The past, the present and the future were all featured during the Welcome to the 2011 High Council and Retirement Salute to General Shaw Clifton and Commissioner Helen Clifton at the Lancaster London Hotel on Saturday 22 January.
Periods of solemnity, blended beautifully with times of vulnerability, transparency, reflection and celebration during this international event.
Through a live web stream, Salvationists from every continent combined with the 800-strong Lancaster London Hotel congregation to praise God for the ministry of the General and Commissioner Clifton, and to encourage the High Council as it meets to elect the nineteenth General of The Salvation Army.
From the outset, purposeful worship, intentional formality and reverential humour, seamlessly intertwined the past, present and future aspects of the meeting.
The subdued, measured, processional entry of the members of the High Council, each pausing to salute General Clifton, followed by a rousing reception from the congregation was indicative of what was to follow.
Prayer for the High Council, as well as for the General and Commissioner Clifton was a prominent feature – from the prayers of five international young people to those of Colonels Brian (Chief Secretary United Kingdom Territory with the Republic of Ireland) and Rosalie Peddle (Territorial Secretary for Women’s Ministries UKT).
Following a choric Scripture based presentation by High Council members, Commissioner William Francis, the High Council President, said that the council is aware that it is being supported by the everlasting arms of Jesus and the prayers of the faithful from around the world.
Later in the meeting, during the General’s Charge to the Members of the High Council, General Clifton urged the High Council to, ‘…enter into this sacred task [of electing the next international leader] with pure hearts and open minds, looking only for the guidance of the Holy Spirit’.
Commissioner Clifton reminded the High Council members, ‘that Salvationists around the world are thinking of you…and supporting you in prayer.’
The High Council members responded by saying that they will, ‘seek to know the mind of Christ, relying on his direction that the perfect will of God may be done’.
The congregation promised to pray that God’s ‘love will unite you, his grace surround you and his power sustain you in your holy task’.
Bandmaster Bill Rollins (USA Eastern Territory) movingly commenced the Retirement Salute portion of the meeting when he sang All There is of Me.
A photographic journey, ‘Five Happy Years’, pictorially portrayed significant moments from the past five years.
In his tribute to the General, the Chief of the Staff Commissioner Barry C. Swanson emphatically stated that, ‘Shaw Clifton has a strong love of family. He and Helen have a very close, loving relationship. They complement each other. The General also has a genuine concern for officers and their families.’
Commissioner Swanson used the General’s keen interest in English Football (soccer) team, Tottenham Hotspur, to reveal how General Clifton enjoys life and has a keen knowledge of the world around him.
The Chief continued by saying that the General’s ‘two most outstanding leadership characteristics are global vision and decisive action’.
‘He has a vision for a growing, holy, united Salvation Army and he put many steps in place to help this happen. During the past five years the Army has commenced ministry in 13 countries – an amazing rate of growth.’
The Chief of the Staff concluded his tribute by reading one of the General’s favourite Scripture passages – Psalm 145.
When thanking God for the World President of Women’s Ministries, Commissioner Helen Clifton – World Secretary for Women’s Ministries, Commissioner Sue Swanson said, ‘I am a living letter to you on behalf of women from all over the world who would love to be here saying thank you.’
She especially thanked Commissioner Clifton for her godly capacity to know each of her team extremely well.
‘Your amazing caring and email communication has been a blessing, helping us to understand that we are truly in ministry together. All the territorial women’s ministries presidents around the world have experienced your love and your care.’
Commissioner Swanson specifically thanked Commissioner Clifton for her bold and unique cry for justice for struggling women and children, especially through the While Women Weep (WWW) campaign.
‘You led us to work and pray for the justice God loves. We also thank you for the example you gave us when you single-handedly campaigned against commercial sex advertisements in your local paper – and won, with the advertisements being removed.
‘And women officers at IHQ will always remember you as a woman of intentional and powerful prayer – thank you.’
The commissioner concluded by saying while she had commenced by stating that she was a living letter to Commissioner Clifton, ‘In fact, you are the letter. As it says in 2 Corinthians, “It’s clear that you are Christ’s letter….”’
Two of Commissioner Clifton’s grandchildren, Hudson Collings and Hanna Clifton, then presented her with a basket of flowers prior to Commissioner Sue Swanson praying for the General and Commissioner Clifton.
In response Commissioner Clifton thanked everyone, ‘…for your very gracious reception of us today. It hardly seems possible that we are rapidly approaching our retirement date.
‘Our lives have been so full and so busy for so many years that I feel unsure of what to expect in retirement. I very much want to devote special time to the children and to the grandchildren. Also, I want to collaborate with Shaw and help him, as much as I can, in the writing of an autobiography.
‘My heart is full of praise and thanksgiving this afternoon. God has been so generous to us through all the years since he called us into sacred service. He has granted us boundless grace, one day at a time. He has gone ahead of us into every appointment and situation. He has blessed us beyond measure.’
Commissioner Clifton made special mention of the love and support of their children Matt, Jenny and John. ‘Their love and support have been such a blessing. So too has the love of our precious children-in-law: Marcus and Lynne, soon to be joined by Naomi (the wedding is planned for July this year).’
