by Major Doug O’Brien –
It was called the “Training Garrison” early on in Salvation Army history. Up until that time, the Mission had been making field appointments—someone looked like a suitable prospect, so he or she was given responsibility on the spot. Later, trainees were mentored for short periods of time by effective officers “in the way the Army did things.” Eventually, a formal training program was established with a set curriculum, heavy on practical ministry.
As the work of the Army spread around the world, each location developed its own training program. Today, some are high-tech learning centers, while others are walled communities on compacted dirt compounds. The Institute for Officer Training for the Russia/CIS Command is in Finland because of rulings by the Russian government regarding religious groups. The Training College in London was built as a memorial to William Booth and is a historic landmark.
In 1975, the Western Territory Training School moved from San Francisco to Rancho Palos Verdes. The new setting was a marked contrast to the inner city redevelopment area the school left, which was pock-marked with vacant buildings and broken windows and littered with the flotsam typical of derelict neighborhoods.
The move provided greater access to corps and the training opportunities they made available. Perhaps the move also gave impetus to the award of accredited degrees, first in association with Azusa Pacific University, then by independently achieving accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Although practical ministry continues to reign as the centerpiece of training, innovation is its handmaid. At the college, cadets are introduced to technology which may not be introduced at the corps for some years yet to come.
The college follows a curriculum which is set nationally and is subject to periodic accreditation review. Issues concerned with the dynamics of church leadership, church growth, and response to the changing needs of multi-cultural, multi-generational communities have all risen to take their proper place in the training program.
Specialized programs recognize the cadets’ potential as corps planters or officers within the ARC command. Personality profiles make cadets aware of their natural skills and leadership deficiencies.
There are no certainties in the process whereby soldiers are transformed into officers. The staff knows that officership requires a certain degree of spiritual and emotional maturity, a great deal of natural skill, intelligence and grace, and a certain personality that is warm, inviting and unafraid of change. What the college must achieve, however, is an officer who is a lifelong learner, constantly adapting to changing circumstances, developing intellectually and casting a big enough vision for the salvation of the world.