The ground floor of International Headquarters (IHQ) rang with music and laughter as officers, staff and visitors gathered to bid farewell to the Chief of the Staff (Commissioner William Roberts) and Commissioner Nancy Roberts (World Secretary for Women's Ministries). Much was made of the retiring leaders' warmth and friendliness, but also of their dedication to serve God in The Salvation Army – even delaying their retirement and moving thousands of miles from their family in response to General André Cox's request for Commissioner Roberts to serve as his Chief.
Their officership has included service in USA Central – their home territory – along with territorial leadership in South America East (Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) and Kenya West. They served as International Secretary for Business Administration and IHQ Chaplain from 2005-2008 and as USA national leaders from 2010-2013. Their retirement meeting, conducted by the General, will take place on Saturday 31 October (2.30pm Eastern Standard Time) at Dearborn Heights Citadel, USA Central Territory, and will be streamed live on salvationarmymedia.tv.
The meeting began with the General recognising the Chief and Commissioner Nancy as 'outstanding Salvation Army officers'; a thought echoed in a prayer by Major Margaret Booth (Personal Assistant to the World President and Secretary of Womens' Ministries) when she thanked God for their 'faithfulness and obedience'.
The congregation included past and present staff and officers from IHQ, including former international leaders Commissioner Gisèle Gowans, General John Larsson (Rtd) and Commissioner Freda Larsson, and General Shaw Clifton (Rtd).
Commissioner Denise Swansbury (Zonal Secretary for South Pacific and East Asia) praised Commissioner Nancy's 'genuine interest in people', saying that she was a good African 'Mama' at IHQ. Commissioner Denise listed the many facets that 'our Nancy' brought to her role at IHQ, from friend and colleague to academic and 'willing ambassador' for God.
Adding her own tribute before presenting a book of letters of appreciation received from around the world, Commissioner Silvia Cox (World President of Women's Ministries) spoke of the 'wealth of experience and expertise' that Commissioner Nancy had brought to women's ministries at IHQ and around the world.
Commissioner Nancy interspersed her response with humorous PowerPoint images and quotes – many featuring Minion cartoon characters. She took the congregation back to when she first met The Salvation Army as a volunteer, explaining that it won her heart. In more than 45 years as an officer, she said, 'Each appointment has provided many opportunities ... My belief in God has grown stronger.' She said she had been 'blessed beyond measure' and described the two years back at IHQ as a 'wonderful way to draw to a conclusion to our officership'.
After Suzanne Rose (IHQ Administration) sang 'He Leadeth Me', IHQ Property Manager Howard Bowes paid tribute to the Chief of the Staff. He spoke about the impact of the Chief's habit of walking round IHQ on Friday afternoon, telling him: 'Despite all the pressures of your appointment you still have time for everyone.'
Commissioner John Wainwright (International Secretary for Business Administration) spoke about the Chief's 'outward calm and grace'. He praised the care that the Chief takes over everything, including the spiritual messages he is often asked to give.
Major Christine Clement (Private Secretary to the Chief of the Staff) read from Philippians 4 before the General added his own words of appreciation. 'Thank you for extending your active service,' he told the Chief and Commissioner Nancy. 'When plans had to be changed, without a murmur you stepped in.' He added a personal thanks for the support the Chief had given during the General's ill health in 2014, calling him a 'tower of strength'.
The Chief responded with musings on giving 'final words' – inspired by the apostle Paul's 'Finally ...' message to the church in Philippi. He explained that this would be his 18th farewell meeting but that, far from becoming easier, they had become harder. He had special thanks for the welcome he had received at Forestdale Corps (church) in south London – some members of which were in the congregation – and also for the staff and officers at IHQ. 'We have felt as though we were among friends,' he told them. 'We are a little colony of the Kingdom of God ... a family of God.'
His final thanks were to his wife, Commissioner Nancy. Obviously moved, he told her: 'We have been co-missioners together.'
The meeting finished with the lively song 'In the Army of Jesus We've Taken Our Stand', accompanied by the IHQ staff band, before Commissioner Joash Malabi (International Secretary for Africa) pronounced the benediction.