Sally Army turns to the rich

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THE SALVATION Army, traditionally associated with rescuing the down-and-out, is on a mission to save the souls of the middle classes.

Under the direction of its new international leader, the British-born Commissioner John Gowans, 64, "God's Army" is to embrace the affluent, but miserable - people who are "bored stiff with life".

"Maybe in our concern for the marginalised and economically deprived we have forgotten that the `up-and-outs' have souls too," said Commissioner Gowans.

While the Army is not going to abandon its commitment to soup kitchens and street showers, it now offers a range of services that cater for the well-off, not least financial advice. "It's a Christian kindness and a Christ-like act to help people to get their money sorted," said Commissioner Gowans.

The Salvation Army has suffered from an image problem in recent years. Membership has shrunk from more than 124,000 salvationists in 1947 to just 43,000 today, and a national survey published last year found that the Army was regarded as old-fashioned and caught in its Victorian roots.

Commissioner Gowans, who takes up his appointment as international leader of the Army in July, has commissioned a "well-known" fashion designer to update the uniforms. "People feel that the Salvation Army is rather a quaint and narrow secret sect," he said. "We need to present a more friendly, cheerful and modern image.

"We have always saved wife-beaters, people addicted to the bottle, and burglars. But now there are people who need saving from universal demons such as materialism, apathy and fatalism. We must save them from that blind alley."