Authenticity, it should be at the heart of our faith, worship and service if they are to please God and give meaning to our lives—and if we’re to partner with God in redeeming the world. To explore this type of authentic mission engagement more than 1,500 delegates gathered this summer at the Star Plaza Theater in Merrillville, Ind. Capturing attention from the start, the Star Wars theme played by the Chicago Staff Band spoke to the state of our own world and the battle between good and evil in which we’re engaged.
Flanked by storm troopers and dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Commissioner Paul R. Seiler, territorial commander, welcomed delegates. De-robing to reveal his Salvation Army uniform, the commissioner admitted, “I’m not an authentic Star Wars geek, but I am a fan of the Lord Jesus Christ,” to wild applause and yelling.
After introducing guests Colonels David and Sharron Hudson, national chief secretary and secretary for women’s ministries, he presented the Certificate in Recognition of Exceptional Service to St. Louis Euclid, Mo., Corps Sergeant-Major Benny White for 30 years of servant leadership which has positively influenced generations.
“Our young people need someone to reach them, and we can all be leaders,” Benny exclaimed. Speaking of how officers opened the doors for him to learn to read and gain employment and self-esteem, he concluded, “I want to do for others what the Army did for me.”
Another inspiring testimony from St. Louis was shared by soldier Sara Johnson, program director at the Urban Mission Center. Her expression of the ministry of presence and living a life open to interruptions in order to reach others for Christ was beautiful.
Other meeting components included videos on the Wyandotte Downriver, Mich., Corps archery outreach and the testimony of Chicago Northside Adult Rehabilitation Center graduate David Meyers; songs by the Territorial Youth Chorus and College for Officer Training Praise Team; and an Old Testament drama by the Bill Booth Theater Company which set the stage for the highlight of the evening: a solid and insightful sermon by the Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah from North Park Theological Seminary.
“Sometimes confusion and disruption in our spiritual lives is necessary,” he explained, citing lament [brokenness] as essential in serving God. From the prophet Jeremiah, he drew that Christians must know God’s Word and heart—and that being loving is harder than being right.
He concluded, “When you go into the world, it will be tempting to have all the answers and be right all the time, but have the heart of God—engage with brokenness!”
Saturday began with 115 delegates joining the territorial commander for a 5K Walk/Run that raised more than $1,000 for World Services, fitting since the morning’s meeting focused on authentic love of the world.
During this session, authentic love in corps was shared through two personal stories from Pathway of Hope, as well as the women’s ministries Embrace program. Attention was then turned to authentic love in mission with a record World Services Ingathering of $8.8 million and dedication of five summer mission teams, Captains Jeremy and Rachel Stouder and their children who are taking up an appointment in England, and Kendelle Polsley who is going to serve for a year at a children’s home in Malaysia.
Commissioners Paul R. and Carol Seiler introduced a new World Services initiative called 20 New Corps, whereby funds will be directed in the next year to construct corps or to renovate or build additions to them across the globe for missional impact. When delegates were given the opportunity to “text to give” (text 20corps to 41444) toward this program, $5,240 was given during the meeting.
Again, the highlight of the meeting was the sermon, this time given by a joyful Captain Sujung Na, then corps officer of the Houston International Corps. Grounded in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 and sprinkled with attention-capturing anecdotes, her message on Christ’s great love and sacrifice that compels us to live for Him resonated with delegates.
“If our motivation isn’t Christ’s love, it won’t last. You will burn out, lose your joy,” she explained. “But what God really wants from us is for you and me to be in love with Him.”
Throughout Friday and Saturday Resource Connection efficiently met the needs of delegates with uniforms, active wear, music and worship resources, books, giftware and accessories. New items particularly popular included a football-style jersey with a large winged-crest imprint based on a historical design, a spiral-bound book of Salvation Army tunes for piano, and the latest version of Hallelujah Choruses. The territorial historical museum’s exhibit area came to life with four mural-size photographs, each with an activity station for children and adults, allowing delegates to immerse themselves in the scenes of camp, WWI, the slum sisters’ work or open-airs.
Saturday night’s meeting was an organic expression of authentic worship which gave delegates the opportunity to participate in a variety of worship experiences. They moved freely throughout the service to intercede for others by writing their names on banners or kneeling at the altar, sharing posts/tweets about answered prayer and praise.
A praise band and united praise team of 100 led singing which had delegates on their feet much of the evening, raising voices and hands heavenward. Three highlights were an impassioned call to worship by Olympia Washington, a testimony by Todd Herndon on God’s sufficient grace, and the presentation of the Certificate for Exceptional Service to Barb Higgins, a surprise which made her momentarily speechless during a standing ovation. Recouping, she commented, “In The Salvation Army, we are so fortunate because the culture is very unique: we are a family.”
The pinnacle of the evening was an eloquent and powerful message by National Chief Secretary Colonel David Hudson on God’s saving and sustaining grace and the true nature of worship. Teaching God’s Word with authority and sharing personally with vulnerability, the colonel moved some to tears and all to introspection.
He concluded, “Authentic worship is more than just a song, it is a life offered up to Him.”