JAC Online

The Six Great Moments Of The Day
by Olivia Munn-Shirsath and Nealson Munn

Presented at the retirement ceremony of Colonels Janet and Richard Munn,

April 22nd, 2022

 

Nealson’s remarks:

 

If you know my family — and if you’re here today that’s probably a safe assumption — you’ll know we love lists. “The List Anointing,” it has been called. (It must have been called that by one of us at some point.)

 

My dad’s affinity for lists once proved valuable when he was the Divisional Commander in Northern New England. Someone in a leadership meeting unexpectedly asked him to outline his vision for The Salvation Army in the region. I don’t actually know what he said, but I know that he outlined — extemporaneously and completely off the cuff — a seven-fold vision for the Northern New England division that was cited as a set of foundational, guiding organizational principles for years to come. I’m sure it was a great list. But, just know that the next time you hear a multi-pronged vision for the future of the Army communicated by someone at headquarters, there is a non-zero chance it was improvised on the spot.

 

Possibly the most famous of my dad’s lists within our family is “the six great moments of the day.” Stepping into a hot shower. Arriving at the office and greeting esteemed colleagues. Sharing an evening meal with the family. They were all great moments — although, I know my teenage self once called you a “voluptuary” based on the fact that some of the moments were more sensory pleasures like “enjoying that first sip of coffee” than moments of elevated spiritual import like “leading someone to Christ.”

 

Well, if my dad can have six great moments in a single day, imagine how many great moments the two of you have experienced in 35 years of officership. Some were triumphant, some were difficult, and some were humorous. Livi and I wanted to reflect on a few of the “great moments” that have captured the heart and the impact of our parents’ ministry together.

 

“Go to church!”

 

My parents’ first corps appointment was Camden, New Jersey in the late 1980s, at the time a community struggling with industrial decline and high levels of violent crime. I’ll sometimes hear my friends who are corps officers now talk about “doing pick-ups,” driving from house to house in a 12-passenger van, picking up kids to take them to the corps. My mother was doing pick-ups one Sunday in Camden, with me as a three year-old in my car seat. She entered one house to find the aftermath of a wild party the night before, with adults lying drunk, stoned, and unconcsious on the floor, and dazed, unsupervised children saying they wouldn’t be able to come to the corps that day. When my mom returned to the van, alone, she was crying. I asked why, and she explained that the kids wouldn’t be able to come to the corps with us. With the innocence (and ingenuity) of a toddler, I suggested: “We should put up a big sign that says GO TO CHURCH!”

 

We’ve told this story a few times within our family, usually highlighting my childlike innocence and optimism. (Although I defy you to come up with a better church growth strategy.) But what strikes me in reflecting on this bittersweet scene is the innocence, the commitment, and the sincerity of heart you had in that moment — you were a young woman, still in your twenties, far from your home turf of Danvers, Massachusetts, driving around a rough neighborhood to bring kids from broken homes to church at The Salvation Army. For so many of the amazing things you’ve done since — the leadership roles, the international appointments, the highly visible platforms for teaching, preaching, and the performing arts— the spirit behind it all starts there, in that humble moment, driving from door to door to say to someone in a difficult situation: “I’m here for you. I’m welcoming you into this community. You have a home here.” Go to church.

 

“Let the Walls Come Down” and “Lord of the City”

 

We have Bill Rollins in the house today. Did you think we were going to let this retirement ceremony slip by without making a Lord of the City reference? Are you crazy? These days, I tend to think of my mom and dad as specialists in areas like leadership development, education, ethics, and social justice. But, I would argue you’ve always been artists and creatives at heart. Within a year or two of the Berlin Wall coming down, my mom as a young DYS staged a Pink Floyd-esque destruction of a literal brick wall set to Steve Green’s song “Let the Walls Come Down.” Meanwhile my dad and Bill — in a bold challenge to Gowans and Larsson’s cultural supremacy in the domain of Salvationist musical-writing duos — composed a musical about finding God in the context of a tough, chaotic city in decline. Nowadays you won’t find my mom leading a sacred dance troupe pushing over styrofoam bricks, and it’s been a while since my dad wrote a rap verse for Bill to set to music (which, actually … we need to get back to that). But the basic themes you explored through those pioneering artistic projects are still there: racial reconciliation, bridging cultural divides, healing and renewal in a context of urban decay. If you’ve followed my mom and dad’s work at the ISJC over the last couple of years, it all sounds awfully familiar! I seriously feel like we might need a “Let the Walls Come Down 2.0” … and let’s just say I would absolutely watch an Off-Broadway revival of Lord of the City.

