Mount Vernon volunteer opportunity provides Salvation Army officer with chance for non-traditional ministry

By: Brad Rowland

Major Jason Swain, currently serving as the assistant to the editor-in-chief of the War Cry at National Headquarters, will be farewelling in June. Major Swain’s next appointment will be a return to the Southern Territory, serving as the corps officer of the Northeast Kentucky corps in Ashland. While that change comes with traditional excitement and an eagerness to get started, Major Swain will also miss his work and, beyond his duties, he will be vacating an intriguing volunteer post that was rewarding during his time in Virginia.

In Dec. 2018, Major Swain visited Mount Vernon Inn for a Salvation Army officer Christmas party, touring the grounds of George Washington’s estate that describes itself as “the most popular historic site in America.” As a history buff, Major Swain’s interests were piqued by the visit, and he reflected on advice he has both received and given during his time as a Salvation Army officer.

“For my entire officership, I’ve heard in various ways that officers truly need to have activities outside of The Salvation Army,” said Major Swain. “You live and breathe the Army all the time, and you need to find another outlet, a hobby. There are many examples, but I was never quite able to find that outlet until my time at Mount Vernon. Part of that was that I wanted and needed something consistent, and this became a great fit for me and what I was looking for.”

Major Swain joined the extensive volunteer team at Mount Vernon in 2019, spending many weekends and evenings performing various tasks on the grounds. In March 2020, the estate closed due to pandemic concerns, but Mount Vernon reopened in July on a limited basis, with Major Swain returning to volunteer beginning in September.

Though it is certainly different to lend a helping hand at Mount Vernon, he was already familiar with the inner workings of volunteerism, calling on his experience in officership.

“My service as a Salvation Army officer helps me understand volunteers,” Major Swain said. “Being on the other side of the table, as a volunteer myself, is something totally different, and it really helped me to understand even better. Any volunteer wants to be useful, and I really grasp that now in a way that will be helpful moving forward.”

Major Swain spent part of his time at Mount Vernon in Guest Services, helping to guide visitors through the historic area and disseminating key information. In addition, he enjoyed time as a costumed guide to the Interpretive Center, finding it rewarding to interact with people and citing that fellowship as his favorite appeal of volunteering.

“Mount Vernon is a fantastic place to volunteer,” he said. “They really appreciate volunteers, especially the staff. They love the work and camaraderie, and of course the help, that volunteers provide.”

In addition to the community element, Mount Vernon is a place rich in history, which directly appeals to Major Swain’s interests, even when viewed through his previous appointments. He was an instructor of Salvation Army history while serving at the Evangeline Booth College in Atlanta, with a hunger to study and find additional knowledge.

“I love history,” Major Swain said. “If you know anything about me at all, history is kind of my thing. I read history. I study history. Of course I have a calling here, but I have a shelf full of history books, including a great deal of Salvation Army history, and it’s a passion of mine.”

Still, there is an application well beyond history and fellowship, with Major Swain also citing the chance to serve in ministry, fulfilling his calling even while not explicably working within The Salvation Army’s structure.

“A big appeal for me is that it’s not just doing something outside of the Army,” Major Swain said. “While it’s been great to have a hobby and a positive experience overall, it’s also an opportunity to witness. People find out what I do. Many of the volunteers are retirees, but of course I am an active officer, and that gives me a wide-open door to share what I do and what I’m called by. That leads to other conversations, with those I work with knowing who I am and who I belong to, and I can be a light to people.”