Known as ‘Major Magpie’ for his dedication to AFL club Collingwood, Major Peter Ellis was a Sunday school teacher and youth leader in the Uniting Church before meeting his future wife Heather and discovering that his future path lay with the Salvos.
What is your Salvo background?
Around 1986 I started attending The Salvation Army Benalla Corps (church) with Heather, and in 1987 I enrolled as an adherent.
After leading the Salvo youth group with Heather for a few years, I became senior soldier in December 1989.
What was your career trajectory?
I worked in a furniture shop for 10 years which I loved before stepping out on my own and establishing my own insurance agency with the AMP Society in 1982.
In 1987 Heather joined me in the agency and we saw it grow successfully, before we entered The Salvation Army Training College in 1992.
How did you both become officers?
Heather sensed a call to become a Salvo officer in 1984, and she wondered how this would work, as I was then very involved in the Uniting Church.
However, after becoming a regular attender at the Salvos later in the 1980s, I became a senior soldier in December 1989. We entered The Salvation Army Training College in 1992 and were commissioned in January 1994. Four days later, we travelled to Adelaide to commence a new expression of the Salvos in Greenwith (SA).
After much planning, preparation and getting to know the locals and the areas, we launched it in August 1994.
Over five years, the church grew and developed and by 1998 there were more than 80 people attending each Sunday.
As new captains in 1999, we commenced six wonderful years as training officers of first-year cadets, followed by nearly 10 special years in our hometown of Benalla. This proved to be another special time in our officership journey. We saw the corps grow and blossom and make a positive impact on the local community, and God did some amazing things there, drawing children into the corps through homework and breakfast club ministries.
These children attended the corps each Sunday, became junior soldiers and invited their friends and their parents to come along. In 2009 we had the privilege of conducting the corps’ 125th anniversary.
During our time as corps officers in Benalla, we saw God transform lives, families and really make a difference in people’s lives.
What was involved in your pub ministry in Benalla?
While in Benalla, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to be involved in pub ministry, covering five hotels and a pizza restaurant, 6 pm to 10 pm most Friday nights. Pub ministry can be a very rewarding time with the people one connects with over time. We really got to know them, as you have the privilege of being a part of their evening, and you are blessed with special moments of their lives being shared with you.
We conducted funerals, weddings and even had a great Red Shield team formed in one hotel.
What is the most important part of your work?
I feel there are many faces of one’s work as a Salvo officer, but the most important one for me is to stay close to God and learn to listen to the Holy Spirit. This helps me get through my day, embrace challenges, and step out into unusual challenging situations or events.
The other facet I try to embrace is to be available and flexible in my day to day function. I try to be available to assist, help and encourage the people I meet in my day, and the great team I am part of at The Salvation Army headquarters.
The other facet is that of prayer. Prayer is the backbone of what I do.
What does your chaplain/PR officer role involve?
In my chaplaincy role, I feel that it is important to be approachable and available. I try to move about the building as much as possible, to be available for people to chat with me, arrange to see me for a quiet talk somewhere in the building, or to go for a coffee.
I also try to lighten the day by getting around the building on my black and white scooter.
As public relations officer, I make contact with donors and bequestors by telephone, card or by a personal visit. I have conducted funerals for donors who pass away, and so my days can vary, and I also assist our PR team in any events of functions they are involved with.