One hundred years after William Booth, Founder of The Salvation Army, made his final public appearance in London's Royal Albert Hall the venue hosted another great gathering of Salvationists at the I'll Fight congress. The event, organised by the United Kingdom Territory with the Republic of Ireland, included moments of celebration, worship and prayer, and words of challenge from General Linda Bond.
On Saturday evening a capacity congregation enthusiastically greeted the General, who took the salute as territorial and divisional flags were brought into the arena. In moving moments that followed, the General quoted from the Founder's 'I'll Fight' speech, echoing the theme of the congress.
A multimedia presentation of reflections by young people on today's world was followed by prayers led by Lieutenants Ian and Keely Standley (Chalk Farm); their five-year-old daughter Niamh recited the Lord's Prayer.
Descriptions of the territory's social justice campaigns and words of testimony were reinforced by Alvin and Karl Allison with the song 'We All Have A Work To Do'.
A highlight of the evening was the expressive singing of the massed youth chorus, comprising 424 young people drawn from across the territory. The chorus joined the International Staff Songsters (ISS) to sing 'In the Army' accompanied by nine African drums. The International Staff Band (ISB) also participated.
An arena display entitled 'I'll Fight For More Than Gold' incorporated cyclists, wheelchair sports and martial arts. Young people from Southwark Corps presented 'I'll Fight' through rap with the reminder that even the darkest souls can glow.
The General asked: 'Where did the Founder get this fighting spirit? Where did he get this heart for souls?' She answered: 'He got it from Jesus.' She talked about what is happening in the worldwide Army, referring to help for trafficked people, those suffering from disease, poverty and persecution, and how the work continues to grow. She declared: 'The Salvation Army belongs in the dark places.'
A drama presentation incorporated excerpts from the musical The Blood Of The Lamb. Officer-cadets and delegates from the International College for Officers carried lights into the arena to create a cross and 'S' formation. The General asked: 'Do you see an Army on the move into the world of darkness? Will you be part of it?'
The focal point for Sunday meetings was a huge, cross-shaped mercy seat. Newly-installed territorial leaders Commissioners André and Silvia Cox, and members of the massed youth chorus, led the way as scores of people moved to the cross in response to the General's appeal.
That the Sunday of congress was also Pentecost Sunday added a poignancy to the morning meeting as officers, soldiers, children and friends knelt to pray with those who had made their way to the cross in search of a fresh touch of power from the Holy Spirit.
Congregational singing was led with sensitivity and enthusiasm by the ISB. Second Mile worship band introduced lively worship, bringing the song 'God Of Justice'. The ISS added the devotional song 'More Than Wonderful' – a fitting contribution to the occasion.
The installation by the General of Commissioners André and Silvia Cox as, respectively, Territorial Commander and Territorial President of Women's Ministries was conducted with humour and a note of gratitude to God for bringing the commissioners to the territory. The General reminded the territorial leaders of the promises they had made as junior soldiers in the 1960s, thanking God that both are 'covenant people' who had given their lives to service within The Salvation Army.
The General preached with power and conviction, emphasising the message that God would bring revival to the Army if Salvationists sought Pentecostal empowering. Those present heard an inspiring word of encouragement that the infilling of the Holy Spirit is for everyone.
As the time came for the meeting to draw to a close, people continued to kneel at the cross. The General insisted that there would be no time restraint on people's response, inviting the congregation to support one another in prayer.
The meeting concluded with the impassioned singing of the final verse of the Founder's song and 'Eternal God', as large screens on the platform displayed images of people still making their way forward the mercy seat.
The underlying congress theme of fighting for social justice was touched upon by the General during the final meeting of the congress. 'There is something wrong with society when the rich are getting richer and richer and richer, and the poor are getting poorer and poorer and poorer,' she said.
The enthusiasm of the massed youth chorus was seen when it joined with the ISS to sing 'Dance Like David', a Mexican-style song which saw the use of moustaches, sombreros and inflatable cacti as props – concluding the performance with several Mexican waves!
The General recited sections of the Founder's 'I'll Fight!' speech, placing it in a modern setting and demonstrating its relevance 100 years on. Addressing the thousands present at the Royal Albert Hall and those around the world watching online, the General said: 'Wherever you are … say: "Yes, Lord, I will fight. I will fight to the very end!"'
She told the Army to fight against domestic violence and child poverty and cited last summer's riots in the UK as a 'shock to the system'. She addressed the youth chorus and said: 'You need to speak to your generation about binge-drinking.' She added: 'We need to rescue people; we need to be an Army of redemption.'
Her address prompted a huge response as hundreds flocked to the mercy seat in rededication. 'I don't think there is a better sight in the world than The Salvation Army kneeling at the Cross of Jesus,' commented the General.
People prepared to return to their homes with a thirst for social justice after a weekend of spiritual refreshment, having been instilled with a sense that they must now go and, in the words of the Founder, 'do something'.
While the main congress meetings were taking place, children were given their own programme in the Student Union building next to the Royal Albert Hall. This included music and crafts, with special guest worship leader Dougie Dug Dug (Doug Horley) bringing his own blend of faith and fun on Sunday. After hearing the parable of the prodigal son more than 50 children responded to an invitation to become a friend of Jesus.
The congress began on Friday at Regent Hall Corps with a Social Justice Conference featuring Commissioner Christine MacMillan, director of The Salvation Army's International Social Justice Commission. Eleven workshops concentrated on different aspects of social justice. The conference was followed in the evening by the 'Shine As The Light' social justice festival, featuring music and drama.
The congress programme on Saturday also included concerts from Sunderland Monkwearmouth Band, Stowmarket Songsters and Birmingham Citadel Band at the Britten Theatre and on the Plaza South steps outside the rear of the Royal Albert Hall.
For more information, and to order a DVD, go to the UK Territory with the Republic of Ireland's website