GENERAL André Cox reopened The Salvation Army's historic Sunbury Court with a reminder that the 'beautiful and magnificent venue', to the west of London, was only a tool for God to use. The real significance, he said, came about through the lives that would be dedicated to God at what is now home to the International College for Officers (ICO) and Centre for Spiritual Life Development (CSLD).
Sunbury Court was bought by then-General Bramwell Booth in 1925. Since then it has been at the heart of many Salvation Army programmes, most notably as host to the High Council – the group that meets to elect a new General. Only three High Councils have not been held at the venue.
At the heart of the grounds is a large Georgian mansion. This has been joined in recent years by the conference centre at which High Council meetings take place and, in the past year, by a newly built accommodation suite. The mansion house itself has been thoroughly refurbished to allow it to become a usable home to the ICO and CSLD. The addition of simple but good-quality accommodation means that Sunbury Court will be able to take bookings as a venue for conferences and retreats.
The reopening day included the welcome meeting for the first ICO session to be held at Sunbury Court. Previous sessions were held at The Cedars, in south-east London. Before he cut the ribbon to officially open the new accommodation block, which will be known as The Cedars, the General paid tribute to the ICO and CSLD staff for the 'mountains' they had climbed to move the whole administration from The Cedars to Sunbury Court. He also paid tribute to the work of the architects and the International Headquarters (IHQ) property team.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony included a prayer poem, read by the Chief of the Staff (Commissioner William Roberts), written by then-General Albert Orsborn for the opening and dedication to God of The Cedars in 1950. General Cox added his own words of prayer: 'As we dedicate this building we dedicate ourselves anew to you.'
The gathering began with a reception in the mansion house, attended by the General and Commissioner Silvia Cox (World President of Women's Ministries), the Chief of the Staff (Commissioner William Roberts) and Commissioner Nancy Roberts (World Secretary for Women's Ministries). Former international leaders Retired General John Larsson, and Commissioners Freda Larsson and Gisèle Gowans were also present. Other invited guests included Commissioners Clive and Marianne Adams (territorial leaders, United Kingdom Territory with the Republic of Ireland), staff from the ICO, CSLD and IHQ, delegates of ICO session 221 and representatives from the architects and the building company that had worked on the project.
Music was provided as people arrived by a brass ensemble from nearby Staines Corps (church). The group took part throughout the day.
Commissioner William Cochrane (International Secretary to the Chief of the Staff) welcomed everyone with the exclamation: 'What a place!' He described what had taken place as 'a transformation – a beautiful restoration,' and paid particular tribute to the architect firms, Dyers and Mabers, to the building company, Huttons, and to property advisors CBRE for their skilled and speedy work.
In what may have been a first for the historic venue, ICO delegate Captain Clemence Komnapi – from Papua New Guinea – offered the grace in Pidgin before those assembled shared fellowship over a meal.
The meal was followed by the ribbon-cutting ceremony, straight after which everyone moved to the flagpole in the centre of the grounds for the flag-breaking ceremony. Three ICO delegates received the Salvation Army flag from the General before it was hoisted up the pole to the strains of 'We'll Lift Up the Banner on High'.
The day concluded in the conference centre with the official welcome to 31 delegates of ICO Session 221 (one more delegate is on his way). ICO Principal Lieut-Colonel Allan Hofer began proceedings in celebratory mood, telling the congregation: 'We are Easter people!'
Territorial Commander Commissioner Clive Adams welcomed delegates to the UK, but only after he had taken a panoramic photo of everyone gathered! He told Session 221: 'You are sitting in a place that is steeped in history,' but added that the territory was not only looking back, but was 'full of innovation'.
Commissioner Cox prayed that the delegates would be 'strengthened by God's power'.
In his Bible message the General spoke about the importance of realising – even while in an iconic venue – that God was not confined to any place. 'God is everywhere,' he said. 'We can meet with God everywhere.' He acknowledged that ICO delegates were being given an opportunity to step away from their day-to-day ministry in order to spend time with God, but he laid down a challenge for when they return home: 'We need to find ways to connect with God in the busyness of everyday life.'
The General concluded: 'I pray you will know that God is truly with you wherever you go from this place.'
Report by Kevin Sims
Video and photography by David Giles, Gary Rose and Major Brenda Tan
- To find out more about Sunbury Court, go to the new website: www.salvationarmy.org/sunburycourt