by Major Curtiss Hartley and Evie Polsley
A vision two years in the making was realized when the Central Territorial Staff Songsters (CTSS) appeared at the 90th Reunion of the Salvation Army Retired Officers’ Association (SAROA) at the St. Petersburg Corps in Florida. “Wonderful Words of Life” was more than a theme; it was an expression lived out by generations of Salvationists proclaiming the truth of God’s Word.
Retired officers from the four U.S. territories, as well as Canada, gathered for fellowship and worship at the event which also celebrates the organization’s continued support of the Army’s mission and ministries worldwide.
Responding to the crisis in the Ukraine, for instance, SAROA and CTSS members joined in prayer for brothers and sisters who are being Christ’s wonderful words of life and His hands of service while surrounded by death and despair. An offering raised more than $6,000 for efforts in that war-torn country and in neighboring countries that are ministering to refugees.
Words of life flowed throughout the weekend. Central territorial leaders Commissioners Brad and Heidi Bailey focused their messages on the power and comfort of the Word that was made flesh and lived among us—and now lives within us. The territorial commander’s message about the impact of God’s Living Word stirred listeners to continued action to support those who are marginalized. “The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:4-5, NLT) The flowing words of life brought renewal as the songsters proclaimed truths like, “You can’t stop God from loving you,” “O Love that will not let me go,” and “My help comes from the Lord.”
Having performed in virtual concerts since its inception and having had the exhilarating opportunity to sing in a concert with the Chicago Staff Band (CSB), the CTSS performed their own full concert in person for the first time. Any nervousness vanished as voices blended in singing “Worthy to be praised,” and members said there was no better place for their debut than surrounded by these saints cheering them on.
In addition to performing at reunion meetings and banquets, the CTSS also gave an evening concert for SAROA in St. Petersburg and one for the public on Saturday at the Clearwater Corps. The repertoire included up-tempo fun stylings of “Count your blessings,” “Just like John,” and “Stranger,” to anthems like “I have seen the glory,” and “Worthy to be praised,” and contemplative and worshipful songs like “I know a fount (Hay Una Fuente),” “As water to the thirsty,” and “I surrender all.”
Commissioner Brad told the retired officers God had planted the seed for the songsters in his heart as well as Dr. Harold Burgmayer’s, then territorial music and gospel arts secretary, more than two years ago.
They wanted to reach the territory with the passion for what choral music could bring to ongoing ministry opportunities.
“In January 2020 when that first rehearsal was held at Territorial Headquarters (THQ) with almost 40 vocalists of all ages and from every division made up of soldiers, employees and officers, it was a dream come true,” said the territorial commander. “Hearing the sounds of harmony filling the atrium at THQ thrilled my heart as the new brigade concluded their initial rehearsals.”
No one could have known that the next rehearsal in Kansas City only three months later would be the last in-person gathering for nearly two years due to COVID-19. Under the direction of Harold and Jonathon Weller, assistant songster leader, the CTSS recorded 10 virtual songs used in online programs for events during the pandemic before finally coming together to perform in person at the CSB Sounds of the Season Concert last November. Their repertoire was built around those early presentations with one rehearsal weekend in January 2022 providing additional selections.
Harold said CTSS members had dedicated themselves to hours of at-home practice for this event for one reason. “From the very beginning it has been our mission—our passion— that with every song we sing, the Holy Spirit would use the lyrics along with the beauty of the music to bring audiences into His presence,” he said.
As the weekend closed with worship at the Clearwater Corps on Sunday morning, CTSS members shared visual testimonies as they sang the moving words of Oliver Cooke’s “I know a fount.” Members raised their hands as phrases that spoke to their hearts cascaded through the song: “I know a place where night is turned to day,” “Burdens are lifted. Blind eyes made to see,” “There’s a wonder working power in the blood of calvary.”
Commissioner William Francis, outgoing SAROA president, thanked the CTSS for their offering of music, saying, “It’s obvious that God has instilled in each of you a heart for the ministry of your music. Thank you for allowing Him to fill your music with His Spirit and for doing it so beautifully.”