13 June 2023

Retired General Shaw Clifton promoted to Glory

A photo of General Shaw Clifton

General Shaw Clifton (Retired), The Salvation Army’s 18th beloved international leader, was promoted to Glory on Monday 29 May.

The son of officer-parents, Shaw Clifton was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 21 September 1945. His childhood years were spent in various parts of the UK as his parents were faithful to the Army’s appointment system. He later studied law at King’s College, University of London, gaining a bachelor of law (honours) degree. Together with his wife, Helen, whom he met at the age of 12 in his home corps of Edmonton, he entered the International Training College as a cadet in the Blood and Fire Session and was commissioned a Salvation Army officer on 5 July 1973.

His first appointment as a corps officer was at Burnt Oak, where he served for just a few months before being appointed to International Headquarters where he undertook further studies, achieving a first-class honours bachelor of divinity degree. He was also awarded the King’s College, London Relton prize for biblical and historical studies.

In July 1974, remaining at IHQ, Lieutenant Clifton was appointed to the Literary Department, where he served for six months before receiving his first overseas appointment, to Mazowe Secondary School, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He remained there until May 1977, becoming its vice-principal in November 1975.

May 1977 saw a move to corps officership at Bulawayo Citadel, where he received the rank of captain in July of that year.

In January 1979, Captains Shaw and Helen returned to the United Kingdom and to corps leadership at Enfield, where they served until May 1982.

A return to International Headquarters followed, with Captain Shaw Clifton’s appointment as legal and parliamentary secretary, which he held for the next seven years, receiving the rank of major in May 1989. While in this appointment he gained a PhD degree in the history of religion, again from the University of London. His thesis would eventually lead to the 2015 book Crown of Glory, Crown of Thorns: The Salvation Army in Wartime.

A return to corps officership, this time to Bromley Temple, was undertaken from June 1989 until May 1992, before Major Shaw received his appointment as divisional commander, Durham and Tees Division (now incorporated into the North East England Division).

Further divisional leadership followed, but this time in Massachusetts, USA Eastern Territory, where the now Lieut-Colonel Clifton served for two years before a further overseas appointment took him to the Pakistan Territory and the role of territorial commander, with the rank of colonel. He served there for almost five years, receiving the rank of commissioner on 30 March 2000.

Two further appointments as territorial commander followed, firstly in the New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa Territory, from March 2002 until June 2004, and then in the United Kingdom and Ireland Territory until his election as the 18th General of The Salvation Army, which responsibility commenced on 2 April 2006. He served in this capacity until his retirement from active officership service on 1 April 2011.

During his term as General, Shaw Clifton led the international Salvation Army through a significant period of growth, with ministry commencing in 13 countries. His passion for social justice led to the creation of the International Social Justice Commission. He advocated constantly for women in spiritual leadership, refusing to consider new divisional commander, training principal or Territorial Cabinet appointments unless women were put forward in equal measure to men. High Council membership was enlarged to ensure the just representation of women officers.

Shortly after his retirement, on 14 June 2011, General Shaw Clifton faced considerable personal loss with the promotion to Glory of Commissioner Helen Clifton, who battled cancer for a short but devastating period. They had shared married life and ministry for almost 44 years. Recalling their mere 10 weeks in retirement together in his autobiographical essays Something Better…, he writes, ‘Now I would devote myself round the clock to caring for Helen until the Lord took her home to Heaven… Caring for her and tending to her needs was a privilege even more sacred, more eternally significant than being the General.’ It is fitting that the personally crafted mercy seat in the meeting room at IHQ stands as a permanent physical memorial to Helen.

In September 2013, General Clifton married Commissioner (Ellen) Birgitte Brekke, to whom he pays written tribute in the introduction to Something Better…. He writes, ‘Commissioner Birgitte Brekke … has been a ready source of affectionate affirmation. Her patient interest in the project has done much to revive a measure of self-confidence and a sense of motivation.’

In those same essays, echoed in other written insights on marriage and family life, General Clifton expresses his love and admiration for his children and children-in-law, and devoted prayerful interest in his eight precious grandchildren.

In addition to his undoubtedly strong leadership qualities, General Clifton will be remembered for his clear, sharp mind, undergirded by a pastoral spirit of sensitivity and compassion, which was appreciated and valued by those who knew him. He was also a man of considerable literary skill, and a prolific writer. Among many others, his literary publications include Strong Doctrine, Strong Mercy, Growing Together (with Helen Clifton) and Something Better…, the latter being a series of autobiographical essays which ‘reveal much of his own heart and mind, as well as much about the Army that was raised up by God.’

Who Are These Salvationists? and New Love reveal holiness teaching in the tradition of Samuel Logan Brengle as the true heart of General Clifton’s spiritual life and Salvationism. A major 30-month project in retirement was Volume Nine of The History of The Salvation Army. He continued writing until his final days, producing a nine-volume series of Twenty Talks…, the last two of which await publication. His commissioning of a new Handbook of Doctrine and Song Book of The Salvation Army arose from deep convictions about the crucial place of both in Salvation Army life.

During his officership, General Clifton served on the Salvation Army’s Doctrine Council and International Spiritual Life Commission. He was a founding member of the UKI Territory’s Moral and Social Issues Council and visiting lecturer at the International College for Officers from 1979 until well into retirement, lecturing also at William Booth College.

In giving thanks to God for the life and service of General Shaw Clifton, we offer our sincere condolences and the assurance of our prayers to his wife Commissioner Birgitte Brekke-Clifton and to his children, Matthew, Jennifer and John, and their families. The legacy of his life and ministry will remain with many people in each place in which he served, both in the UK and around the world.

Written by

A photo of Lyndon Buckingham.

Commissioner Lyndon Buckingham

Chief of the Staff

Report on thanksgiving service

On Friday 23 June, Salvationists and friends gathered in the Assembly Hall at William Booth College, London, to celebrate and give thanks for the life and ministry of Retired General Shaw Clifton.

Thanksgiving for General Clifton

Discover more

In an extract from Holiness Ablaze! General Shaw Clifton (Retired) encourages us to use the power the Lord offers us.

Major Malcolm Martin reviews Holiness Ablaze! by General Shaw Clifton (Retired).

Major Mal Davies reviews Sacred Risk by General Shaw Clifton (Retired).

Let's pray as our international leadership elects the next General of The Salvation Army.

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