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Apr26FriWhy couldn’t Robyn Purcell sign on the dotted line? April 26, 2019 by Ken Ramstead
Robyn Purcell was poised. She had breezed through the soldiership courses and there seemed to be no reason why she would not be signing the Soldier’s Covenant. But that day, she couldn’t do it.
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Purcell was born to soldier parents who attended Montreal Citadel. They were also the church caretakers, and the family lived in an attic apartment at the citadel.
“Home was church,” Purcell laughs. “On Sunday mornings, our commute was a minute or so. We thought of ourselves as church mice!”
When Purcell turned 16, becoming a soldier seemed like the next logical step in her Christian walk, and she eagerly started her classes. And though the courses went well, she was conflicted.
“I was going through a period of time in my life where I felt that signing the Soldier’s Covenant was not going to be an honest thing for me to do,” she explains. “For me, the Soldier’s Covenant wasn’t just about The Salvation Army; it was really an agreement between myself and God. And he already knew how I was living my life at the time. To become a soldier then would have been like putting egg in God’s face. So I didn’t.”
Walking away from soldiership was the most difficult decision Purcell had ever made but her parents were supportive. “They knew their teenager well enough to know she was trying to figure out where she stood,” Purcell smiles now.
Purcell realized she needed to embark on a period of self-reflection.
“I needed to discover who God is,” she says. “Up until then, my perception and understanding of God was limited to Sunday school stories; it wasn’t personal enough. So for the next three years, that’s what I sought: a personal relationship with God.”
An important part of that process lay in her decision to volunteer at Camp lac l’Achigan, Que., when she was 18.
“It was a life-changing experience,” she says.
Then divisional youth secretaries in the Quebec Division, Majors Jean-Curtis Plante and Rachel Lamont were instrumental in helping Purcell know God in a deeper sense.
“They asked the tough questions, such as, ‘How is your faith doing? What does your relationship with God look like?’ ”
That summer, they challenged her to read the Bible from cover to cover, something she had never done before. But all that reading didn’t seem to make a difference until one night at camp. Everyone in her cabin was asleep except for Purcell.
“For one reason or another, I had put aside my Bible reading for a couple of days,” she says. “I was restless without knowing why, and I felt as if a weight was pressing down on me.”
Purcell wrestled with that feeling until she saw it for what it was: “I met God.”
That night, out of that intense encounter with God, Purcell came away with three things that she needed to do.
“The Lord told me that night that I needed to let go of a relationship I was in,” Purcell says. “I realized that was why I had not been able to sign the Soldier’s Covenant. The relationship was not a healthy one, it was not a godly one.
“The second thing I heard the Lord say,” she continues, “was I needed to submit my life fully to him. And, lastly, I needed to become a Salvation Army officer.”
The next day, Purcell returned to Montreal and ended the relationship. Then she met with her corps officers and re-enrolled in soldiership classes, becoming a soldier in 2012.
More to Come
Purcell has embraced soldiership. She helps run the youth group and Bible study program at Montreal Citadel, where she serves on the corps council. She is also a member of the divisional camp board.
Purcell sees officership some time in her future and is a member of the candidates’ fellowship.
“I’ve been waiting on the Lord as to when he wants me to go,” she says. “I’m ready!”
In the meantime, other things have been put into her path that indicate God’s presence.
Purcell graduated from McGill University with a teaching degree and after spending some time as a substitute teacher, was offered a permanent post.
“I felt like this was a message from God,” she says. “ ‘I’m with you but this is where I want you to be for a time.’ ”
For Purcell, teaching is only a way station on the road to officership.
“God called me to officership and there’s nothing else that will ever satisfy me,” she says. “I love teaching, but I know there is more in store for me.”