Photo Credit: Laura Dake
Reconciliation stories highlighted in poignant Commissioning Saturday program
By: Brad Rowland
“This is my story, this is my song; Praising my Savior all the day long; This is my story, this is my song; Praising my Savior all the day long”
Reconciliation is at the center of the 2021 Commissioning Weekend for the USA Southern Territory of The Salvation Army. The theme of “Reconciling Grace” permeates the entirety of the weekend gathering and, on Friday evening and Saturday morning, attendees were encouraged to reconcile both with God and others. On Saturday evening, stories came to the forefront under the banner of “This Is Us,” with the festivities returning to the chorus of the familiar hymn “Blessed Assurance” throughout the night.
The evening began with a reflection on the territory’s World Services impact, first with a video presentation, followed by a welcome from Commissioners Willis and Barbara Howell, territorial leaders. Within that presentation came the announcement that the USA Southern Territory gave more than $11.4 million through World Services in the past year, with more to come in the future.
From there, the evening proceeded without announcement, as artists and musicians underscored the program with interludes, poignant discussion and an overarching spirit of worship and reflection. Moving instances of storytelling, including testimonies from Major Algerome Newsome and Captain Sheed Tarnue, weaved a tapestry of the evening. The Southern Territorial Band provided portions of the musical score, including various soloists, and the ensemble was featured with a stirring rendition of “Fearless,” penned by Andrew Wainwright, a composer and member of the band.
The program, spearheaded by Bethany Farrell, territorial creative arts director, also featured the work of the Territorial Arts Ministry Team (TAM). Showcasing their varied skill sets, artists reenacted real-life stories from the field, brought stories to life through dramatic presentations and dazzled with movement and choreography.
Though the evening featured many gripping moments, one of the climaxes arrived with a presentation of “This Is Me.” The song, originally composed for the movie “The Greatest Showman,” featured myriad groups, including TAM, the Southern Territorial Band, transMission and cadets from the Evangeline Booth College. Proceeding the production number, TAM highlighted a moving story of The Salvation Army’s impact on a young man named Luis, underscoring the ability of the organization to come alongside individuals in their personal and spiritual growth without discrimination.
The evening’s program then concluded with a reprise of “Blessed Assurance” through a contemporary lens. The song’s revised chorus also fit snugly in the keynote of the evening.
“This is my story, this is my song; Praising my Savior all the day long; This is our story, this is our song; This is us, this is us”
Following what was a rousing moment of worship and praise, Commissioner Willis Howell delivered a reminder that the program was not designed merely to entertain. Rather, the focus was on storytelling, even when nudged into uncomfortable realities, and the potential for reconciliation, both for The Salvation Army and individuals.
“I don’t hope you were entertained,” said Commissioner Howell. “If you were, that’s not a bad thing, but this was not entertainment. What you saw, what you heard were not made-up stories. It’s not an imaginary script. This is us. This is us. Warts and all. Flaws. Cracks. Shortcomings. Quirks. It’s us.”
Finally, Commissioner Howell encouraged those observing to come together, using stories and relationships to further the kingdom.
“The statement we want to make tonight, through what you’ve seen, is that our stories still matter. So let’s talk. Let’s sit down at tables, whether they are literal, figurative or virtual. Let’s sit down at tables with one another. Let’s talk. Let’s come together, in Christ, and sit at the table, because the best things happen around the table.”
Readers are encouraged to view the full program, titled “Reconciliation Stories: This Is Us,” in full below or at Youtube.com/SalArmySouth.