Northern Division: Serving every county in Minnesota and North Dakota
Portrait of Captain Katherine Clausell

God called, Captain Clausell answered

Added on Friday, April 15, 2016

Captain Katherine Clausell has one of the Twin Cities Salvation Army’s most challenging jobs: Leading Minnesota’s largest homeless outreach facility.

Harbor Light Shelter exteriorIn June 2015 she took charge of The Salvation Army Harbor Light Shelter in Minneapolis (pictured), a towering six-story complex that serves an average of 650 hot meals a day and shelters about 500 people every night. She is the first female to lead Harbor Light in 70 years.

Granted, Clausell is no stranger to life’s challenges. She and her three older brothers were raised by their grandmother, Kattie Roach, in the housing projects of Chicago. Grandma Kattie taught the kids that their future success hinged on two important things: faith and education.

“The Baptist church was the center of our lives; second only to that was school,” reflected Clausell, now 52.

She embraced her grandma’s advice, graduating from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She went on to the University of Alabama and completed all the coursework required for a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, but stopped short of obtaining the degree in order to gain work experience.

“I left school with the intention of returning in a year or two,” Clausell said. “Unbeknownst to me, one of my job interviews was with The Salvation Army Family Outreach Initiative in Chicago; I did not know the employer was The Salvation Army when I originally sent in my résumé.”

It was a welcome surprise. About six years earlier, Clausell had worked as a counselor at a Salvation Army camp in Pennsylvania.

“At camp I learned that The Salvation Army is a holistic, practical ministry,” Clausell said. “That experience planted the seed of officership in me. As I worked for The Salvation Army as a family outreach specialist, I was reminded of my call to officership.”

Portrait of Captain Katherine ClausellShe answered God’s call in 2003, enrolling in the two-year Salvation Army College for Officer Training in Chicago. She has since spent 11 years as a Salvation Army officer (pastor) at locations across the Midwest, most recently in Peoria, Ill., as director of social services for The Salvation Army of Central Illinois and Eastern Iowa.

Below Clausell explains more about her faith, her past, her vision for Harbor Light, and her favorite green and gold football team that many Minnesotans love to reject.

It’s been 13 years since you decided to become a Salvation Army officer. Are you still happy with the choice?

Without question. I feel privileged to be associated with The Salvation Army. With its legacy of serving the poorest of the poor, I am humbled by the thought that God would choose me for a vocation of full-time Christian ministry in The Salvation Army. I am in awe that God could take my natural interests, education, and work experiences, and redeem them for His purposes. I recognize that God has given me this one life, and I want to give it back to Him as a gift.

One of your first jobs as an officer was leading The Salvation Army Denby Center children’s home in Detroit, Mich. What did you learn? 

When I was there from 2006–2010, it was a residential facility for girls, ages 10 to 21, in the Detroit-area foster care system. There were two programs – residential treatment, and residential care for teen girls who were mothers or were pregnant.

My four years at the Denby Center stretched me spiritually and professionally. There, I began to see ministry as more than pastoring a church. My understanding of leading a flock expanded to include staff, volunteers, the surrounding community, and residents of the program.

I learned that ministry does not happen just on Sundays. It occurs every day, and often is not something you plan. It happens as you allow God to use you in any situation you find yourself in.

You’re a single mother with a 20-year-old son who is attending college in Wisconsin. What are the most important things your grandmother taught you that you, in turn, have taught your son?   

Although my grandmother only went as far as a high school education, she was very supportive of my educational goals. We did not have a lot of money, but she provided a foundation for me that helped to set me up for success in school, and ultimately my vocation in life. I hope that I have and am doing the same for my son, Kristian.

When you first got your marching orders for Harbor Light, what went through your head?

I have to admit, my first thought was, Nooo! (Laughs.) But then I thought, Not my will, but your will be done, God. In the end, I was happy to come to Harbor Light knowing there would be challenges, but also many, many opportunities.

What are Harbor Light’s biggest accomplishments during the past year?  

When I first arrived, it was evident that we could not continue to operate under a “business as usual” mindset. We faced a number of complicated issues, financial and otherwise. But through the efforts and commitment of Harbor Light’s staff, advisory council members, community stakeholders, and funding partners, things are turning around.

One measureable accomplishment has to do with our chemical dependency treatment program, called Beacon. Beacon is a 40-bed, two-phase treatment program for men struggling with substance abuse and other mental health disorders. When I arrived, there were 10 participants in this program, resulting in a significant program deficit. Today, Beacon enrollment has almost tripled, with a current census of 27 participants. Decisions to improve the performance of the Beacon program appear to be yielding fruit, for which we are grateful to God.

Although Harbor Light faces many other challenges, and while we continue to struggle financially, we are working hard and we continue to be hopeful for the future.

You’re a Green Bay Packers fan. Why would you support such a team? 

Go. Pack. Go.

Although I am from Chicago, I used to lead The Salvation Army of Green Bay, Wis., and the Packers left an indelible mark on me. I was blown away by the level of support the Packers gave to the local Salvation Army.

However, now that I am in Vikings territory, I am coming to embrace the home team. The Vikings organization has been equally as impressive in their support of Harbor Light and The Salvation Army.

So who knows – perhaps I will be persuaded to wear purple and gold?

Skol Vikings!

What do you wish to accomplish through your work at Harbor Light?

I want this to be a God-honoring, God-glorifying place where He looks down and says, “I am quite pleased with what’s going on here.”

I want to keep The Salvation Army’s promise to Do the Most Good®. It’s not just a brand statement. It’s what we’re about. I want to show that in the work we do here.

Please join The Salvation Army by volunteering or making a donation to support your local community.