Commissioners Mark & Sharon Tillsley retire

by Warren L. Maye

Peace and love. The words echoed through the elegant College for Officer Training (CFOT) chapel in Suffern, N.Y., as speakers paid tribute to Commissioners Mark and Sharon Tillsley during their “Celebration of Faithful Service.” Sessionmates and family members described how the Tillsleys brought peace and love to life during their 36 years, 6 months, and 18 days of global service as officers in The Salvation Army.

On the evening of Nov. 17, 2023, many officers, both active and retired, sat in the packed chapel. They listened, laughed, and sang songs of praise to God in honor of their retiring friends who had uniquely blessed them through the years.

“We give thanks for the ways in which Mark and Sharon have embodied our Lord and in countless relationships around the world,” said Colonel Janet Munn during her heartfelt opening prayer. “We are grateful and believe we are the better for it.”

Lt. Colonel James LaBossiere, CFOT training principal, reflected on the Tillsleys’ return to the college as instructors when he said, “Their example, their teaching, and their fellowship continues to influence current as well as future officers in The Salvation Army.”

Commissioners Devon and Veronica Haughton, leaders of the Army’s Caribbean Territory, praised the Tillsleys for demonstrating love toward their people, respect for their history and culture, and a commitment to the pursuit of diversity. “The more we thought about it, the more we realized that there is just one word to describe our friends. That word is love,” said Commissioner Veronica. “Agape love.”

As members of the Messengers of Peace (1985-1987) session of cadets, the Tillsleys were also honored by sessionmates Colonels Janet and Richard Munn, and by Major B. Bryan Smith, who offered a special tribute. He identified lovable qualities in the Tillsleys, such as humility, hospitality, generosity, kindness, empathy, humor, inclusivity, and the ability to deliver God’s message of peace.

Canon Dr. Barbara Robinson, sister of Commissioner Mark Tillsley, offered an eloquent and inspiring meditation, based on Jesus’ recognition in John 1:47 of Nathanael as honest and transparent.

Drawing an analogy to Scripture, Dr. Robinson said, “Mark and Sharon were also seen and intimately and utterly known by Jesus.” She said that Sharon’s capacity for kindness and Mark’s propensity for spontaneity and humor formed a memorable pastoral ministry of love.

“We can’t do pastoral ministry without love,” said Robinson. “It’s not just a series of talents that we do with love. Rather, pastoral ministry is love, which we apply to a series of talents. Preaching, teaching, calling, praying, and even church administration is nothing but the persistent application of love for the Church.”

Officially retired

“Yours is a collective legacy of excellence and effectiveness,” said Colonel Richard Munn, who officiated the retirement service. As he spoke, he held in his hands a framed certificate, signed by Commissioner William A. Bamford III, territorial commander, who was also seated in the audience. As the Commissioners Tillsley stood at Munn’s side, the flags of The Salvation Army and the United States of America, held by their sons Michael and Paul Tillsley, served as a dramatic backdrop to the ceremony.

Colonel Munn listed the many ministry appointments of the Tillsleys as “corps officers, divisional youth leaders, training school principals, territorial personnel officers, and executive leaders at International Headquarters, in Canada, and in the Caribbean.” The list of Mark Tillsley’s achievements went on, from session president and Commissioner’s Award recipient to nomination for General at the 2018 High Council. Munn said, “Your character, spiritual presence, profound hospitality, and deep commitment to friendship and care for the outcast and marginalized has everyone believing that you are their special friend.”

In response, Commissioner Sharon thanked her husband for upholding his promise to love her “in sickness and in health.” She also thanked her family and children, Michael, Paul, and Karin, for their support. When Commissioner Mark spoke, his wit and self-deprecating humor evoked unbridled laughter and endeared him to everyone in the room. He expressed genuine appreciation for his wife, calling her “my hero, a truly wonderful person,” and thanks to his children, family, and friends.

“This ministry journey is not finished,” said Commissioner Mark. The son of General Bramwell Tillsley, he declared, “With the Lord’s help, I’ll continue to teach, and preach, and Sharon will continue to encourage and minister. Thank you for celebrating with us today.”