A Ministry Journey Together
Commissioners Swanson retire
They walked hand in hand through soft sands along a Puerto Rican beach, comfortable companions for life. Dressed in casual slacks and short sleeves, the couple may have looked like tourists. But in fact, they were a pair of branded warriors who, for the past four decades, had traversed 40 countries while wearing the uniform of The Salvation Army like a banner of hope to people in need around the world.
Walking has always been their way of connecting to each other. And now as they approach the end of a storied career as Salvation Army officers, Commissioners Barry and Sue Swanson say they are walking together into a new era. They will retire July 1 and move to Chicago.
Just like that day in Puerto Rico, when they shared a quiet moment after an annual review of the Division, no matter where they are in the world, the Swansons ground themselves with reflective walks and their care for each other.
“As Salvation Army officers, we’re in this together as a couple. That makes us unique because most other denominations don’t deal with that. It’s a tremendous privilege and strength, but it also requires that officer couples understand their personalities well and that they adapt to each other,” Barry says, adding that he and Sue have enjoyed walking through the communities where they’ve served, interacting with people.
Sue notes, “We intentionally walk together. It’s a physical activity. He slows his pace so that we can walk together. Sometimes when we walk, we share our lives in ways that surpass what we’d normally say to each other if I were at home doing the laundry, or if he were at a computer doing his work. Walking is something we decided to do 15 or 20 years ago, and our marriage has greatly benefited from it.”
A ministry and mission for God
Since 2013, Commissioner Barry Swanson has served as territorial commander of the USA Eastern Territory and as the administrative and ecclesiastical leader of The Salvation Army in 12 Northeastern states, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, with headquarters in West Nyack, N.Y. The territory includes 1,600 active and retired officers, 369 corps, and as many as 1,000 other centers of operation. Commissioner Sue Swanson has served as the territorial president of Women’s Ministries.
Their previous appointments have taken them through five divisions in the USA Central Territory; National Headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia; and International Headquarters in London, England. They’ve served as corps officers, as administrators, as well as divisional, territorial, and international leaders (see Their Ministry Journey below).
Because the Swansons have traveled so much during their officership, they’re excited about the prospects of finally enjoying traditional family gatherings. Commissioner Sue says, “We’re looking forward to being in Chicago as a family, rather than as visiting grandparents.”
All four of the Swanson’s children are married, and among them, they have five children. William teaches severely disabled students in the Chicago school system. Joan is a social worker for The Salvation Army in Metropolitan Chicago. Michael is the divisional social services director in the Heartland Division. And Andrea is the administrative assistant to the training College principal in Chicago. The Swansons are honored to love their children, but also to like them. “They are amazing!” says Commissioner Sue.
How the journey began
In the 1950s, when Barry was a shy, 14–year–old Salvationist and bandsman on the Southside of Chicago, his corps officer suddenly asked him to share his faith.
“And after we play this song, Barry will give his testimony,” the corps officer announced. Before that moment, Barry had been acting like a typical teenager, minimally engaged in the meeting. But now he had suddenly been asked to speak in public for the first time in his life. He felt panic at the prospect of actually having to speak in front of people.
Sensing his dilemma, an older gentleman and fellow bass player named Robert Hedgren leaned over and whispered to him, “Just say, ‘I’m glad I’m saved tonight!’”
As a youngster attending salvation meetings, Barry recalls hearing many testimonies from senior saints in the corps who helped shape his own developing faith.
Barry was deeply stirred to realize that the stories of these people, so committed to Christ, could continue to inspire the younger generation. Attending such meetings regularly created for him a healthy environment in which to grow spiritually.
Evangeline Sue Swanson recalls how, as a young girl, she was greatly motivated by spirit–filled people in her life. Her dad, Commissioner Andrew S. Miller Sr., a former USA national commander, had an immeasurable influence on her.
During every morning, “Dad” would wake his daughter by singing creative songs that let her know how much she was loved. Sue remembers many times hearing him preach, which was always a blessing to her. A charismatic leader, he always had family at the core of his life. Sue’s mother and father worked as a team and served as an excellent model for her practical and spiritual life.
