Sydney Congress Hall celebrates 140 years of service
Sydney Congress Hall Corps, located in the heart of Australia’s largest city, was filled with thanksgiving over the weekend of 3-4 December 2022. The occasion was the 140th anniversary of the corps reaching out to Sydneysiders with God’s love and transforming power.
On the first weekend of December 1882, Salvationists who had arrived in Sydney brought their faith and gospel music to the city streets for the first time, down in the Paddy’s Market precinct. The following morning, they held their first indoor meeting in the Protestant Hall up on Castlereagh Street.
The anniversary event celebrated the many thousands of people whose lives and circumstances have been transformed since then. The focus was on Jesus Christ and the corps’ development over the years as a dynamic community of faith – ‘In the heart of the City with the City at Heart’ as their current catchcry says.
In his introduction to the weekend, Corps Officer Major Peter McGuigan stated, “Today, we celebrate a remarkable record. We particularly celebrate our great God who is behind it all and the opportunity over all these years that has been ours to serve both God and humanity.”
Guest Leaders for the weekend were Majors David and Michele Terracini. The Terracinis left Sydney Congress Hall in 1988 to train as Salvation Army officers and have since given faithful service through appointments in NSW, ACT and Queensland.
The Saturday afternoon Thanksgiving Celebration comprised three sections – ‘Giving thanks for the Past’, ‘Giving thanks for the Present’ and ‘Giving thanks for the Future’. Punctuating all three was inspiring music from Sydney Congress Hall Band and Friends – a ministry of the corps involving regular corps players and musician friends from around Greater Sydney. Led by former Sydney Congress Hall bandmaster Ron Prussing, the group opened the event with a stellar rendition of the fanfare ‘Ein’ Fest Burg’ and later presented the powerful selections ‘Symphony of Thanksgiving’ and ‘My Comfort and Strength’.
An ‘alumni’ songster brigade led by former corps songster leader Ian Percy brought the upbeat ‘I Dare to be Different’ and the moving devotional song ‘By His Hand’. In addition, Sydney Congress Hall timbrel brigade brought much applause as they presented an energetic display titled ‘The Pioneers’, played by the band.
Highlights of the celebration event included the Sydney Congress Hall young adults’ retelling of the corps’ beginnings, a recognition of past corps officers, vibrant worship led by the corps ensemble, an ‘Ask Alan’ segment exploring the history of the corps with Order of the Founder recipient Envoy Alan Staines (now 90), and an interview with Danny Salsbury, the corps’ Community Outreach Coordinator.
Responding to a variety of questions posed by Corps Council member Martín Machado, Danny explained what happens through the Corps Outreach Ministry and the passion behind it. “I love what I do,” he said, “and I love my team of volunteers. We’ve got such a great team who live out what it really means to bring hope to the city. We go out into the streets on Monday, Tuesday and Friday nights, and we open our doors on Wednesday nights for Hope Dinner, when at least 60 people will enjoy a hot meal and dessert, fellowship around the tables and a devotional message that speaks into their spiritual lives.”
Addressing the future, Major David Terracini reminded the gathering of the question in Micah 6:8: “And what does the Lord require of you?” He then pointed to the answers: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
“To walk humbly with God ... now that’s counter-cultural,” he challenged. “To be just and kind is one thing, but to walk humbly with God? We naturally want to please ourselves ... to seek after what’s comfortable or convenient ...
“When Jesus Christ touches your life by his Holy Spirit, you become clean! The light of Jesus dispels the darkness from your life. You become a new creation! The old has gone. You join God’s family with new values and identity. And what does the Lord require of you then? What does the Lord require of us as a community of faith? What does the Lord require of The Salvation Army today? To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Following prayer, the ensemble and band combined to lead the congregation in the singing of ‘Soldier’s Hymn’ in an inspired finale before all enjoyed a grand afternoon tea. Throughout the weekend, a memorabilia display added great interest, showcasing the faithfulness of God through his people from 1882 to today.
