri: I felt the Lord asking me to go deeper, to give up all the things I wanted to control. I felt Him saying to lay it all down and follow Him. That changed my heart.
Bryan: Eventually, the mission of The Salvation Army sunk in for both of us. It became the death of our own wills. We had no doubts that God wanted us to become officers.
After graduating from officer training in 2012, you two spent your first five years serving in Alton, Ill., with Duluth as your second appointment. What are your goals here?
Bryan: We would love to hire a youth minister. Most of today’s kids aren’t being raised with any knowledge of the Bible or Jesus Christ. We want to reach kids at this important stage of their lives to help break the grip of generational poverty.
Teri: A youth minister could help us on so many levels. For example, kids who live with their parents in our transitional housing programs need more support than what we are currently able to provide. A youth minister could bridge that gap. Studies show that in order for kids to thrive, they need at least five adults in their lives – be it teachers, pastors, and others – who are a positive influence.
This year the Duluth Salvation Army is celebrating its 125th anniversary. What does this mean to you?
Bryan: It is inspiring. The Salvation Army has adapted to so many different needs throughout the decades. It is especially interesting to see how The Salvation Army is adapting to the new trends and needs of today. For example, one reason we want to expand our outreach to children is because of research that points to the effects of poverty on the brain development of youth.
Teri: When I think of The Salvation Army, I think about its durability. It is not a flash in the pan. It is steadfast, intentional, and enduring – just like God’s love. The Salvation Army has been good to my husband and me, and we are thrilled to be a part of it here in Duluth.