The testimony of Mike Gibbs on the occasion of his entering into a holiness covenant with the Chatham Corps of The Salvation Army on 21 November 2010.
I was in my late twenties when I first became a Christian, and on reflection it was back then when my ecumenical spirit first began to emerge. Brought up in a United Parish, I was confirmed into both the Anglican and Methodist Churches at a time when unity was on most Church agendas. I have always been proud of my Methodist inheritance as Wesley s concept of being saved by Grace together with his evangelical social conscience resonated with my growing faith, which was eventually to lead into Ministry. Ecumenical spirituality majors on acceptance, reconciliation, prayer and hope, but has at its heart the central core beliefs which are common to all Christians. Sometimes known as the Universal Church these shared cornerstones of faith bind all Christians together, which has enabled Sheena and I, and many others, to share freely and fully in worship and fellowship with traditions outside of our own. Jesus often referred to, and prayed for, this sense of Unity within His Ecclesia, the body of Christ, a fact which has always provided both strength and purpose to my faith journey. I am sure that it helped to prepare the way when, after the death of my first wife, Sheena and I met and my introduction to Army life began in earnest. She has a lot to answer to!! I certainly believe, like her, that it was and still is all part of God s plan!
Some weeks ago when Jean Jones felt that she needed to renew her Soldier s Covenant she referred to reaching that special age as very defining moment. She was so right, as for me it too has provided a time to reflect on the past and to re-group and re-commit for the future. Covenants are very much part of the ecumenical toolbox in providing a tool which allows us to renew our commitment to God either personally or as the Body of Christ, and so I welcome this opportunity you have given me to make this covenant at this time.
Being equally part of two Christian families has been a privilege for Sheena and I over the years. However, for some it will always remain a mystery to be viewed with caution as our two families rarely meet and so have little insight into our dual Christian commitment. The reality is that it has become a way of life for us which brings its own blessings in both Ministry and Fellowship.
Making this Covenant here in this place gives me the added opportunity to thank you all, the people of this Corps, for adopting me into your family with such love and openness, and for the ways that you have helped, encouraged, counselled and challenged me on my Christian journey. It began when Sheena and I got married and our lives became joined in a truly ecumenical occasion. My vows were made to the then Corps Officer whilst Sheena s were made to our Anglican Priest. We changed the Army articles of marriage to reflect our commitment to the wider Christian church, and 25 years on we still feel the effects! We were assured at the time that, despite the rather strange service, we were legally married, and hopefully still are! There were the sceptics even then.
In 1985 I was called into lay Ministry within the Church of England as a Pastoral Assistant (a step that Sheena would also be called to follow many years later). Shortly before I was authorised , I knelt as this Mercy Seat to ask God s blessing on my new ministry which still remains valid for me to this day. It is always dangerous to mention individuals on occasions like this for the fear of leaving someone out, but are two people who it would be difficult for me to omit from the thank you list!
Major Leina Geleit shared my ecumenical zeal, which she also practiced in many ways during her time here as the Corps Officer. She opened up many doors for me which included being able to sing in Songster Practice for some 8 years. This in turn opened up my life to the richness of Army music and section activity which I was involved in. She also encouraged me to get involved with the Soup Run which I ended up running as an ecumenical venture for four years giving me an amazing opportunity to gain valuable social experience. But perhaps most important of all she always treated me as one of her Soldiers â€“ and somewhere I still bear the scars to prove it! She assured me once that God blessed the way I divided myself equally between Church and Army, but was strong to point out that in her opinion the Army had the best part of the deal â€“ I did not disagree! Seriously, she remains a good friend and council.
The second person I have to mention by name is Mrs Brigadier Straughan, Verna s mum, who Sheena and I knew as Olive. Olive was a great Christian lady whose long experience as an Officer gave her both grace and wisdom which enabled her to help so many in this Corps. She taught me so much about Army ways, about holiness and Army spirituality, whilst also understanding this strange ecumenical oddball with a frankness which was almost disarming at times. She also had a well developed sense of humour, and sometimes when Sheena was in the Songsters and I found myself sitting down there in Officers Row she would whisper comments in my ear about the preacher or sermon which were not always complementary, but often proved to be right. Dear Olive â€“ so many stories, so many people but no more time to mention names. Just time to thank all of you who have played such a valued part in my faith journey.
So, as you have heard, this remains a very special place for me and you a very special people ready to accept, to share and to encourage. I may not be a Soldier of The Salvation Army, but I am a Soldier of Christ s Army and as such will continue to fight along side you in order to win the battle He has set before us.
May God bless all you do in His name