WBC-putting the pieces together
Territory unites at first Western Bible Conference.
by Karen Gleason with Edie Jenkins –
All the elements of WBC—the location, the praise and worship, the speakers and the special performances—fit together perfectly, creating an ideal environment for delegates to be refreshed and nourished in their walk with God.
At the opening meeting, Territorial Commander Commissioner Philip Swyers explained how the conference came into being. Emissaries from the Western Territory visited the conferences held by the other U.S. territories. They were charged to “come back and create,” said Swyers. They returned with ideas and suggestions, but most of all inspiration, and WBC was born.
The crisp, cool air in Monterey was perfect for physically refreshing the body and clearing the mind and heart. The wooded grounds of Asilomar, just steps from the Pacific Ocean, provided a serene environment, showcasing the splendor of God’s creation. Deer and raccoons roamed freely. At Asilomar, delegates could seek a quiet moment with God or join others in exploring the area.
Praise and worship
Phil Laeger began each meeting with praise and worship. His style drew participants into an attitude of worship and an anticipation of the presence of the Holy Spirit. This was not praise and worship as a performance; the focus was always on God.
The same was true of the artists who created their paintings during the meetings. Humble in spirit, they offered these as expressions of God working through them, all for his glory.
Each morning, Monday through Thursday, Dr. Bill Ury led us through the Gospel of Mark. “Like a good Salvationist, Mark gets right to the point,” declared Ury. He presents the real life, the real world—the historical reality of the gospel.
Mark shows God at work in time and space; God has worked in the past, will work in the future and he works today. Just as the ministry of Salvationists is “in your face,” Mark presents an “in your face” Jesus.
The lesson is to follow Jesus. “No refreshment will last from being saved in a moment,” he said. “Refreshment comes from the walk with Jesus.”
He also noted the passion of Jesus, and stated that for us, without personal passion, we are not redeemed.
In this way, Ury guided us through Mark’s Gospel, tying each day’s teaching to the daily themes of Fresh Bread, Fresh Water, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire and Fresh Ground.
At WBC, people signed up with a discussion leader to be part of a small group. Following Ury’s Bible studies, the attendees formed groups of 8-10 to discuss the morning’s topic. This provided clarification and allowed participants to make a personal application. As the week went on, people shared their experiences and began to know each other on a more personal level. It was interesting to hear the murmur of voices throughout the hall and to see individuals’ faces light up as they eagerly participated in the discussions.
At the evening meetings, Commissioner Israel Gaither incorporated the day’s theme and the Bible teaching into an inspiring message of our role as God’s soldiers in a secular world.
“We need to be God’s holy people,” he said. “This week God will come to our hearts and call us to do a special thing.” In calling for a revival in America, he noted that as Salvationists, we need “a deeper, clearer understanding of what we are to be, not just do. The being comes first.
The world is crying out for something to believe in; its people are looking for a model. “You and I just might be the answer,” Gaither said. We are “in your face,” he continued. “We’re that public witness of what God wants us to do.”
He added that the more we do for God, the more we must keep our hearts safe from the devil. Like David, we must pray for a clean heart. This week, at Asilomar, we have a “landfill,” where we can dump all the rubbish we’ve been carrying around. When our hearts are free from distracting clutter, then the Holy Spirit can come in and refresh us.
Throughout the week, he taught us how we can return to our everyday lives, renewed and ready to be part of a spiritual revival. “The searching world looks to us for how to live with godly hope.”
Throughout the week, Salvationists shared their gifts, blessing others with their talents. Major Doug Riley led two performances of the men’s double quartet, which included almost all the male divisional commanders. Gaither joined them the second time they sang. Captain Candy Stennett gave a vibrant drama performance, entitled “Lydia,” and Irene Lewis performed two worship dances. Vocal soloists included Marjory Watson, Willie Bland, Major Shelley Hill and Major Dawn Rocheleau. During the question and answer session with the Gaithers, one question led to an unplanned solo—Gaither sang, “He Touched Me.” Commissioner Eva Gaither underscored the specialness of the moment when she noted that he had not sung a solo in about 10 years.
WBC was all about relationships. People made new friends in small groups, at meals and during recreation time. Old friendships and acquaintances were renewed and strengthened. Family members spent time together just having fun. Staff members—again from around the territory—grew closer as they worked together. Those officers about to change appointments connected with people from their new location—getting to know them, asking about the corps and the community. An air of equality reigned at WBC—officers or soldiers involved in a meeting would be in uniform, but otherwise, everyone was dressed casually, and this created an atmosphere of freedom in which delegates happily mingled.
Major Kelly Pontsler, WBC secretary summed up the experience: What I enjoyed most was the spirit of the conference. It was obvious that people enjoyed the chance to catch up with old friends and discover new surroundings. The program was uncomplicated, but because the delegates had a chance to slow down and be still, the preaching and teaching from the Word made a significant impact. I believe we are already a stronger Army because of it! It’s been a real privilege to be a part of it!
WBC brought the territory together in an unprecedented way—building a cohesive Western Territory—connecting people from far and near with a united vision. Ultimately, WBC was about each individual’s relationship with God, and how we come together as The Salvation Army to carry out God’s mission and build his kingdom in today’s world. The relationship with God drives all the other relationships. At WBC, delegates renewed their relationship with God, refreshed their vision for The Salvation Army, and left empowered by the Holy Spirit to realize that vision on their home ground.