Barry meets Sue
In the mid 70s when Barry was an employee of The Salvation Army and Sue was a first–year cadet at the training college, they met while attending a Bible study.
As their relationship grew, Sue realized that God was telling her that a godly man could be in her life and that she didn’t have to settle. And at the same time, God was speaking to Barry’s heart, planting in him a purpose, a vision, and a calling on his life to be an officer in The Salvation Army.
In addition to sharing their faith in Christ, they also shared an eclectic phonograph record collection. Spun on their turntable was everything from LPs to 45s of groups such as Peter, Paul, and Mary; the Pointer Sisters; and even Michael Jackson in his early days.
Sue’s daring, spontaneous, and enthusiastic temperament was matched by Barry’s methodical, thoughtful, and soft–spoken disposition. “We must realize that part of God’s creative genius is giving us different personalities,” he says. “And it allows us to talk to one another about why God has us here.”
Walking by faith
When dark times visited the Swansons, they courageously walked by faith, rather than by sight.
When doctors diagnosed then–Colonel Sue with cancer, rather than shrink from view when the resulting chemotherapy took its toll, she boldly went bald. Ironically, when a dear friend had come down with the same dreaded disease, Sue had declared that, if it were to happen to her, she would be just as brave. And when she faced the challenge herself, Sue maintained the unchanged demeanor that has become her trademark. During that time, a loving and cherished source of encouragement came from Sue’s sister, Martha.
When Barry reflects on how he had been inspired by the testimonies of Salvationists of past generations, he passionately exclaims, “What does my testimony mean to people in 2016?”
He believes that such spiritual truth telling is at the heart of holiness and the mission of The Salvation Army.
“It is a form of generational transmission of what God has done,” he says. “And if we don’t share those testimonies—if none of us share them, or have the opportunity to share them, then where does that leave us? We must tell our faith stories to one another.”
by Warren L. Maye
|THEIR MINISTRY JOURNEY|
|1975||The Swansons marry.|
|1978||Commissioned as lieutenants and serve 12 years in corps in Michigan|
|1990||The Captains Swanson are appointed to Heartland Divisional Headquarters, followed by an appointment to the Duluth, Minn. Corps.|
|1995||Promoted to major and appointed as leaders of the Heartland Division.|
|1999||Received appointments to Central Territorial Headquarters with promotions to lt. colonel|
|2001||Lt. Colonel Sue becomes the territorial candidates secretary.|
|2006||Appointed to National Headquarters (NHQ) in Alexandria, Va. Lt. Colonel Barry serves as national chief secretary, and Lt. Colonel Sue serves as national secretary for Women’s Ministries.|
|2007||Promoted to commissioner and appointed to International Headquarters (IHQ) in London, England, where Commissioner Barry becomes international secretary for the Americas & Caribbean Zone, while Commissioner Sue is appointed as zonal secretary for Women’s Ministries.|
|2008||Return to the United States to assume responsibilities as territorial leaders of the Central Territory. In addition to serving as territorial president of Women’s Ministries, Commissioner Sue is appointed as territorial ambassador for prayer.|
|2010||Return to IHQ, where Commissioner Barry serves as Chief of the Staff (second in command of the worldwide Army and chief administrative officer), and Commissioner Sue serves as the World Secretary for Women’s Ministries and then (under General Linda Bond) serves as World President for Women’s Ministries and World President, SA Scouts, Guides, and Guards.|
|2013||Appointed as territorial leaders of the USA Eastern Territory.|
|2016||Retire from active officership.|
|Commissioner Sue||Commissioner Barry|
|1972||Earns a bachelor’s degree in social work from Asbury College (now Asbury University)||1973||Earns a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Northern Illinois University|
|2000||Attends the International College for Officers (ICO)||1990||Attends ICO|
|2011 and 2013||Commissioner Barry is nominated for General (international leader of The Salvation Army)|