26 June 2023

Retired General Shaw CliftonOn Friday 23 June, Salvationists and friends gathered in the Assembly Hall at William Booth College, London, to celebrate and give thanks for the life and ministry of Retired General Shaw Clifton.

They were joined by hundreds of others watching online from around the global Salvation Army. 

Commissioner Birgitte Brekke-Clifton and the children of General Clifton, Matthew, Jenny and Captain (Dr) John Clifton, with other family members shared a heartfelt tribute to the 18th General of The Salvation Army.

Commissioners Barry Swanson (former Chief of the Staff), Sue Swanson, Freda Larsson and Gisèle Gowans, along with officers from International Headquarters and the United Kingdom and Ireland Territorial Headquarters, were also in attendance. 

Commissioner Edward Hill (International Secretary for the Americas and Caribbean), shared that General Shaw Clifton ‘lived a life of exceptional quality: a life marked by innovative leadership, rich theological and literary contribution, and bold initiative. Most of all he proved himself to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, committed to a life of holiness of heart and deed.’

The desire for this thanksgiving meeting was not only that General Shaw Clifton would be well remembered for his profound contribution to the lives of others and his service for God but, most of all, that God would be glorified and all would place their lives on God’s altar. 

'Our thoughts deepened because of his life'

A greeting from General Brian Peddle was read by Commissioner Edward Hill. This included anecdotal stories of private moments shared with General Shaw Clifton and Commissioner Helen Clifton, and honoured a life well lived for God. ‘Our Army is stronger and our thoughts deepened because of his life,’ wrote the General. 

Leading the meeting, Captain (Dr) John Clifton mentioned that personal notes from his father could be seen throughout the order of service.  

After the opening song, ‘Thou art the way’ (sung to a rousing arrangement of ‘Finlandia’ written by Carla Lindsey of the New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa Territory), Major Iain Hudson (General Shaw Clifton and Commissioner Birgitte Brekke-Clifton’s corps officer at Bromley Temple) read a prayer from Great Souls at Prayer by Robert Collyer. 

Captain John Clifton mentioned that the Bible reading – James 1:2-8, 26-27 – had been chosen by his father ‘…because of the down-to-earth nature of this strong letter and the pithy, non-pious definition of “true religion” …’. This was read by Major Richard Gaudion who served General Shaw Clifton as his Private Secretary. He said that they were ‘brothers in the crusade’.  

Song of the Eternal

The recorded voice of General Shaw Clifton was heard as he introduced his favourite piece of music, Leslie Condon’s tone poem ‘Song of the Eternal’. Attention was drawn to the lovely, simple words that are featured in the central section: ‘From that sacred hill hope is gleaming still; thy shame and grief he bore; go in peace, sin no more.’ This was then played by the International Staff Band and a group of past and present members of Enfield Citadel Band.  

Major Richard Gaudion paid tribute to General Shaw Clifton, sharing precious memories of their experiences together. He described the General as being sharp, punctual, decisive, fair and determined, with a deep love for his family and for Scripture, a desire for justice, a determination to ensure women were given equal opportunities in ministry and leadership, and with a continual seeking after holiness and the holy life. Major Gaudion also shared that General Clifton lived out the title of his book, Strong Doctrine, Strong Mercy and that one of his favourite Scripture passages was 2 Timothy 4:17 – ‘The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength’ – and that he knew this truth in his life. 

General Shaw Clifton was aware of his weaknesses and wanted the song ‘I am praying, blessèd Saviour’ to be sung ‘… because he knows all my weakness, of which there has been much …’. This led into tributes from family members Sylvia Hawken (sister), Matthew Clifton (son) and Jenny Collings (daughter). 

Family Tributes

Sylvia entitled her tribute ‘Memories of Shaw’ and spoke of four memories of his very lively and mischievous nature as a child and the precious moments of reminiscing that they shared in recent years. He gave her the feeling that she was valued. 

Matthew spoke of the magnificent devotion his father demonstrated when he entered retirement and provided care for his wife, Helen. As General Clifton said in the order of service, ‘Now I would devote myself round the clock to caring for Helen until the Lord took her home to Heaven… Caring for her and tending to her needs was a privilege even more sacred, more eternally significant than being the General.’ This role reversed in recent times when Commissioner Birgitte Brekke-Clifton provided that same devotion in caring for her husband.  

Jenny spoke warmly of her father, describing him as ‘fun, spontaneous, humorous, protective, fiercely faithful, loyal and true’, someone with ‘integrity, devotion, a big heart, a big intellect and who loved each of his family deeply.’ She likened her father to a fallen mighty totara (tree), recognising that in time to come all that has been lost will be restored to everlasting. 

Family friend Bill Rollins from Boston (USA) then led the congregation in three of General Shaw Clifton’s favourite choruses: ‘Yes, my sins are gone’, ‘Travel along in the sunshine’ and ‘O when the saints go marching in’.  

Hudson Collings, Hannah Clifton, Elijah Clifton and Lincoln Collings lovingly shared memories of their grandpa, highlighting his insight and wisdom; his consistent love, support and guidance; how they could disagree fiercely yet love deeply; his unwavering faith; his love for God, Scripture and preaching; and his being a role model for them. Their grandpa’s greatest legacy lies in the lives he touched, and they acknowledged they would not be who they are today without him. 

General Shaw Clifton’s life and faith was expressed so well in the words of the song ‘His Provision’, sung by Bromley Temple Songsters.  

A Quest for Holiness

Captain (Dr) John Clifton reiterated the words of his father that, ‘I want the meeting(s) to be positive, and a clear call to commit to Christ be made. Speak plainly to the people about the Hereafter.’ In recalling that his father lived his life totally devoted to Jesus, Captain Clifton encouraged those gathered to have a similar quest for holiness, to ‘press on in all things’ and to live out their faith and to do so publicly. He said, ‘If there is something you are holding back, hand it over.’ 

Moments of prayerful commitment preceded the rousing singing of ‘O boundless salvation!’. Commissioner Shelley Hill (Zonal Secretary for Women’s Ministries, Americas and Caribbean) then closed the thanksgiving service with a prayer and benediction, before photos of General Clifton’s life were displayed as the composite band played Edvard Grieg’s serene ‘The Last Spring’. 

The committal service had taken place earlier in the day at Beckenham Crematorium, also led by Captain (Dr) John Clifton.  

Report by Lieut-Colonel Jennifer Groves

Tags: Events, News