Ten years ago (yesterday, to be precise) I was commissioned and ordained as an officer of The Salvation Army as part of the Bridgebuilders Session. In some ways it feels like it was only yesterday, in many others it seems like a whole other lifetime.
The story of how I got from there to here can be found here. It’s a lengthy read, but as I don’t want to repeat myself it’s the best way to find out why I’m no longer a part of the Army.
The two years spent as a Bridgebuilder at William Booth College remain a huge part of who I am today. Although rubbish at staying in touch with people, I value immensely those I had the privilege of sharing life with while there.
A few images on Facebook yesterday persuaded me to dig out my mementos from Commissioning. I couldn’t help but be drawn in particular to the Covenant that I signed a few days before the big event. This, for many officers, is the key part of the whole commissioning and ordination process, as it the point when we dedicate our lives to serving God as in this particular vocation. In many ways although Commissioning Day is special, it’s a whole lot of showmanship and celebration – Covenant Day is the meaty bit where the real business happens.
Looking through it again now makes me realise how far I have journeyed since, and yet how little has actually changed.
The covenant starts with a commitment to love and serve God wholeheartedly. Although how I believe has changed massively over the past ten years, I’ve still tried to keep this at the centre of everything I am and do. If we truly believe we are made in the image of God, if we truly believe that there is something more than can simply be seen and explained through reason and logic, then it strikes me that this is the only response available. Again, how I do this has changed, but not the desire that lies behind it.
Being a Salvation Army Officer means that your focus is on souls – winning them and caring for them. The next two commitments focus on these. Again, how I participate in this process has changed, but not what lies behind. Again, if I believe what I believe, that Jesus is completely and utterly the most captivating person and idea in the world, then I must want to share him with others. I think I view it now more about participating in what God is up to in the world, in sharing that love and peace with as many people as possible, and seeing what might happen as a result of that.
The third commitment is all about living out these beliefs – something the Army is deservedly famous for. Belief is nothing without action – it’s a simple as that. Jesus makes it clear in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (the basis for this commitment) that if we talk faith, we must live it. My daily challenge must be to do this – not just through the obvious, but through every interaction. How am I someone who brings hope? That surely lies the at the heart of it.
Finally, the Officer commits to faithfully serving the Army – well, I guess this is the one which has changed the most. There’s much that could be written here (indeed, the story of the story covers this in depth) but I think I’ll simply leave it as hoping that I prove myself a worthy husband, dad, son, brother, friend, teacher, and of course, follower and lover of Jesus. That’ll do me.
So, much has changed, and yet, at the heart of it, much has not. I’m no longer an officer, but the massive majority of this covenant still holds firm.
I still have ‘itches’ that need scratching, like feeling that leading some expression of church is still a central part of who I am. But I think that nowadays I’m far happier for life to flow, and to see where that flow takes me.
Here’s to ten more years of covenantal service, wherever it may take us.
As the old chorus says, ‘I’m in [God’s] hands’.