'BEGINNINGS' was a central theme of commissioning weekend in New Zealand, led by the Chief of the Staff (Commissioner Barry C. Swanson) and Commissioner Sue Swanson (World President of Women's Ministries). For the 11 cadets of the Friends of Christ session, their ordination and commissioning was only a starting point – they now go out to lead and serve in Christ's name.
The presence of the Chief and Commissioner Sue Swanson was an encouragement and an added point of interest in what is always a high point on the calendar for New Zealand Salvationists. The Swansons had taken part in similar meetings the previous weekend in Fiji – also part of the New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga Territory – where two cadets were commissioned.
Speaking at the cadets' graduation on Friday evening, the Chief of the Staff reminded them that a graduation was 'a commencement' – a necessary ending of something but also a beginning. 'You had that on your mind [when you entered training]. That's why you signed up,' he said, adding: 'We want to be careful not to return to what was, when God is taking us forward.'
The night's proceedings were far from formal, with plenty of impromptu cheers, high fives, hilarity over the cutting of a graduation cake, and a magnificent rendition of a Salvation Army haka (a Maori war dance) – its actions set to a translation of William Booth's 'I'll Fight' speech.
From the public graduation ceremony, attention turned next day to a private occasion which saw parents and close friends of the Friends of Christ, along with senior Salvation Army leaders, gathered for a Silver Star presentation – recognising parents and others who have played a significant role in the cadets' spiritual upbringing.
Commissioner Sue Swanson asked parents to continue to pray for their children. 'Touch your star [brooch],' she said, 'and every time you do, say, "I have the privilege of being a prayer warrior for my child." God will direct your prayers.'
That afternoon, a crowded Wellington Citadel witnessed the ordination and commissioning of the Friends of Christ by territorial leaders Commissioners Donald and Debora Bell.
In his Bible message, the Chief of the Staff reflected on the disciples who were present at Jesus' transfiguration. He challenged his listeners to 'be with Jesus'. Not simply to go through the motions, but to 'go with Jesus and watch him'. And not simply to 'look busy', but to connect their activities to the real purposes of God.
Sunday morning was an opportunity to worship with The Salvation Army's newest lieutenants. A highlight was a presentation by cadets' children of the song 'I am a friend of God'.
Lieutenant Susan Adams said it had taken 14 years for her to get to the officer training college. While there, she said, she had learned it was better to love people than judge them, 'even though it's easier to judge'. She added: 'But the world needs more love.'
Lieutenant Brad Carpenter said training had given him 'the tools and the foundations that I can dig into more'. New Zealand's Maori culture had, he said, become far more important to him. He revealed that learning to perform the Salvation Army haka had been a moving experience – an invitation to challenge the devil and say: 'I'm going to fight you on my turf!'
Territorial Commander Commissioner Donald Bell presented long service orders to several officers, making note of others serving overseas in Portugal and South Africa. He then surprised Lieut-Colonel Ethne Flintoff with a Certificate of Exceptional Service. Lieut-Colonel Flintoff recently retired after almost 40 years' service, 34 of which were spent in South Asia. She served for 20 years in Bangladesh, including nine years as command leader.
In her Bible message, Commissioner Sue Swanson took a theme that resonated well in post-Rugby World Cup New Zealand: 'Rugby 101'. Professing almost total ignorance of the game, she said she had bought a book about rugby in a London charity shop. She explained that the only thing that was clear to her was that 'when you play, you want to win'. She added: 'God wants us to win at the things that matter the most. We can have the courage to be God's voice in the midst of our generation, in the midst of sin.'
The final song for the weekend, 'I Would be True', brought a reminder of the trust that God and others place in Salvation Army officers – a call to holiness of heart and life.