International Prayer Leaders Gathering
11-18 September 2009
There was a moment at Sydenham Hill in September after a district officer from Ghana had opened his heart about his territory. A young officer from the Czech Republic stood and prayed for him in Czech, and though she was the only Czech speaker, everyone sensed they were praying with her. That act of unity seemed to sum up what was a remarkable first International Prayer Leaders Gathering.
Held over seven days at London's International College for Officers, the gathering was called by the recently-formed International Centre for Spiritual Life Development. The vision of centre director, Lieut-Colonel Janet Munn, the Prayer Leaders Gathering attracted delegates from 22 different territories. Many of the delegates, such as the UK's Prayer Coordinator Lyndall Bywater, hold specific responsibility for nurturing spiritual life.
Around the international Army in recent decades, many territories have witnessed a renewed focus on spiritual life. Thousands of corps have embraced the 24/7 week of prayer experience, which in turn has exposed Salvationists to fresh approaches to prayer. Many corps have gone on to set up prayer rooms and prayer teams. And along with the focus on prayer we are also seeing a growing interest in holiness. Lieut-Colonel Janet Munn has been charged with trying to nurture all that internationally, to link territories up, get them networking, sharing ideas.
So the Prayer Leaders Gathering brought together representatives to learn how they might foster spiritual life development. Prayer was a major focus. Jim Cymbala's challenging words could express the spirit of the week: ‘No matter what I preach or what we claim to believe in our heads, the future will depend upon our prayers. This is the engine that will drive the church.'
Each day of the gathering, a guest lecturer helped the delegates consider one of the ‘calls' of the International Spiritual Life Commission. The presenters included Chief of Staff Commissioner Robin Dunster and Commissioner Robert Street, International Secretary for South Pacific and East Asia. Guest teacher, Commissioner Lynn Pearce also gave daily teaching on the life of prayer.
But the gathering went beyond lectures. Each delegate told the story of spiritual life development in his or her territory. They shared resources, worshipped and prayed together, often venturing into new approaches to prayer. ‘My passion for prayer has been reignited,' said Mark Bender of USA Central Territory. ‘I hope I can effectively share some of the things I've learned here.'
Major Anna-Lena Hjerpe of Sweden had a similar experience: ‘I have learnt new ways to pray, and long to see what I can do to share these in Sweden.' The conference leaders urged delegates to take home plans to nurture spiritual life. An internet-based facility, designed by young London Salvationist Grant Forrest, was launched which will enable delegates-and others passionate about the spiritual life-to stay in touch, encourage each other and share resources.
There is a dynamic created when Salvationists from diverse nations meet. Major Bronwyn Buckingham of the New Zealand Fiji and Tonga Territory testified to that when she said, ‘I've been enriched by sharing with people from different cultures who are united in their desire to see prayer and spiritual life development a priority.'
To a remarkable degree, this first International Prayer Leaders Gathering succeeded in its aims. Jude Gotrich, delegate from USA South, remarked, ‘No great work of God was ever done without the bulldozing if prayer, and returning to its priority gives me great anticipation for the Army's tomorrow.'
Major Peter Farthing
Australia Eastern Territory