For the past four years, Commissioners William W. and Marilyn D. Francis have served as territorial leaders of the Canada and Bermuda Territory. With over 40 years of ministry each, they have faithfully fulfilled their calling as Salvation Army officers. As they approach retirement on July 1, they speak with John McAlister, senior editor.
You’ve spent most of your lives serving God through The Salvation Army. How would you describe the experience?
WF: It’s been wonderful. As I come to the end of active officership, I’m more convinced than ever that I would do it all over again. Of course, I wish that I had known as a young officer what I know now, but life doesn’t allow us that luxury. It’s been a totally fulfilling life and ministry and one that hasn’t ended. I look forward to the new experiences God has for us in retirement.
MF: It has been richly rewarding. I have had opportunities for international travel and multicultural experiences that I would never have dreamed of as a child. As a Salvation Army officer, I found that God used every facet of my gifts, talents and personality.
What did you find most rewarding? Most unexpected?
WF: We spent the first five years of our officership at a wonderful small corps in the United States. I remember thinking at the time that if I did this for the rest of my life I would be completely at peace. After this, we served nine years in youth ministry as divisional and territorial youth leaders, followed by five years in leadership at the college for officer training in New York. All of these experiences involved a relational ministry with people, which was most rewarding.
Most unexpected was our transfer to International Headquarters where we served four years as leaders for the Americas and Caribbean Zone. It was an eye-opening experience that expanded our understanding and vision of the Army as we saw it fulfilling God’s mission around the world.
MF: The opportunity to share love with the unloved. There are so many people cast out in society—educationally, psychologically, socially, physically and financially. It was rewarding to find out that I could minister to them, even though it was often in a small way. I praise God for this because he knew that I had a heart for missions and for the poor, so I appreciate being able to serve those who no one else would ever serve.
The most unexpected—and sometimes painful—was seeing the impact that working 24/7 for The Salvation Army can have on relationships. As officers, we reach out with so much love to other people that sometimes we can forget that our own families, our own soldiers and our fellow officers have needs as well. At times in my officership, I didn’t feel the support of those called to lead me. I don’t think this was intentional, but there is the tension in our Movement to neglect the importance of building up our comrades and families for the sake of carrying out the mission.
What three important leadership lessons have you learned?
WF: I’ve learned to define reality before moving ahead. In the early years I would come into an appointment with preconceived ideas about what needed to be done. I’ve learned to treat everyone the same, whether officers, employees, soldiers, friends of the Army or people on the street. And I’ve learned to foster an atmosphere of teamwork. A leader can bring ideas, enthusiasm and experience, but nothing will happen without a supportive team. Ancillary to this is the importance of appointing the right people into the right positions.
MF: Love those you lead as their servant. Often this means letting people do their job—appreciate them, don’t try to think for them and let them express themselves. Be content with the appointment you have been given. And be faithful to the covenant you have made, no matter what comes your way.
You’ve travelled extensively throughout the territory. What have been the highlights of your service as territorial leaders?
WF: I’ve been impressed with the diversity of the Canada and Bermuda Territory—from Vancouver to St. John’s, N.L., to Hamilton, Bermuda. At the same time, I’ve sensed a oneness of spirit expressed in different ways. As we’ve travelled across this great territory, I’ve been impressed with the strength of the Army.
If I had to focus on a significant event, I would say the officers’ councils we’ve attended have always been inspirational. Working with the officers and key divisional lay leaders has filled us with hope for the future.
MF: I led two women’s ministries camps in Newfoundland and Labrador, with 250 guests at the first weekend and 250 at the next. I preached, sang and led the altar calls. It was exhausting, but it was beautiful seeing women come to Christ.
Although my official title has been territorial president for women’s ministries, I also took on an unofficial title as ambassador for youth, music and hockey as I engaged with the youth of this territory. A highlight of my service was spent at the National Music and Gospel Arts Camp and the Ontario Central-East Senior Music Camp.
Other highlights included the Bermuda Congress, visiting Booth University College in Winnipeg and the spiritual days at the College for Officer Training.
Commissioner William Francis, you’ve held an additional responsibility as chair of the International Doctrine Council. During your term, what value have you seen this group offer to the Army? Why is it important?
WF: I often meet Salvationists who say, “We already have 11 doctrines. Are you rewriting them?” Of course, it’s really just the opposite. Our role is to help the international Army focus on the foundations of our belief, on our doctrine. Doctrine is the drama of a personal life, and it is the drama of The Salvation Army. Personally and corporately, we become what we believe. The Army’s doctrine council, which was created by General Edward Higgins in 1931, endeavours to assist Salvationists around the world to better understand and articulate our doctrines. It’s also essential that we do this in a culturally appropriate manner, recognizing that the Army is presently at work in over 120 countries.
