"Oh, there's a baby!" said General Shaw Clifton, the Salvation Army's international leader. Following the commissioning and ordination of 38 Heralds of the Good News, he had issued a call for more officers, and one woman who made her way to the platform carried her infant child.
The General "borrowed" the baby and walked the platform asking, "Who will be her corps officer? Who will be the divisional leader who will come along beside her? ... There are a million like this one who need you!"
People streamed down the aisles of the Giant Center arena in Hershey, Pa., to stand in a circle around the General on the brilliant red stage with its kaleidoscopic red, yellow, and blue star at the center.
The General had outlined clearly what the Army is looking for in its officers. (See sidebar.) "Who's up for this?" he asked simply. "Will you come? Will you come today?"
The throng who came to the platform stood quietly to make a statement about their intention. The Heralds of the Good News, newly ordained and commissioned, had begun with such a statement.
Cross at the center
They entered the hall that morning quietly, to the soft strains of the New York Staff Band. Before walking across the red stage to their seats, the cadets arrayed themselves around a white, backlit Cross that took up a large section of the arena floor.
"The message of the Cross is Central," said Commissioner Lawrence R. Moretz to open the meeting. "It begins at the Cross ... at that message [the cadets] have heard at Calvary."
Major Stephen Banfield, School for Officer Training principal, presenting the session, said it included two-thirds first-generation Salvationists as well as cadets with heritage dating back as many as six generations. The cadets, he said, hail from around the world and from various walks of life.
"They arrived diverse but leave here united as a session in faith, hope, and love," Banfield said.
Accepting the session, Moretz talked of their Covenant Day, which had occurred the previous Sunday. "That is a seal before God that you will bind yourself to Him," he said.
Before the General began the ordination and commissioning of the cadets, he pointed out the Mercy Seat on stage. Built in 1888 and bearing the words, "He can break every fetter," the Mercy Seat, the General said, had been dedicated by the Army's holiness apostle, Commissioner Samuel Logan Brengle.
The congregation sang the verses of "I'm Set Apart for Jesus" to mark each group of cadets' solemn march to the platform. The cadets came one by one to kneel, receive a special word for them selected by SFOT staff, and be ordained and commissioned as Salvation Army captains.
"I liked the way the General talked with each cadet," said Colonel David Kim. "He was very sincere, prayerful, and thoughtful."
The General's message—and call
Following a selection by the Eastern Territorial Songsters and a prayer of dedication by Commissioner Helen Clifton, world president of Women's Ministries, General Clifton delivered his message.
He started by saying, "I'll never forget Hershey, especially what has just been transacted under the sacred seal."
The General spoke to Salvationists as well as directly to the new captains, based on a passage in Luke 10 about the sending out of the 72 and the idea that though the harvest is rich, the workers are few.
He told the new captains that this day marked the beginning for them of an "ongoing, protracted testing of your sacred vocation." He called for them to submit with grace to their people and for the people to submit with grace to their officers.
"There is a mutuality between the one called and the body of Christ," he said.
He said that the new officers had come to this place not because of arm-twisting or peer pressure or to impress others—and certainly not for the money.
"But there's another kind of riches, isn't there?" the General asked. "There's God's 'I'm going to pour out all of this on you!' "
He exhorted the new officers to follow Jesus, "step by step. Following in obedience is a heart-rewarding, enriching experience."
Then the General issued a call to the 8,000 witnesses at Hershey: "Pray to God for more officers—the right officers. This territory needs 80 to 90 every year!" He suggested that praying about who might be called could yield this answer from God: "He'll say, 'But it's YOU I'm sending! It's not about others—it's about you!' "
Then came the call to officership and the overwhelming response. When the territorial commander took the stage, he called the General's message one of "maturity and clarity." He invited others to come forward—those who needed to move deeper into the holy life and those who needed to meet Jesus at the Mercy Seat for the first time.
As more and more people streamed to the cross and knelt all around the platform's steps, Moretz said, "We have been praying for more than a year for this moment!"