The commissioner also thanked a number of women who have worked closely with her in recent years; Commissioner Janet Street, Commissioner Lyn Pearce, Commissioner Sue Swanson, Captain Teresa Everett and Major Lynn Gibbs
She went on to say: ‘I want to emphasise the special place that God gives to women in the Army. I am proud of our women soldiers, local officers and officers. I am so pleased that more women have come into the High Council. It has been very meaningful to me to support my husband in his determination to promote more and more women officers to senior positions. God bless the women of the Army!
‘It has been wonderful to see the miracle of the Army in so many places in the past five years. We have been received with grace and warmth everywhere. It has been thrilling – a real blessing – to find the Army well, healthy and fruitful across its five zones. I want you to be proud of the Army to which you belong.
‘I pledge my prayers for the High Council. God will give guidance.
‘My husband and I will step aside when the time comes and we will offer our full support to the next General – and if that General is married, we will offer the same support to the General’s spouse. I know you will all do the same.
‘Thank you for your prayers for me in recent months. Please continue to pray. I will pray for you, thanking God for loving, faithful comrades and knowing that we belong together to Jesus, our wonderful Saviour.’
The Retirement Salute portion concluded with Gary Rose magnificently singing All Under God, accompanied by the International Staff Band and the Enfield and Bromley Corps Songster Brigades. The words of the song had been compiled by Stephen Pearson based on the writings of the General and the music was composed by Richard Phillips. Lieut-Colonel Rob Garrad narrated the spoken parts. Flautist Paige Miller was also featured in this song.
When leading into his message General Clifton said he wouldn’t speak for long – as he had seen many a good meeting ruined by the preacher speaking for 45 minutes – and he kept to his word.
He also mentioned that no doubt everyone was hungry. ‘But I want you to be hungry for God so come to the mercy seat and eat, then move so others can come.’
In reflecting on his term as General, he shared a number of statistics. ‘We have flown 300,000 miles plus driven many miles in the UK. We have officially visited 40 different countries during 52 separate overseas campaigns, plus 10 official engagements in the UK. We have made more than 50 visits to the International College for Officers. While General I have risen to my feet to speak on more than 650 separate occasions and we have travelled for three to four months of every year.
‘I share these statistics because some people think I’ve been a sick General. But I haven’t been sick apart from two, three-month periods. And one of the great things about the Army is that when you are in trouble it is terrific. We have experienced the Army at its best during our difficult times.
‘We have been the constant recipients of the prayers of the whole Army. It is a wonderful thing to know that you are prayed for all over the globe. Thank you for your prayers. I know you will pray too for my successor. Your prayers are the powerhouse of the Army.
‘Please pray for the High Council. Please receive my successor with genuine warmth and support. Please pledge your prayers for the next General whoever he or she may be. I look forward keenly to working with the General-elect until I retire on 2 April to ensure a smooth and helpful transition.’
After reading Luke 12:22-34 General Clifton declared that we can trust God for the Army’s needs. ‘He has it covered – the needs of the High Council, the needs of the smallest corps, of the newest soldier or junior soldier, of the Salvationist bond workers in Pakistan who can’t get out to worship and for the humblest expression of social outreach and concern. We must pray for the Army but we don’t need to lose any sleep over it.
‘Always put the kingdom first. Seek first the kingdom of God and all other things will be added beyond measure. We love the Army but the Army is not God. God raised the up the Army and it want it to stay raised up, so put the kingdom first.
‘Also, “Do not be afraid, little flock.” We are his little flock. We are barely two million people in 123 countries. It sounds a lot but by some measures we are small. However, be bold in faith. Be brave in the heat of battle. Be fruitful for me, says the Lord.
‘Tonight we ask God for new trust and new courage to serve him. We come to the cross together to kneel and find new strength for service,’ said General Clifton.
Immediately the appeal commenced people starting moving to the mercy seat and it was soon lined with those going deeper with God.
Earlier in his message General Clifton had thanked his family for their support and also expressed joyful surprise that their three children had pursued officership.
He specifically thanked Commissioner Robin Dunster (former Chief of the Staff now retired) and current Chief, Commissioner Barry Swanson, his executive secretaries Lieut-Colonels Miriam Frederiksen and Rob Garrad and Major Richard Gaudion, his private secretary when territorial commander in the United Kingdom for two years and then for five years in the office of the General.
Regarding his wife, he said, ‘There are no words to encompass what Helen means to me. We have loved each other since she was only 14 years old. She married me when she was 19 and four years later we became cadets together. We were commissioned together, served on five continents together and now we retire together.
We are in the hands of Almighty God whose hands are safe and loving in every circumstance.’
A total of 1,503 computers were linked to the live-streaming. More than 200 people also followed the meeting via brief tweets from the High Council Twitter site.
The meeting can be viewed on www.salvationarmy.org/highcouncil.
During Saturday morning, prior to leaving Sunbury Court for the afternoon welcome meeting and retirement salute, the High Council commenced discussion of procedural matters.
Video: Commissioner William Francis introduces proceedings from the High Council chambers in Sunbury Court, UK. The programme includes part of Sunday morning’s worship, and is approximately 18 minutes long.