The Salvation Army (Frelsesarmeen): An oft-forgotten part of Norwegian city-life

David Barratt-Due gives a glimpse of the work by the Salvation Army (Frelsesarmeen) in Oslo, visiting the slum station (“slumstasjonen”) in Gøteborggata 4. The station symbolises how the organisation has become an integrated part of Norwegian city-life.

Starting in London’s East End, 1865
The Methodist William and Catherine Booth established The Salvation Army in London’s East End under the name “The East London Christian Mission” in 1865. They sought to bring a sense of purpose and a better life to a part of London’s youth struggling under abject poverty. Through the slogan – “Soup, soap and salvation”, the two brought social work to the front and centre of their mission: People had to be fed (soup), and then they had to have self-respect (soap) to receive salvation. In 1878, the organisation changed their name to ‘The Salvation Army’. The name-change signified a military addition to the organisation through a rank-system with a General on top, uniforms and band music. What ensued was a rise in popularity that quickly spread beyond the borders, and in 1880, the organisation had local chapters established in Australia, Ireland and the United States.

The Salvation Army – Stormangrep på en fiskerlandsby by Wilhelm Otto Peters (1851-1935)(Frelsesarmeen / KF-arkiv)

The Salvation Army comes to Norway
The Salvation Army first came to Norway on 22 January 1888. Led by the General of the Swedish Salvation Army, Hannah Ouchterlony. Ouchterlony first established the well known “slum stations” (slumstasjonene) in Oslo, administered by the “slum sisters” (slumsøstrene). Since then, the organisation has expanded into other areas of social work, like kindergartens and rehabilitation centres for drug addicts. Figures from 2018 show that The Salvation Army in Norway has 104 congregations, 60 social institutions, 6 divisional headquarters and 4 fully owned shareholding companies. Most famous operations known to Norwegians are the second-hand charity-clothing store, Fretex, or the donation buckets – “julegryta” (directly translated as the Christmas pot) placed on the city streets in the upcoming days to Christmas.

The Salvation Army has also participated in public debates, highlighting growing socio-economic challenges, as well as women’s rights throughout history.

This is however not to say that the organisation has been without its flaws. Controversies surrounding the Salvation Army today concerns particularly their internal recruitment policies bound to conservative Christian values, excluding those with same-sex sexual orientations from joining.

Visiting Gøteborggata 4, the first “Slum Station”

To investigate further, I visited Gøteborggata 4 in Oslo, one of the first “slum stations”. The station is open for all and serves as a place to talk, receive food, clothing and learn Norwegian. Irene Mathisen, head of the station, tells me how their service follows The Salvation Army’s ambition of serving human core needs regardless of gender, religion, culture or sexual orientation. With seven employees, the slum station receives around 60 to 80 visitors a day, sometimes numbering up to 200 during November and December months. At the time of the visit, the station had 3300 family units of various sizes registered as frequent visitors.

Interview with Irene Mathisen at Slumstasjonen in Gøteborggata 4 (Photo: Antara Roychowdhury)

During our stay, I got to learn about “open café” on Thursdays (Torsdagskafé) where people could sit down and talk with a free cup of coffee and a cinnamon bun. This reflects how the organisation’s services adapt to society. They previously provided necessity goods and services, it is today alleviating a different sense of impoverishment – the widening income disparities. An example of this has been the pressure felt by some low-income families to give gifts during Christmas.

Food distribution room at Slumstasjonen in Gøteborggata 4. Pictured is Aden Abdukadir (Photo: Antara Roychowdhury)

The Migration Centre (Migrasjonssenteret) Initiative
Another dimension has been linked to new demographics. Irene tells me that particularly migrant families with young children are amongst the most vulnerable today. These families often come to Norway through “family reunions”, dependent on single wages. Without adequate Norwegian language skills, their integration is limited and this contributes to a lack of awareness of fundamental rights. A potential alleviating initiative has been through the organisation’s “Migrasjonssenteret” (The Migration Centre) which they received new and permanent facilities since March 2018. The centre tends to “foreign visitors” (utenlandske tilreisende) through offering shelter, shower, and support from professionals to develop a backup plan, CVs and language skills. Irene explains to me how the organisation’s ability to change and tend to those in need stems first and foremost from fundamental Christian values.

Altruism and openness are key characteristics found in the organisation’s members, and far from being a barrier to trust. Irene is adamant that these values contribute to an inclusive atmosphere based on a non-profit agenda.

“Torsdagskafé” at Slumstasjonen. Pictured (from the left) is Ekaterina Zelentsova, Petra Brooke, Monica Ellingsen and Jon Kaastad (Photo: Antara Roychowdury)

It was Irene’s parting words of the inclusive qualities of Christian values that made me leave the station with a strong belief in the value of organisations like The Salvation Army. Such an aspect of religion is often forgotten today where identity-politics is predominant. I hope that more people will take advantage of open organisations like The Salvation Army by going out, meeting new people and making conversations based on mutual respect.

The Migration Centre (Migrasjonssenteret) is located at:
Kirkeveien 62B,
0368 Oslo

Contact details:
+ 47 40 80 57 65

Opening hours:
Monday: 08.30 – 14.00
Tuesday: 08.30 – 12.30
Wednesday: Outreach patrols on the streets
Thursday:08.30 – 14.00
Friday:08.30 – 12.30 

You can take a shower between 09.00 and 12.00, during the weekdays.

Staff speaks English, Romanian, Polish, Russian and French.

The centre offers food, shower, shelter, information of your rights, self-help groups and more.

● The Salvation Army Official Website: www.salvationarmy.org
● Norwegian Salvation Army Website: http://www.frelsesarmeen.no/ (Norwegian)
● The Migration Centre: http://www.frelsesarmeen.no/migrasjon/ (Norwegian)

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or The Oslo Desk and its owners. The interview took placed on 18th September 2018.

David Barratt-Due

I was born and brought up in Oslo, but have since high school spent my years abroad travelling and living in cities like London, Seoul, Beijing and Mumbai. It is a pleasure to write for TOD. It provides an opportunity to explore aspects of my hometown for an international audience. Oslo has a lot in common with global cities like London and Seoul that are not commonly known, and there are many things that makes Oslo special. With an interest in political economy, as well as culture and music, I hope to cover a range of topics that is of mutual interest to visitors and inhabitants alike.