Commissioning ’09

Army of the Lord celebrated Saturday night

by Robert Docter –

It began with the whisper of a drum in a theater as dark as a moonless midnight.

The beat of the steady cadence slowly grew louder as the stage lights dimly revealed the large choir through which the drummer, now joined by others, emerged. The drumline spread across the front of the stage, its rhythm thundering and then beginning to disappear.

The Western Territorial Band (B/M Neil Smith) picked up the rhythm and were joined by the Pasadena Tabernacle Songsters (SL Martin Hunt) who slowly marched forward, picking up the drumline and the band’s tempo, singing the theme of the Saturday evening Commissioning program – Army of the Lord – (Mark Chadwick and Lari Goss – band score by Duncan Sutton). Yes we are – The Army of the Lord.

Still in tempo, Cadets from the College for Officer Training marched through the audience with a great array of Army flags, mounted the stage and took places behind the songsters.

Saved to Serve
As the music swelled two long red banner dropped on each side of the proscenium arch. On the left side, in large letters, the banner read “SAVE” and on the right “SERVE.” These banners gave meaning to the “S” on the lapels of all Army uniforms and depicted the Army’s dual mission in society – “Saved to Serve.”

The songsters exited as the initial tympani crash and fanfare of the band’s performance of Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s exciting, and moving composition Where Eagles Sing. A narrow scrim stretched across the entire stage above the band which revealed significant events in the Army’s mighty work in the world.

Ken Downie’s moving interpretation of the hymn He Can Break Every Fetter, He can set you free provided a setting for prayer, offered by Colonel William Harfoot, chief secretary. The capacity audience joined Harfoot with the song Praise Ye the Lord – Hallelujah.

The band then revealed their rhythmic flexibility with Kevin Larsson’s Just Like Juan, an interpretation of Norman Bearcroft’s Just Like John with a highly contemporary and lively Latin beat that featured a number of the bands soloists.

Emphasis on soldiership
This was an officer commissioning event that celebrated “soldiership.” The program sprinkled video testimonies revealing the impact of Christ on the lives of three soldiers: Lila Lawery, a soldier of the Oakland corps for 34 years testified to the life changing experience of inviting Christ into her life. “I’m a soldier of God seven days a week,” she said.

John Magnanet, for 68 years a faithful soldier of the Army and for many years the bandmaster of the Seattle Temple band. While retired now, he has not retired as a soldier in God’s Army. “Soldier are not members – not just members of the congregation. We are soldiers.”

Major Sheila Bradley, a soldier and a songster of the Pasadena Tabernacle, provided a moving testimony of God’s continuing care in the face of life-threatening circumstances. She revealed her battle with cancer through several serious episodes and the peace God provides. “I’m not afraid,” she said, “because I’m in God’s care – and there’s no better place to be.”

Commissioner Eva Gaither
“The Army’s blood and fire flag is flying in 118 countries” stated Commissioner Eva Gaither in reminding the audience of the Army’s international commitments. “We are grateful to God for the international Salvation Army and we are most grateful for the $6.5 million dollar world service gift of the Western Territory. This will go a long way in helping people in other countries.”

She spoke with strong feeling about the work of the Army in South Africa – about 33 homes there for babies with AIDS. She spoke of the work there with girls who came to live in an Army facility with the hope of giving up prostitution – of a Zulu Home League rally with over1,000 women. “These women serve with incredible joy and worship with their whole being,” Gaither said.

Following her presentation the songsters sang Prayer for the Children by Kurt Bestor
with relevant video footage developed by Kevin Cook.

Commissioner Gaither then prayed for the children around the world – for the hungry, abused, neglected children and expressed thanks for a loving Lord who came to give life and that more abundantly.”

General Shaw Clifton
While unable to attend the event, General Clifton shared his joy in being able to speak to the Territory through a video. “I’d much rather be there with you,” he said, “but I’m sure you understand. While I’m well, my doctors have said I must not travel for a few weeks, and I’m doing what I’m told – for once. You are wrapped up in our prayers and want to express warm love for you all as you gather for this great commissioning event.

“I want to offer a very special word to those of you who are becoming new soldiers. I signed every single Article of War sent by your leaders. While not with you in person, I trust my signature on these documents will signal strong love in Christ and strong encouragement as you step out in faith. We are proud of all of you and commit you to God. May you feel blessing on blessing, and may the Holy Spirit be poured out upon you.”

Soldier enrollment
Commissioners Philip and Patricia Swyers and Commissioners Israel and Eva Gaither came to the platform. Commissioner Swyers stated that over 3,300 new soldiers have joined the Army in the West, and many of them are here with us tonight.

A scrim rose and almost 300 joined them as they marched forward. Commissioner Swyers then said: “The promises you have made on that certificate are not easily kept. But, when God fills your heart, he will use you and you will become a light in the darkness.”

Commissioner Patricia Swyers prayed for the new soldiers, their families and for the Army.

Commissioner Gaither preaches.
Magnificent music from both the band and the songsters followed the enrollment, and then Commissioner Israel Gaither brought the message of the evening.

“I’m a Salvationist,” he said, “and this world needs a Salvation Army. We are called out of the world, and our mission is written in the cross. We are an Army of servers called from the pew to the street. The Salvation Army has left the building. There is no uncertainty about what we are. We are here to serve the lonely, the least and the lost. Thank God for an Army that won’t lose its heritage.

“We are an Army of music. Our songs treasure our belief and practice. We’re the only church I know of that sings of itself.

“Thank God for an Army of soldiers – including officers. God bless you, soldiers. I’m glad to be one of you.”

Conclusions and Finale
The evening moved to conclusion with additional music from the band and songsters and then climaxed with a grand finale involving all participants – the 71 singers of the Pasadena Songsters, the 32 members of the Territorial Band, the 15 members of the El Cajon Drumline, 50 members of two sessions of CFOT cadets and a back stage crew of magnificence.

William Booth’s voice was heard at the end calling: “Will you join our Army – will you?”

A tableau of cadets joined by Colonel Susan Harfoot demonstrated an old fashioned street meeting in which many of the old Army songs included the audience. The drumline were joined by tymbrelists from the songsters with “the Salvation Army marching along.”

Confetti canons shot into the air and a quiet benediction drew the meeting to a close.

The program was produced by Martin Hunt and directed Karl Larsson. They were assisted by video specialists, Richard Brown Josh Cowing, Kevin Cook and Jason Leighton. Barbara Allen and Joy Lee provided choreography and Guy Noland was a lighting consultant.

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