THE triumphal benediction 'Give to Jesus Glory' was a fitting conclusion to the weekend ministry of Commissioners Barry C. and Sue Swanson in what was their final public engagement as Chief of the Staff and World President of Women's Ministries. The celebration of 125 years of service at Doncaster's Lakeside Community Church (Corps), in the United Kingdom Territory with the Republic of Ireland, put the focus firmly on future ministry.
Taking 'Forward in Faith' as their theme, the commissioners – who take up leadership of the USA Eastern Territory in February – encouraged their listeners to step out in faith and build on the legacy left by those who, trusting in God, had gone before them.
During Saturday and Sunday meetings the Chief and Commissioner Sue Swanson shared good news from the Army's international work, including word on the rapid growth in continental Africa, the financial support required by the Eastern Europe Territory and the latest work among international business people in the Middle East.
The Chief declared: 'I'm extremely optimistic about The Salvation Army's ministry. Numerically, the Army is stronger than it has ever been. God is doing wonderful things … I can't think of any place in the world that doesn't have hope for the future in what God can do.'
Throughout the weekend good support was given by the band, songsters, vocal soloists, worship leaders and the young people. The 'Forward in Faith' theme infused all aspects of worship, particularly personal testimonies.
On Saturday evening junior soldier Bethany Wright admitted: 'I know I will never be perfect … but God will always help me if I fall short.' Corps Youth Secretary Craig Oliver testified to choosing to trust in God despite having unanswered questions in his life. He said: 'God is in control. Ultimately, he has the best plan for me and it is up to me to step out in faith. I am placing my life in God's hands.' On Sunday morning, soldier Sharon Smithard testified: 'A good soldier never looks back … as soldiers of Christ we only look forward … through him who gives [us] strength.'
In the first Bible message of the weekend the Chief considered the 'roll call of faith' of those who had trusted God – as listed in Hebrews 11 – before highlighting the question Hebrews 12 seems to pose: 'These followers have been faithful – what are you going to do?'
The congregations were encouraged throughout the weekend to make a response to God's word. During the two Sunday meetings, the mercy seat was repeatedly lined with people. Some made their own responses before counselling other seekers.
The Chief of the Staff prayed that those who had heard the message would 'have and would know and would find [their] purpose'.
The final meeting of the weekend drew a near-capacity congregation as friends from across the South Yorkshre Division attended the South Yorkshire Celebration.
In her Bible message Commissioner Sue Swanson spoke about how to invite others to meet God and considered what might prevent them from coming. She spoke about the story told by Jesus of a servant who searched for people to attend his master's banquet, and challenged the congregation: 'To those who are discouraged and say "They won't come", go back out there. There's still room for more people.'
A number of people responded to the commissioner's message by making their way to the mercy seat.
After the resounding singing of 'And Can it Be?', the Chief of the Staff and Commissioner Sue Swanson asked the congregation to sing the benediction 'Give to Jesus Glory'. They were so moved by this final act of worship together in their last engagement in their current roles that they asked the congregation to sing it one final time.
Report by Claire Anderson