We are currently writing a series of books that will address the doctrines in easily accessible language. There will be 12 books—one for each doctrine and an introductory one on the Army’s ecclesiological uniqueness.
I’m pleased that I will continue serving as chair of this council through June 2013.
What was the toughest decision you had to make as territorial leaders?
WF: The most difficult decisions are invariably those involving personnel. This is especially true in regards to the matter of discipline and dismissal of officers. As an officer, I’m first and foremost called to be a pastor, to come alongside people and encourage and help them. The challenge comes when my leadership responsibilities require decisions involving discipline. How do I discipline and make tough personnel decisions while at the same time reach out with pastoral care? To do both is at best elusive, and at worst impossible. That is why we have the pastoral care department so that when challenging personnel issues arise, we can better serve our personnel as a team. There are things that officers can do that disqualify them from being a shepherd, but there is never anything they can do that disqualifies them from being a sheep. It’s never easy to discipline or dismiss people, but as a territorial commander, I have a responsibility to protect the Army and the people that we serve.
MF: The toughest decision I had to make was to say no when asked to visit places. It’s not easy choosing which division, corps or women’s event to attend, so I would often cry when I realized I couldn’t go and meet the needs of the women, because I knew that I had something to offer. I’m a loving person, so if you’re in my presence long enough you get a hug—and maybe even a kiss—and I just try to encourage everyone to find joy in serving God.
What do you both see as the strengths of the Canada and Bermuda Territory?
WF: We have experienced a great strength in Canadian and Bermudian culture—the desire to treat everyone fairly and without prejudice. This is a basic principle of Christianity, as well as a cultural strength in Canada and Bermuda. However, every strength has the potential for unintended weakness. While it is imperative that we respect each other’s faith and opinions, as followers of Christ we also have the responsibility to evangelize—to lift high the name of Jesus by proclaiming the Good News of salvation through the Atonement of Christ. Balancing acceptance and tolerance with our evangelistic mission in a spirit of not offending is our never-ending challenge.
Another strength is that the “heart”—the essence and the life force—of the Army is evident across the territory. I’ve met so many men, women and children who recognize and value the unique mission the Army has in the Church of Jesus Christ. They love the Lord and The Salvation Army. I have been so encouraged to witness the Canadian and Bermudian Army of Salvation in action.
MF: The strength of this territory is found in the phenomenal leadership of its officer personnel and lay people. There are so many faithful Salvationists who give their time, talents and treasures with no reserve. When I look at our lay leaders and many of our soldiers, you’d think they were officers without the red trim. That is the kind of commitment that they have made to Jesus Christ.
My plea is that the territory continues its work with youth. The youth here possess a passion for social justice to a degree that I haven’t seen in any other territory. They are leading the way, and can move the Army forward if we let them.
What challenges do you see us facing in the future?
WF: We need to remain one Salvation Army—a unique arm of the church of Jesus Christ. As a denomination we constantly strive to understand and balance the difference between essence and form. Forms can and must change. Every generation is different, and so we must methodically change and adapt. However, while form can change, the essence of the Army must never alter. In a zealous desire to connect with society, we can easily become another independent church in the community. While there are a host of independent churches, I believe God has called the Army to a unique ministry.
MF: Keeping The Salvation Army distinctives front and centre: the flag, uniform, mercy seat and clear identification on the outside of our buildings. We shouldn’t be ashamed to be a Salvation Army. If we don’t wear our uniforms, don’t wave our flags and forget the basics of our Movement, we will fail to meet our God-given mission, and we will become another independent denomination or another social service agency. But God raised us up for a purpose, and I think that an emphasis on holiness of heart will bring Salvationists back to their knees. There will be revival in Canada and Bermuda.
How is God preparing you for this next stage in your lives?
WF: For the past 40 years, we’ve saluted and gone where the Army appointed us. As we enter retirement, we will continue to trust in the Lord. He has never disappointed us thus far in our journey. We’re looking forward to it, as officers never really retire from ministry.
MF: God has been flooding my heart with joy. This will be the most difficult appointment to leave that I’ve ever had, but I hear the Lord Jesus saying to me, “I will show you the path of life. In my presence is fullness of joy and at my right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” So, that’s how he’s preparing me. He’s giving me joy unspeakable.
I love children, and I’m a dancer, singer and actress, so I’m sure that I will have many avenues for ministry in the days ahead.
As you retire from active service, what message do you wish to leave with Salvationists?
WF: I would encourage Salvationists to keep their focus on God and his mission for The Salvation Army. As well, we need to focus on the young people coming up and nurture them and give them opportunities to serve God through the Army.
MF: Keep the Army distinctives. And choose joy—there is joy in The Salvation Army. As Nehemiah 8:10 reminds us, the joy of the Lord is our strength.