UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
by Robert Docter –
A sense of genuine and sincere interest in individuals on the part of both Commissioners Philip and Patricia Swyers permeated the entire commissioning weekend. Cadets of the Preparers of the Way Session becoming captains—officers receiving long-service recognition—award recipients—and the entire audience at each service—became aware that these territorial leaders valued them—valued what they had achieved, what they had sacrificed to be at this point in their lives, and what their continuing commitment would give to God and the Army.
In private moments at center stage, in quiet voices unheard even by those sitting close, with warm, steady eye-contact communicating impressions of honest and open gratitude, with words of encouragement, appreciation and challenge, and always with the touch of a hand holding a hand, Swyers communicated to any and all that each moment with each person was somehow special, more important than time, or a meal, or even the excitement of the occasion.
For each individual, the relationship was up close, private and personal.
A number of the cadets participated in various ways during the course of the weekend—through testimonies, addresses, and opportunities for creative expression. It became rapidly evident that while the West’s Preparers of the Way session is relatively small in number, they are very large in quality—both intellectual and spiritual. They are mature in their bearing and have demonstrated significant achievement in their own lives prior to entering the College for Officer Training.
Cadet Thomas Fenton, who, with his wife Laura, heard the call to officership as soldiers in the Fort Collins, Colo. corps, spoke for the session at the commencement exercises. He noted that while no amount of training can prepare one fully for the role of Salvation Army officer, the important thing about the Preparers was that they were willing. He demonstrated great enthusiasm and strength of commitment. His comments are reported in the June 11 issue of New Frontier.
In Swyers’ brief remarks at the Crestmont commencement, he said to the cadets: “The Salvation Army is like a piece of gold that has been placed in your hands. It’s valuable. It’s important in this world. It’s to be cherished. But our Army’s mission is not to hide it away—to protect it with secure storage in some vault. Our mission is to use it, and as we do so it will maintain its luster and shine brightly in a world of darkness. With me and with those around you, your mission is to make it better.”
Drawing on verses from Ephesians, Swyers urged the cadets “to walk worthy – worthy of the high calling to which you are called.” He observed that “the way of that calling demands energy, intellect, commitment, resourcefulness, character – and when you walk in that way and the battle rages filled with obstacles that seem great, remember God is with you.
“Hold in your minds and lock in your hearts these three things: you were called to serve, not master; you were called not to lead but to follow Christ; and you were called to the great commission – to be fishers of a desperate humanity not bystanders on the beach.”
Callled – ordained – empowered
In quiet dignity before a hushed crowd and with the haunting reminder of William Himes’ arrangement of “All There is of Me, Lord” — The Preparers of the Way walked in solemn procession following the Army flag down the center aisle of the Pasadena Nazarene Church – ready to fully actualize their covenant to love and serve God supremely all their days, to live to win souls, to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unloved, befriend the friendless, to maintain the doctrines and principles of The Salvation Army, and, by God’s grace, to prove themselves worthy officers.
Following the audience’s opportunity to sing “Praise to the Lord the Almighty, the King of Creation” as a recognition of thanksgiving for God’s gift to the Army as represented in the lives of these men and women and a prayer of praise and honor, Cadet Shoshanna Begonia testified to the power of God and his ability to change her from a somewhat self-centered young woman to a recognition of her ordinary status with an extraordinary God.
She realized that “without him all our efforts amount to nothing.” Continuing, she said to God: “The good in me is there because of who You are – all I ever have to be is what you made me.”
In commending the session to the territorial leaders, Major Donald Hostetler, CFOT principal, said: “What commends this session to all of us is evident in the lives that were changed in all the places they have served and ministered during their time here.”
The session than stood and affirmed their faith with the following statement: “In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and in the presence of the officers, soldiers and friends of The Salvation Army her assembled, we declare that: …” This was followed by a recitation of the Army’s eleven doctrines and a series of questions posed by Swyers concerning their acceptance of their duty to witness, to lead people to Christ, to abide by their covenant, and to live as Christian examples as faithful officers of The Salvation Army.
To each of the questions, the cadets expressed: “We do.”
