by Terry Camsey, Major –
Recently, and for the first time, I visited the Mission at San Juan Capistrano and went inside for the tour. I was not expecting anything special since, to be honest, from the outside many missions appear rather decrepit.
That’s probably a rush to judgment, since I also haven’t seen too many of the 21 missions along the El Camino Real. But my sister, who was visiting from England, was interested—so in we went.
I was not prepared for the experience to come as I entered the profound silence of a small side chapel lit by many candles. A sense of peace prevailed and I suddenly felt the presence of God in a powerful way. It wasn’t a fancy room; it wasn’t even a physically comfortable setting, but God was there and I was dumbstruck, could not speak…I was emotionally and spiritually “possessed”—paralyzed—by the tangible presence of God.
It is an experience I have had previously and in many settings: a sudden awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit that takes my breath away. It may be during the verse of a well-known, traditional Salvation Army song. It has happened many times at youth gatherings during the singing of certain anointed contemporary worship songs. The jumping up and down and waving arms is not for me…and to be honest I do find many choruses of the genre to be rather mundane. Yet, at a particular point in a worship segment, certain songs have suddenly and unexpectedly filled my eyes with tears and my voice has been unable to make a sound.
That encounter at the mission reminded me that in my youth Sunday morning holiness meetings had that same impact. The same sense of the tangible presence of God that left me speechless in that tiny side chapel in the mission.
In those early days, as we entered the hall for worship, the atmosphere was hushed and sacred. People were praying, individually and quietly in their seats. Many of the sainted men had the knees of torn trousers stitched up or patched because of the damage caused by the wearers (warriors) always praying on their knees.
The Song Book with its God-inspired hymns and songs (many written by Salvationists to express their faith and experience) was well used by the congregation—and by God.
Some years ago, I had an incredible insight. Our first daughter, Angela, was at the tender age of 3 taken home to be with her heavenly Father. Before she passed on, during the morning meetings at Upper Norwood—our home corps for many years in London—my wife and I would be with the band and songsters on the platform. Angela would sit with her grandma in the body of the hall and when a certain song was sung, her eyes would full with tears. The song? “In the secret of thy presence, where the pure in heart may dwell….” I have realized that she must have experienced the direct presence of God in a tangible way and had the same physical response I had. Isn’t that the whole purpose of a holiness meeting…to lead the worshipers into an encounter with God?
What a long way we have come in the Army. Sadly, in many places the holiness meeting has lost its focus, has even disappeared altogether apart perhaps from its name. Have we, as one of the prophets put it, slipped off our ancient foundations and, if so, is that an improvement?
I can answer this for myself, but what about you?
Now there’s a mission worth exploring.