For the 1,121 delegates who gathered in Milwaukee, Wis., for the first in-person Commissioning weekend in three years, there could be no doubt that God is still using The Salvation Army to accomplish His mission in America’s Midwest and each of them has a part to play.
Their joy in fellowship seemed to be heralded in the keynote session with the exhilarating opening Marching Onward featuring the Chicago Staff Band (CSB), Central Territorial Staff Songsters (CTSS) and College for Officer Training timbrels that culminated in a shower of confetti which rained down on delegates. Anticipation of the blessings God would pour out was palpable. Their hope was not misplaced.
Time and again God’s Spirit moved in hearts especially through the ministry of the Chief of the Staff Commissioner Lyndon Buckingham and Commissioner Bronwyn Buckingham, World Secretary for Spiritual Life Development. With an engaging style, they conveyed God’s Word in a down-to-earth, relatable and compelling way that resonated with delegates.
“Advancing our Evangelistic Mission” was the focus for Friday evening, an upbeat program which captured the greatest purpose of our lives—sharing the gospel in word and deed so others might come to know Jesus. While the CSB played the jubilant Salvation’s Song, it was with immense joy that Salvationists watched the number of people who sought Christ during the pandemic in each division, the adult rehabilitation centers and through the correctional services Bible correspondence program flash before their eyes, totaling an astounding 56,406!
In speaking about God’s great love, rich mercy and grace shown through Jesus Christ, the Chief of the Staff shared his own life-transforming salvation experience as a young person, the hunger that developed to know more of God and an eagerness to tell others.
“It’s still absolutely true that the most powerful tool that we have in the church for bringing people into an encounter and experience with Christ is our own story, our own testimony, our own reality of the living presence of Christ dwelling deeply within our hearts. Our own joy, our own enthusiasm, our own confidence in the gospel,” he proclaimed. People responded to the Lord as Territorial Commander Commissioner Brad Bailey led a time of reflection.
Other meeting highlights included a powerful Spoken Word by Tito Rapley, a drama about an evangelism app by the Bill Booth Theater Company (BBTC), two soldier testimonies, a spotlight on the Topeka, Kan., Corps which recently enrolled 20 junior soldiers, and wholehearted praise by the Territorial Worship Collective (TWC). The session ended on a glorious note with territorial leaders Commissioners Brad and Heidi Bailey leading “O Boundless Salvation.”
Focusing on “Advancing our Disciple-Making Mission,” Saturday morning’s meeting matched the energizing tone and pace of the previous evening. Replete with music from the CSB and TWC, it featured a dramatic call to holiness by the BBTC, a beautiful dance routine, a spotlight on disciple-making through music and creative arts at the Decatur, Ill., Corps, and an interview with members of the Royal Oak, Mich., Corps and testimony by Aniya O’Neal, both of which drove home the role small groups play in discipleship.
A new Territorial Soldiers’ Forum was introduced by Territorial Sergeant- Major Rochelle Holman and Assistant Territorial Sergeant-Major Hewitt Gage, who shared about their lives and service and expressed a commitment to represent soldiers’ ideas and concerns to territorial leadership.
Acknowledging the negative connotations “remain” might have after staying in place during the pandemic, Commissioner Bronwyn Buckingham encouraged Salvationists to retain positive aspects like a slower pace and quiet spaces which allowed for a reevaluation of priorities and a clarity of mission. Speaking winsomely from the fifteenth chapter of John, she asked them to remain in Christ so they would have overflowing joy, fruitfulness in ministry and the ability to hold firm when challenges come.
“As to His first disciples,” she said, “the message of Jesus remains abundantly clear today that we are to make the cultivating of our inner life the priority for strength, energy and wisdom to engage in any outward mission that He leads us to.”
A ceremony honoring tradition and celebrating new beginnings was led by Commissioners Brad and Heidi Bailey who recognized with gratefulness the difference God has made through the Eastern Michigan, Heartland, Metropolitan and Western Michigan/Northern Indiana divisions which conclude with the territory’s reorganization. Without skipping a beat, they inaugurated the North & Central Illinois Division and Great Lakes Division which together will incorporate 85 corps, 5,300 soldiers, and 190 officers.
“We have been intentional to look at what changes might be needed to position our territory to advance into the future with greater effectiveness and more targeted deployment of all the resources that God has entrusted to us. That process has brought us to this important day and this important milestone as we honor our tradition and celebrate new beginnings,” said the territorial commander.
On Saturday afternoon the exhibit hall was lively as delegates visited Trade Central and the Central Territorial Museum’s launch of its Oral History Project and newest exhibit “Perspectives.” Outside the hotel, the Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) Thrift Express bus, which transports affordable and high-quality items to communities across the territory, made its debut. Many delegates also chose to attend an early evening concert by the Territorial Staff Songsters in the theater’s rotunda. That morning, the 5K Run for the World took place in nearby Juneau Park with approximately three dozen participants who enjoyed fellowship and temperate weather while raising funds for World Services/Self-Denial.
Saturday evening’s session powerfully captured the real-life difference and hope Salvationists provide by serving suffering humanity. It featured a stunning World Service Ingathering of more than $10.2 million and the prayerful dedication by Commissioner Heidi Bailey of Summer Mission Teams which will minister throughout the territory and in Panama.
Lt. Colonels Jonathan and Barbara Rich, territorial program secretary and assistant program secretary, thanked Dr. Maribeth Swanson for her leadership in Pathway of Hope (POH) which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and now is in 1,000 locations across the U.S., Canada, Bermuda, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Romania and Argentina. The difference POH has made for 10,000 families was personified by the Curreras who shared their touching journey from challenging circumstances, including homelessness and losing custody of their children, to stability with employment, housing and happy reunion through courage, hard work and the support of Beth and Gary Stamper and members of the Henry County, Ind., Service Center.
“Katherine and I often wonder what our lives would be like without our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and The Salvation Army,” said Austin Currera, who was joined on stage by his family and the Stampers in warm embraces and received an enthusiastic ovation. So did Accepted Candidate Donald Cooper who shared his miraculous journey from addiction to new life in Christ through the ARC.
Straightforward and clear, the Chief of the Staff expounded on God’s great love expressed to us and proposed that we demonstrate our love for God by serving others. He urged Salvationists to be agents of God’s grace and consider in their heart opportunities to show God their love through service. Though a time of formal response was not planned, the Spirit of God moved in hearts so greatly that a spontaneous and steady stream of delegates made their way to the altar, transforming the auditorium for an extended time into a sacred place. At the meeting’s conclusion, their sweet victories of renewed faith, direction and commitment to advance the mission rang out with joy and determination as they sang, “Christ for the World.”