Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Congress 2007

The East & West Summer School "A" Chorus

On Saturday and Sunday... the Salvation Army in the UK's annual Congress gathering for 2007 was held in Glasgow. I think it comes to Scotland every 3 years or so... for a London-centric organisation... that's pretty good.

I have to be honest... I wasn't really in the right frame of mind for the Congress. I was in a critical "Waldorf and Stadler" kind of mood. It was possibly because of the state I had seen my wee wifey get herself into because she was singing in the main "celebration" service on the Saturday night.

Olly singing at the start of Congress 2007

Olly kicked things off with a song that she didn't choose... that was too high for her... and the PA system wasn't working too well. I admire how well she did considering.


We had the International Staff Songsters (Choir above) for the weekend along with a number of Brass Bands [Sunderland Monkwearmouth Band... Belfast Temple Band... the "A" band from the East and West Summer School] and a "worship" band.

I didn't really connect with the worship. Maybe I wasn't in the mood... but worship, for me, is about letting go and giving my all to God through the music and the words. Life is worship... in this sense... but the music wasn't mine. The hymns were great... classics... but I just couldn't get into them because of the music. This saddens me as I recount this.

I don't get songster music. Don't get me wrong... I actually enjoy being part of the Songsters in Bellshill... but I don't like the "posh" singing and the jaunty little melodies. They are for others... just as "raise your hands in the air" music is for me. Same too for the Band. For a Brass Band to move me... the tune needs to add something to the song - "How great thou art" comes alive within the Swedish Folk Tune, for example. The music on the Saturday night didn't move me.

African Gospel Choir

What or should I say who did move me, however, was the African Gospel Choir (above) because of their freshness... newness... raw honesty of performance... Women singing and dancing their hearts out... to a hypnotic beat from a bass drum. For me it was real... truthful... it wasn't about the music. It wasn't note perfect or "posh"... it had the funk and it stirred me out of my apathy.

The Belfast Drama Group also stirred me. They intrigued me and ensnared my attention with their tremendous simplicity. The plays they enacted through the weekend were more valuable to me than any of the thoughts from the leaders. Put it this way... I can still remember the plays! Passionate... inspiring... thought-provoking! They led you to conclusions that weren't initially obvious and made the viewer think... actively think about what they were saying. Awesome.

What frustrated me the most... however... were two videos.

The first was on "War Cry Evangelism" where a lovely, sweet couple now living in Perth recounted a tale of how they came to the Army through a chap selling the War Cry. So much emphasis was placed on the paper and not enough on the loving, missional nature of the chap selling the paper or the folk in the Corps who welcomed them to the Army. It was such a plug for the War Cry... it was embarrassing. I would argue that it was the love shown and not the paper that brought the people to the Army but hey... you can't sell love... can you?

The second video was from "the William Booth Training College" and it was all about the work Corps Officers do. Heart to God, Hand to man... etc etc. Backed by the U2 song "all because of you" it explored the work of Corps and Social Services Officers. It was a blatant promo video for Officership. I know they have to plug it but it was made worse by Commissioner Keith Banks leading the congregation in a time of prayer for Officers, Candidates and those "called" to Officership... without bringing the laity to the Lord. Me and mine pan our guts out. I don't want thanks but I would appreciate being recognised and prayed for! The Army is a movement that believes in the Priesthood of ALL believers... not just those with badges! I am sorry if this offends anyone but I was deeply offended myself. I am not called for Officership... but does that mean my calling is any less important or worthwhile..? I think not!

When the Territorial Commander took to the platform... I wasn't really inspired... and I when he sat back down... I wasn't really inspired. He talked, at length, about faith. Something in what he said jarred with me... Faith is extremely important, don't get me wrong, but it is subservient to love. Faith can become rigid... it becomes something you either have or don't... and if you do... you might not share or have commonality. Love, on the other hand, is flexible... it adapts... it creates... Are we not commanded to love God and love our neighbour? Not have faith in God and in our neighbour. Maybe I am clutching at straws here... but there was little love mentioned... and tons about faith. I can have all the faith in the world... but if I don't have love... well I'm pretty worthless.

I did enjoy the fellowship... sitting with Jon G as Olly was with Janey. I loved meeting all my pals... (30 something Facebook friends were hugged) and being part of something. But, the nagging question reverberated around my skull, what was I part of?


I hung around with Jon to see [dweeb] play a set. I was the lift for Al and Lauren. I listened to about 3 songs before I headed out with Jon to KFC for food and a blether. Loud wasn't for me.

Congress 2007

Sunday was meant to be different... I tried to get out of the funk I was in... and be more positive.

That lasted for a while until I watched some Army bureaucrat ask a member of the Royal Concert Hall staff to throw out some chap [he did look suspicious] because he didn't have a ticket and he was hanging about the Market Place. This infuriated me. WWWD? What Would William Do? I doubt he would have thrown him out... oh and don't get me started on what the Lord would have done.

I sat with Jon G and Gordy from Motherwell... and tried to engage with the content. The "A" Chorus and the "A" Band from Summer School were awesome... I connected with their music. Although I did share Jon's wonder as to where the Drama Group were from Summer School.

The Belfast Drama Group were on point with a prayer focus entitled "Help, I'm too busy to pray"... and Capt. Stephen Poxon was eloquent with his thoughts on the intercessors' work in praying for the event.

The TC spoke about being not conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of our minds. What he said was meaningful. I just thought it was ironic considering the grandiose nature of the venue and the ticket prices and the whole "hierarchy" of events.

There was a long response time... a response time that was timed and planned... during which I had to leave to pick up Dayna and Miriam who were at a fringe event for kids. They had a ball... thanks to Richard Knot, Kevin Avis and a ton of other folks. While I was squeezing passed folk in the row... I was "blessed" as if I was a seeker heading to the Mercy Seat... which I thought was funny and sweet.

Afterwards, we grabbed lunch in "The Filling Station" - their service was so slow that Olly had to leave half way through her veggie lasagne. Good to see Becky there.

We headed back for a musical interlude where the "A" Chorus and the "A" Band from Summer School played a short set each. They were very good.

We got kicked out at 3pm and headed to Starbucks with Janey and Roscoe. Its always good to have coffee with them!

We headed back for 4pm where I got to sit with Olly for the first time all weekend. The African Gospel Choir and the Belfast Drama Group were... again... the highlights for me. The music... other than the brief worship set the Essential Band did... was pretty much the same as before.

We left at 4:45pm and I was glad to. This isn't my kind of gathering... Roots is more my thing. Too much pomp and ceremony for my liking.

I did not appreciate paying about £26 for the two days for me and mine... and then get asked for an offering on the Sunday morning. I gave my offering in another way on Sunday. If you can't afford the venue... don't go there! Get out of thinking it has to be fancy... it doesn't. People come for the people... regardless of who we have on the bill.

I couldn't connect with the worship, at times, and was scunnered by the whole perpetuation of the clergy/laity split.

I did, however, gain a blessing from the African Gospel Choir, the Belfast Drama Group and all my people who took part from the Summer School. I also loved seeing all my pals... the fellowship made it for me!

If you were there... what did you think of the events?

Oh and I have posted my photos here
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