On Monday, July 29, the High Council of The Salvation Army will meet at the Renaissance London Heathrow Hotel in Hounslow, England, to elect the next General—the world leader of an Army at work in more than 120 countries. Membership of the High Council is comprised of all commissioners in active service (except the spouse of the current General), all territorial commanders and, since February 2010, all territorial presidents of women's ministries. The 2013 High Council will be the largest in the history of the Army. There will be 118 members – 64 women and 54 men – with an average age of 59. Fifty-four will be attending a High Council for the first time. Twenty-six have appointments in the Americas and Caribbean Zone and 24 in the Africa Zone. The South Pacific and East Asia Zone supplies 21 members, Europe 18 and South Asia 15. Fourteen International Headquarters commissioners complete the total of 118 members.
Usually eight or nine days later, as Salvationists all around the world watch expectantly on the Internet, the cameras will zoom in on the closed door of the council chamber. When the door opens, the Army family will catch the first glimpse of its new leader.
How will the High Council accomplish its sacred task of electing the Army's next General? It will observe all requirements of the Salvation Army Act 1980—the legally binding Orders of Regulations for High Councils. The Act, however, gives freedom for each High Council to determine its own procedures. But based on the requirements of the Act and the precedent set by 16 previous High Councils, the following pattern of events will almost certainly unfold.
The Chief of the Staff, Commissioner André Cox, the convenor of the High Council, will preside over the opening stages of the council and will arrange for the members to elect a president, vice-president and chaplain before he takes his place as a member of the council.
Under the leadership of the president, the High Council will begin its deliberations. Its first task will be to establish the way it will work. As all High Councils have done, the council will review the Orders of Procedure used by the previous High Council. This document distils into a series of numbered paragraphs the accrued wisdom and experience of all past councils. The 2013 High Council will consider each paragraph in turn, make any amendments it feels are necessary and then formally adopt the revised version as its own Orders of Procedure.
A High Council is an exercise of spiritual discernment, and time is therefore set aside for worship, reflection and prayer. Together as a group and individually, the members ask God for wisdom and guidance in order to discern who should be the next leader of the Army. Like an appointments board considering which officer to appoint to a key command, the members have to weigh in their hearts and minds the differing qualities of those they could elect. Their collective prayer will be that, at the end of the process, they might be able to echo the words of the Council of Jerusalem: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us …” (Acts 15:28).
In his autobiography, The Gate and the Light, General Arnold Brown recalls the strong sense of God's presence at the High Councils he attended: “The procedures of the High Council in selecting an international leader for the Army are more a spiritual exercise than the employment of ordinary electoral processes. The incomparable fellowship, heightened by much prayer and reading of the Scriptures, has all the features of a highly devotional spiritual retreat. Imperceptibly, appraisals of possible nominees are shaped and, as voting time draws near, a sense of guidance, flowing from the Holy Spirit's presence, possesses the delegates' minds and hearts.”
Time is also set aside for consideration of the challenges and opportunities that the Army faces. “These discussions are valuable,” writes General Clarence Wiseman in his memoirs, A Burning In My Bones, “because they reveal international trends of thought on important issues and disclose regional differences and problems of which world leaders should take cognizance.” The clarification of issues helps identify the kind of leader that the Army needs.
The High Council then moves into the vital stage of nominations. Every member has the privilege of nominating someone to be a candidate for General. The one and only criterion is that the person nominated must be an officer. That means that about 17,000 persons are eligible to be nominated. But based on past precedent, the forthcoming High Council is likely to nominate persons from within its own membership.
While the council as a whole engages in reflection and prayer, each member in turn goes into a small voting room, writes on a nomination slip the name of the person he or she wishes to nominate, returns to the council chamber and places the unsigned paper in a ballot box. The process is unhurried and can take nearly an hour.
The members who have been elected as tellers then count the nominations. No person is deemed to have been nominated unless he or she has been nominated by at least three members.
The president announces in alphabetical order the names of the persons nominated, but does not indicate by how many each has been nominated. The council then adjourns to give opportunity for the nominees to decide whether or not to accept nomination. During this time they have the right to ask the president privately how many nominations they have received.
