Passing the Torch – part 1
As is the way of things with the Salvation Army, the Spiritual Life Development Department will be parting ways with our current leader in a few short weeks. Colonel Janice Howard (Assistant Chief Secretary & Secretary for Spiritual Life Development, USA Eastern) has received marching orders. She’s not to march too far, as it turns out… we’ll still see her at lunch, but she is marching nonetheless. She will take over as the Communications Secretary and coming into the Spiritual Life Development Department will be Lt. Colonel Pat Labossiere.
We wanted to take an opportunity to hear from Colonel Howard about her time with SLD, how the spiritual disciplines have impacted her life and how she has seen God’s faithfulness through her time here.
SLD: After 3 years, you’re leaving SLD. In your time in the Spiritual Life Development Department, how have you seen God work in the Territory through Spiritual Life Development?
JH: “The department was already established on a strong foundation – an emphasis on prayer. With those roots, we’ve grown in the time since, including the name change of the department to the Spiritual Life Development. We branched out to intentionally include other spiritual disciplines and this continues to be our emphasis. The department members are constantly searching for new ways to engage people in their own spiritual formation – “…train yourselves to be godly.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
“It is exciting and energizing to be a part of this intentional spiritual growth within this territory. The practice of spiritual disciplines is continuing to gather momentum; there is an online presence of the SLD Department through SAConnects.org, Facebook, and Pinterest; reflective retreats are becoming familiar and desirable; the request for written devotional material for youth and young adults is on the increase; Wholly Living, a two-page spiritual formation section, is printed within the SAConnects magazine; there is an increase number of officers and soldiers who are interested in attending the Holiness Institute (soldiers) and the Holiness Symposium (officers), Command Secretaries for Spiritual Life Development are now established in each command, the department is partnering with other departments and commands to create resource material; and Cultivate and Cultivate-Young Adults have been established as online spiritual formation courses.”
SLD: How have the Spiritual Life of the territory and the Spiritual Life Development Department changed during that time?
As awareness of the need for spiritual formation increased, so did the SLD Department, and it continues to do so. Staff has been added so that the requests of people can be met. I’m telling you, it is exciting to be part of this department. When you hear the testimonies from the folks who are engaged with the different Cultivate courses, it gives reason to continue with these year-long courses. When people are removing the spiritual formation material from the THQ bathrooms, you know that folks are interested in the development of their souls. When FaceBook posts are being shared, you realize that there is a connection. When the attendees from the Holiness events are making life changes, you know that their relationship with the Lord is deepening. Hallelujah! This is great change!
SLD: Tell us a little about your experiences with spiritual formation. Tell us how you were introduced to practicing the spiritual disciplines.
The disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, and Bible study were early practices in my life. Over time, prayer became routine and boring; it became simply a task to be checked off a list each day. At some point I began to discover different prayer methods and my prayer life came to life. When I served with Colonel Janet Munn, she helped me to discover the benefits of fasting and small groups. Then through reading books and practice, along with engagement in a formal educational program, I discovered more and more disciplines. These disciplines opened up an exciting and deeper relationship with the Lord. The disciplines or practices keep my spiritual life exciting and growing.
SLD: What have been your favorite, and/or the most impactful disciplines that you’ve experienced?
Lectio divina and journaling scripture (a form of written engagement with the Word, which leads to a point of transformation and prayer) are the disciplines, which have my full attention. The Word is alive!
SLD: In a general sense, how has your own spiritual formation contributed to life as you know it? As a Christ-follower? As a leader in the church? As a wife and mother?
I am not the same person I was 30 years ago or even last year. This growth is played out in my everyday life. If not, then there is not real growth or transformation. What comes out of my mouth is different. How I view and value people is more Christlike. The way I spend my time, interact with others, and read the Word are all more intentional. I pray that my relationship with my family, friends, and co-workers all reflect a changed life.
SLD: Looking back at your career up to this point, what are some of the most influential spiritual formation moments? Can you pinpoint specific points along your journey of transformation that you would consider pivotal?
It began approximately 25 years ago in the Northern New England Division. From my own need and seeing the need of some of the officers in that division, I began to formulate a spiritual formation program, which was book based. Prior to inviting some of the women to form this group, the divisional leadership changed and we began officer small groups. These small groups filled the need and so I put my idea on hold. It was good. The community concept of small groups is needed in spiritual formation. Later I was transferred to a staff position at the International College for Officers (ICO) where I discovered that officers from around the world struggled with the same deficit – time with the Lord. I began to wonder how growth could be facilitated in this area. So when we were appointed to the Kenya East Territory, I invested in some of the officers by inviting them to engage in a year-long course where we concentrated on various spiritual disciplines. They were able to take much of this material to their local setting and invest in soldiers. It was during that time in Kenya that I enrolled in Spring Arbor University for a spiritual formation program. Through that program I experienced further transformation in my own life and discovered an online vehicle for territory-wide spiritual transformation from the comforts of the own home. Fast forward a couple of years and at THQ I was able to team up with Major Lauren Hodgson, who also had similar ideas. This led to the birth of Cultivate and eventually with Chris Stoker came the birth of Cultivate-Young Adult. We are not finished yet, soon there will be Cultivate in Spanish!
SLD: How do you think your time in the Spiritual Life Development Department will affect life beyond SLD? What legacy do you take away from this appointment?
I leave the department knowing that territorial leadership and department members are fully invested in their own spiritual formation and in the spiritual formation of others. This is extremely exciting and comforting! I leave the department knowing that there are soldiers and officers who take spiritual formation seriously and are doing something about it. I leave this department with much love for those with whom I have been working, with a grateful heart for their investment in me and in each other, with confidence in the future for this territory that the emphasis of this department will continue to facilitate growth in the soldiers and officers around the territory. I am a better person in Christ for having served in this appointment.
We are grateful to Colonel Howard for her leadership over these years and our prayers are promised for her and for those who have the privilege to work and serve the Lord with her in this new appointment and beyond.
We look ahead to the next chapter for the Spiritual Life Development Department and all that God still has in store for each of us, for the Eastern Territory and for The Salvation Army. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Passing the Torch where we get to know Lt. Colonel Pat Labossiere a bit better.