Swyers then recalled his own 38 years of officership during which he came to three essential conclusions. First, “Be faithful to the word. Read it. Know it. Love it;” second, “His presence and help never fails; and third, “I learned that I didn’t make The Salvation Army. People before me made my ministry possible. You don’t have to remake The Salvation Army – just work to make it better.”
Walking directly to the session he stated firmly: “I cannot promise you an easy task or many material goods, but I can promise that you will be rich in his grace, confident in his love, and strong in his joy.
“Captains,” Swyers said, “I give you something precious – the privilege of a commission. Go forth. Love this world and serve it with joy.”
Individually, the session members walked to center stage and knelt before the holiness table. Swyers invited members of the audience who had shared each cadet’s walk to this point to stand and support them in prayer as he placed his own hands on the kneeling cadet’s shoulders. To each he said: “Accepting your promise and recognizing that God has called, ordained and empowered you to be a minister of Christ and his God, I commission you as an officer of The Salvation Army with the rank of captain.”
As they knelt the cadet’s hands and eyes revealed the intensity of the moment – some with hands folded tightly together, some clasped, some lifted in prayer, some open to receive God’s blessing.
Standing, Mrs. Swyers then gave each of the new captains a specific verse of scripture followed by words of encouragement from Swyers – personal expressions for each.
“The ministry of servanthood is the ministry of an Army officer.”
“Serve the people with joy.”
“God loves this world with the grace he has liberally given you.”
“Grace is a beautiful thing – it is God’s gift to his children.”
“The greatest privilege is leading the lost to Christ.”
“Endurance – that’s the key. This is not a sprint. Endure.”
“Wherever this is a high peak there is a valley. Nurture the flock in the valleys so that they can get to the high peaks.”
“It matters not where the battle is. What matters is to be in it. We shall win.
As the final cadet was ordained and commissioned, the session assembled and sang the words and music of their session mate, Mark Madsen –”Saved to Serve” in which they stated: “Now is the time to move on.”
Marcela Tippol, who later in the service accepted the call to officership herself, sang in both English and Spanish “I Want to Serve You, Lord” and the congregation, led by Major Ralph Hood joined together with the question: “How can I better serve thee, Lord?”
In brief remarks to the cadets and those present Swyers now recognized that the preparation time for the cadets was complete and that the group was to move now as Captains to begin walking on the way for which they had prepared themselves. He focused once again on the message of the worthiness of that walk and now included the thousand or so members of the audience. He spoke poignantly of the committed sacrifice of officers throughout the world who had stood firm in the face of great difficulty and finally were able to achieve significant results. “The Lord will do wonders for you,” he said. “Simply worship him in the beauty of holiness. Strive to be like Jesus.”
As the altar was opened it was almost immediately lined with a continuing stream of individuals seeking to avail themselves of God’s remarkable grace.
Major Nancy Davis, territorial candidates secretary, invited those to the platform who and felt the call to officership and the number revealed great promise for the future of the Army in West.
With stirring martial music the flags of former sessions were carried down the central aisle and fondly place alongside the Preparers flag. Those young people who have pledged a summer of work as a ‘service corps’ – in service to God, the Army and the people within communities of South and Central America, the Marshall Islands, Africa and in some inner city responsibilities in urban America.
Both of the Swyers involved themselves in personal comments to individual cadets as each received their first appointments as Army officers. He called them to “radical obedience” and Mrs. Swyers urged them to “Love your people – nurture them – share with them – guide them – sustain them – stand behind them.”
Swyers used warm and positive humor with each cadet and as the assignment portion was completed he stated to the entire session: “Now, I have just a few things to say to you. Your time on the Palos Verdes peninsula overlooking magnificent ocean vistas is OVER. Your time of being told exactly what to do with every minute of the day is OVER. A time of three meals prepared by someone else is OVER. It’s time to go to work, and we are waiting with open arms for you because we covet your success.
Throughout the entire weekend the Southern California Divisional Youth Band, conducted by Divisional Bandmaster Kevin Larsson, brought musical selections and provided accompaniment for all of the events. The Crestmont choir, comprised of both the Preparers of the Way and the Visonaries, directed by Duncan Sutton, offered sensitive and powerful renditions of music composed for each of the special events. The session song, “Preparers of the Way,” was written by Majors Marcia and Stephen Smith.