New Soldiers and Adherents
On Sunday morning, more than 200 gathered for worship, led by the Terracinis. From the opening welcome, call to worship and lighting of the advent candle to the final song, the presence of God was palpable, and people were deeply moved by what transpired in the meeting.
Following a message of encouragement from the Territorial Leaders, Commissioners Janine and Robert Donaldson, the Sydney Congress Hall ensemble led the songs ‘Stand Up’ and ‘Goodness of God’. Scripture readings were brought by corps members Linda Wells and Sherrie Cocking. Special music contributions by an alumni songster group with ‘Lord, You Know That We Love You’ and an alumni band with ‘Lord Make Calvary Real To Me’ added meaningful moments.
A highlight of the meeting was the enrolment of two new senior soldiers – Jazmin O’Brien and Chloe Spence, and the acceptance of two new adherents – Julie Harrison and Nicholas Mansbridge. All had completed a course on exploring soldiership and adherency. The four marched in behind The Salvation Army flag to the band’s rousing rendition of ‘Soldiers of Christ’. Major Peter McGuigan challenged them to put on the armour of God as read in Ephesians 6:10-18 and to make it a daily priority. “These are the weapons of your warfare. We are fighting a spiritual battle,” he said.
In moving scenes, family and friends gathered around them as they knelt at the Mercy Seat to pray and sign their soldier’s covenants and adherent’s certificates. Upon returning to the stage, their commitment was met with prolonged applause. Following a dedicatory prayer, each of them brought powerful testimony about their journey to this point in their lives and the difference Jesus Christ has made.
“As a soldier dedicates their entire life to their army – living, breathing, and dying for it – I want everyone to know that I am willing to give everything that I am to the work of The Salvation Army – to save souls, grow saints and serve suffering humanity,” said Jazmin. “I will wear this uniform proudly, and each time I put it on, not only will it be a physical symbol and reminder of the promises and commitments I have made with God today, but also a reminder of all he has done for me throughout my life.”
“I grew up with spiritual and religious values,” said Julie. “But later on, addiction took hold of my life and almost destroyed me. It was only while in recovery at William Booth House that I came back to loving God. I love The Salvation Army. I love Sydney Congress Hall, and I love standing behind the Red Shield. God is in the shield.”
“I come to this church each week now,” said Nicholas, “not just to see my friends and play in the band, but because I appreciate what God has done for us and want to praise God for it. I come to this church because I feel that it is essential for me to grow and learn more about our Saviour so that I can become an example to other people in my life and be able to spread his Gospel. Today, I am proud to say I am a part of this group of people – the people of Sydney Congress Hall.”
Chloe said, “About two months ago, I went to a camp called Equip. In that week, God broke me down only to build me back up again so that I was able to go out and do his mission. Last week, I went to a thing called Red Frogs, where I looked after Schoolies for a week on the Gold Coast, making them pancakes, cleaning their rooms and helping them when they weren’t well.
“It was a great God-filled week surrounded by Christians from all different denominations. However, I felt God saying to me that I needed to become a soldier before I did any more of his work, to stay accountable and make a public commitment that I will always follow God.”
Hope to the hopeless
In an inspired Bible message, Major Michele Terracini drew attention to the fact that Jesus came to bring hope into the world’s dark places, hope to the hopeless. “Advent 2022 reminds us that hope is all we have between spiritual death and eternal life, between defeat and deliverance, between just coping/despairing with the challenges of life and living with joy and freedom,” she said. “The hope is found in our Messiah, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
“I can see this is what you stand for at Sydney Congress Hall,” she continued, “when you wear the Hope t-shirts and go on street outreach and invite people in for the Hope Dinner.”
Meaningful decisions to follow Jesus more intently followed her message, and the meeting concluded with the crowd singing the great Charles Wesley song ‘And Can It Be’ in full voice, accompanied by the band and ensemble.
It was a powerful weekend bringing spiritual renewal, renewed hope for the future, and renewed and new friendships.
* Report compiled by Major Peter McGuigan