 

“I quit” : Dad’s youth ministry chapter unceremoniously draws to a close

 

Sometimes people discover their vocation through a sudden, blinding epiphany — think Saul on road to Damascus. Sometimes, with equal suddenness and certainty, they discover that it’s time for their vocation, or one aspect of their vocation, to end. My dad had such a moment as a Corps Officer in Manchester, Connecticut in the mid-1990s. After a brilliant and fulfilling career in youth ministry that began long before he became an officer, as a counselor at Camp Wonderland in 1976, it was the young men of the Boys’ Adventure Corps at Manchester Citadel that finally broke him. (And by “young men” I mean basically nine year-olds.) While chaperoning a lock-in / slumber-party at the corps — by this time a Captain, an M.Div., a father of two, and a respected pillar of the community— my dad had one too many of his admonishments to stop talking go ignored, one too many vows of fearsome reprisals be met with giggling and fart sounds, and something in his spirit broke, or was perhaps set free. I’ve heard you describe the sense of peace that settled on you as you felt the Lord releasing you from your calling to youth ministry, and you lay there in the darkness of the Manchester Corps gym reflecting, with relief and acceptance: “I quit.” You handed over the leadership of the Adventure Corps to two young adults from the congregation, who promptly turned it into an indoor dodgeball league. Attendance tripled. I think perhaps the lesson here is that sometimes God calls us to something just for a season. And also that sometimes an important part of leadership is, in the words of John Gowans, to “loose them … Let ’em go.”

 

Olivia’s remarks:

 

I was in the womb at my parents’ commissioning and ordination in June 1987. I’ve grown up quite literally alongside their ministry, strapped on as an infant, stealing epaulets as a toddler, relishing in Sunbeams, sacred dance, brass band (yes, brass band…) and homeleague (yes, homeleague… which I was distressed to miss once my half-day kindergarten switched from afternoons to mornings, and declared, “What will ‘the girls’ do without me?!”). As a teenager and young adult I came of age as my parents’ ministry and leadership was also in a sense coming into maturity. I watched with curiosity as mom and dad discovered even more specificity in their sense of calling from the Lord.

 

“Don’t forget us. Please, don’t forget us.”

 

During my adolescence in Maine my mother developed a laser-like focus on the souls of the officers under their care. She’s been a fiery preacher for many years, shy as she may have felt, but this platform ministry almost pales in comparison to her mother-like care for “the one.” She began small groups for officers across the division, and the non-ironically named “Fullness” prayer and fasting retreats (at which, by the way, I consumed literally 17 hot chocolates and vomited). Then she launched “Army on Its Knees,” leading the territory in a year of nonstop prayer, and subsequently the whole world into a year of nonstop prayer while at the ICO. At this point my mother’s ministry was known as “spiritual formation,” and that is accurate.

 

But the fourth moment that I want to tell was actually a turning point. At the end of an eight week ICO session, one female officer from India and one female officer from Pakistan approached my mother to say goodbye. They had developed a sense of trust and love by this point in time, and the women wanted to say something to her before they left. They simply said: “Don’t forget us; please, don’t forget us,” and mom knew exactly what they meant. They were referring to the oppression they faced at home, simply due to their gender. This moment grabbed my mom’s heart, and as a result she shifted her doctoral studies focus from spiritual formation to leadership. She wrote her thesis on the use and abuse of power, specifically in regards to gender in the Salvation Army. She has continued to advocate for women and people of color in every appointment since, many times at great personal cost. This moment at the ICO is evidence of mom’s keen ear: she’s quick to listen to people, and to the Holy Spirit. And the result is real Kingdom liberation and strengthening.

 

The Elder

 

My childhood memories of my father’s officership are a strange mix: sometimes he was sitting at a huge desk (in an office with fun historical figurines and a full mini brass band!) meticulously calculating the weekly corps finances in a big black book. Other times he was hamming it up on stage at youth events, which earned him the affectionate title “the peanut butter man!” from one youngster, unaware that it was the DC he was speaking to. And still other times he was preaching up a storm and “fishing” during altar calls — with discernment and power.

 

As my father’s ministry refined over the years, he continued to show his theological chops, and that which the training college defined as “programmatic gifting.” His excellence in study and his clever use of words led to the creation of memorable and poignant territorial events such as the Kaleidoscope Congress, the Moral and Social Issues Symposium, and Nealson’s all time favorite Camp Meetings: 2007. All five living Generals on one stage!

 

These are not the moments that I esteem the most valuable. As his former corps officer, I most appreciated his faithfulness as the adult Sunday School teacher at the Times Square Corps. From my perspective, he brought the same caliber of research, intelligence, pastoral thoughtfulness, and preparation to this as to a congress. Rather than five generals, the class included five types: Glory Shop students, young professionals, ARC beneficiaries, Hell’s Kitchen locals, and often a few Salvationist-tourists. Starting on time with an endearing: “Alright gang, 45 minutes — is that the social contract?”, my dad was able to ensure that this diverse group of learners each felt both included and challenged. Somehow, all of us together, illuminated by the Spirit of Christ in our midst … a true “kaleidoscope” effect. If you’ve been to a Salvation Army Sunday School class before, you know the scene.

 

And the fifth moment is simply this: One Thanksgiving Sunday, in true Salvationist form, dad donned an apron over his uniform shirt and carved the turkey for the corps, because he was the only person present who knew how. This earned him the nickname “the elder” at this youthful corps, a sign of his growth since his “peanut butter man” days. He is a true elder, in the most biblical sense, worthy of double honor for being a man of integrity, sound doctrine, and love.

 

In closing

 

And that’s really what has marked both mom and dad over 35 years of officership: Love.

Nealson and I have often noted that the same qualities that made them excellent corps officers is what also made them excellent international leaders. It’s their love, which, after all talent and gifting is long gone — is the more excellent way.

 

 

  

 

 

   

 

 

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