11 May 2024

Age gap: A conversation about officership

A graphic shows photos of Chris Pears and Patsy Attwood.

Lieutenant Patsy Attwood (Sudbury) and Major Chris Pears exchange their experiences of officership, calling and joyful obedience.

How were you called to officership?

Chris I was a nurse and married with two children. When I married Rik, he wasn’t a Christian. When I made a commitment to Christ, and started praying for Rik, he had a bit of a Damascus Road experience! Everybody’s calling is different, but for me it was this general awareness that, although I was happy in nursing as a way to serve God, it was not what God wanted. And then Rik started feeling God calling him too.

Patsy I’ve known for many years I was supposed to work for the Church. There was a very clear sense of that. I grew up in the Army at a corps with not many young people, so I went to a local Anglican church and led Sunday school, with my parents and sister still at the Army. When I was doing my A-levels, one night I had this picture in my head of me in front of a Salvation Army building. I was in uniform and I knew I was in charge. My mum said: ‘Maybe God’s calling you to be an officer.’

The summer before I went to university, the new corps officer was installed and they were the area candidates officer. A little while later, she told me: ‘When you left the hall, a voice said: “And she will be an officer.”’ So I started pushing that door. There’s a video the Candidates Unit put out several years ago that ended with: ‘Why not you? Why not now?’ Every time I thought I wasn’t sure, that video followed me around! At the end of my degree, I could think of nothing else. I went to an online assessment conference in May 2021 and moved to William Booth College in September.

Chris You often hear people say ‘God called me and I had to do it’ with a sort of heaviness, but that joyful obedience is so important. I wanted to be obedient to God. I wanted to be joyful about that. You sound like you knew for years that this was what you’re meant to do, which is lovely.

Patsy Oh, yes! And I have never seen it as any sort of heavy sacrifice. I think about what I have gained from this. I was coming up to the assessment conference and I thought, ‘Even if this isn’t right, I’ve learnt so much about myself and about God.’ I wouldn’t have thought, ‘I’ve wasted 18 months of my life.’

Chris I love that. I think it’s important to say, ‘God, this is for you and this is what you want.’ But it’s not a heavy sacrifice – 40 years on, I’ve never felt that. I am so grateful to God for the privilege of ministry as an officer.

Patsy I remember signing the Officers Covenant. I knelt at the mercy seat and said: ‘One last time, God. Are you sure?’ He said yes.

Can you remember what it was like starting your first appointment?

Chris We went to Newton Abbot and were blessed with lovely local leaders who knew more than we did! While not new to leadership roles, officer-ministry was a new kind of work. They encouraged, taught and prayerfully supported us in our ministry.

Patsy I love the people at Sudbury dearly. They’re a lovely congregation. There is a full sense of welcome and a wonderful atmosphere of unity. On my installation Sunday, I did the sermon, I looked out and I thought, ‘I belong here.’

What’s surprised you in your time as an officer?

Patsy How different every single day is! The things I have done! We were helping sort out someone’s flat and I was cleaning a bathroom and I thought to myself, ‘This is interesting! Just breathe out through your mouth!’ The other surprise I learnt early on being involved in the Army is the level of trust people place in you when you have a red shield on your T-shirt or something. I pray that I never take that for granted.

Chris That is so true! And we don’t want to ever disappoint them, because we are human and we can, can’t we?

Chris There are so many surprising things I’ve done over the years! There was an ITV comedy about the Army, Hallelujah!, starring Thora Hird in the 1980s. I would watch that and think, ‘That’s not half as funny as my life!’ But I’ve also had things like being called to a hospital to speak to a mother who used to go to a Sunday school and whose baby had died. There are such extremes in our ministry and you can’t do it in your own strength – only by God’s grace. And God’s grace is sufficient. I also know how blessed I am to have someone at home I can offload everything to if I’ve had a difficult day. How is that for you as a single officer?

Patsy It can be hard, but that’s when I’m grateful for my parents. My mum is a territorial envoy, so she’s done quite a lot of these things. I’m not far from them, so that’s a real blessing.

Who has inspired you in your faith and ministry?

Chris My mum. She was a Methodist and her faith was amazing. My dad died when I was 13 and, when Rik and I responded to our calling, I had to tell her. I feel she made a sacrifice and happily let us go. I also think of General John Gowans and Commissioner Harry Read, two great leaders. As the territorial candidates secretary, Rik worked under John Gowan’s leadership. We both found him inspirational in so many ways. And Harry was brilliant. We recall at officers councils being given permission to fail, as long as we tried. He and his wife, Win, were prayerfully supportive of us and our children, even into their retirement. Also, so many people in our corps over the years, whose faith was incredible and who would be there for me. I thank God for them.

Patsy There are so many people I could list! I’m a big believer in seasons, that there’s a season for everything. For example, I’m in this season of being a single officer. All my life, at different points, there have been different people there. The chaplains at the University of Chester were wonderful. My summer placement officers at Bedford Congress Hall were wonderful – the prayer support I’ve had from them is amazing. The wonderful officers at the college as well. It’s always been the right people at the right time, showing me different ways of officership and ministry.

Is there a particular spiritual gift you have in your ministry?

Patsy God’s given me a gift for teaching and I don’t mind saying that. I’ve got such a passion for leading corporate worship and encouraging people to think about Scripture. I love doing a Sunday meeting. I write down my sermon and choose the songs, but everything else I see how God’s moving and how everything fits together.

Chris I love that you speak about teaching as your gift! It’s so important to know your gifts and help people be empowered to use theirs. When I became aware of mine, I found it very liberating. So I’m not a preacher. I will teach, and do it to the best of my ability – it’s part of my ministry – but I’m a pastor. I care, I love. I’ve also learnt I can work with others whose gifts are not mine – in the body of Christ, we want all the gifts working together.

How have you seen the Army change in your lifetime?

Chris Massively. And I’m glad. Not because it was bad, but because we have to be open to being Spirit-led. There’s that song: ‘To serve the present age,/ My calling to fulfil’ (SASB 946). I pray for our leaders in these times, as culture has changed so much. As long as our mission doesn’t change – the Army has to stay doing what it’s called to do.

Patsy I agree! How things are now is different from how they were, but if we’ve done our best serving God and are open to the Spirit, that’s what matters. At the beginning of my officership, I am excited to see what will happen. God is not finished with The Salvation Army! All we’re asked to do is participate in God’s mission. When we realise that, the glory goes back to God.

Chris What will the Army look like in 50 years? I haven’t got a clue. And you know what? That’s exciting! We’ve got people like you, Patsy, and I’m very inspired by you. You’ve got years ahead of you and, by the grace of God, you can do it!

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