When the council reconvenes, the president asks the nominees whether they will accept the nomination. Each responds with a few carefully chosen words. Those who accept become candidates, and it is from this panel of candidates that the High Council will be called to elect the next General.
At this stage, the High Council adjourns for a full day to enable the candidates and spouses to prepare written answers to the questionnaires that the council has prepared. Candidates also work on their speeches.
Questions and Speeches
When the council begins its deliberations again, candidates and spouses in turn read out their answers to the questions. Through the process of questions and answers, the High Council seeks to get to know the candidates at greater depth, their leadership style, personalities and views on subjects related to the Army and its ministry. The questions are likely to range widely from the Army's worldwide mission to its stance on the sacraments. For practical reasons, the candidate questionnaire is usually limited to about 40 questions and the spouse questionnaire to six. The process of reading the answers usually takes approximately one hour for a married couple.
Each candidate then gives a speech. No parameters regarding subject matter or length are laid down but speeches usually last 10 to 15 minutes. General Bramwell Tillsley (Rtd) subsequently published his High Council speech in the United Kingdom's Salvationist, and the following brief extracts from it give the flavour of such speeches.
The then Commissioner Tillsley began by saying, “Perhaps I can best express what my own priorities would be by describing the Army for which I long.” He then developed those priorities under a series of headings such as: “I long for an Army whose motto is 'holiness unto the Lord' … I long for an Army that will remain true to its principles, no matter what the cost … I long for an Army that has deep appreciation of its young people and that encourages them to find their full potential in Christ … I long for an Army whose cardinal reason for existence is to bring glory to God.”
When the questions and speeches have been completed, the president announces that the election of the next General of The Salvation Army will begin. In the hush of the council chamber, each member in turn receives a voting paper from the president and enters a voting room once more, this time to place a checkmark against one of the names on the paper before placing it in a ballot box. The other members engage in prayer. As with the nominations, the process is unhurried and can take up to one hour for each ballot.
After the voting has been completed, the tellers count the votes. The Salvation Army Act 1980 stipulates: a) that in the first three ballots a candidate must get the vote of more than two thirds of the members present to be elected; b) that from the fourth ballot onward a candidate need only receive the votes of more than half of the members present; and c) that the candidate who gets the fewest votes in each ballot must drop out until only two candidates remain.
The president's announcement of the result of the first ballot is a dramatic moment in the life of a High Council. By that time the members of the High Council will have been together for a week or more. But as there have been no opinion polls or media predictions, and few, if any, members will have shared their voting intentions with each other, the result of the first ballot is the first revelation to the members of their collective thinking.
Unless a candidate has attained the necessary two thirds majority in the first ballot, the president, after a short break, calls for the second ballot to commence. The balloting continues until one of the candidates attains the required number of votes. When that point is reached, one can almost hear the council drawing in its breath. The president announces that the next General has been elected. There is a long and warm burst of applause.
What happens next is of the greatest significance. However protracted the election process and however close the result, it is in the tradition of High Councils that the moment the new General is elected, all members immediately give their full support to that person. Any differences of opinion there might have been before that time are swept away and the corporate decision of the body is accepted by all as the expression of the will of God.
This unanimous rallying around the person elected is reflected in the warmth of the final moments of the High Council. There are speeches to be made, documents to be signed, and prayer and praise to God. Every member has a personal moment with the General-elect and, if married, his or her spouse.
Then comes the time when the doors of the council chamber are thrown open and the president presents the General-elect to the General-in-office and all others who have gathered at the Renaissance Hotel. Through the marvels of the Internet, the rejoicings at the Renaissance can be shared by Salvationists around the globe. From every heart rises the cry: “May God bless the General-elect!”
A crowded agenda of media interviews and matters to be decided await the immediate attention of the General-elect. But the members of the council gather their papers and prepare to leave for the airport. The High Council has completed its task.
General John Larsson (Rtd) served as the world leader of The Salvation Army from 2002-2006.
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