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How a High Council works – Part 1

By General John Larsson

Precisely four months before the date of a General’s retirement from office, the Chief of the Staff summons all active commissioners (except the spouse of the General) and all territorial commanders to a High Council for the purpose of electing the next General. The date on which the High Council is to convene is usually around seven weeks later. The meetings are traditionally held at Sunbury Court, near London. On 1 December 2005 the summons went out electronically to 102 leaders.

The High Council is often preceded by a short conference over which the General presides. This is in effect a full meeting of the General’s Consultative Council, for the membership of the two councils is identical, except for the fact that the General and spouse are not members of the High Council. At the close of the Consultative Council they withdraw from Sunbury and do not return until the next General has been elected.

The High Council Chambers at Sunbury Court, where High Council 2006 will be convened


The Chief of the Staff, as convenor of the High Council, presides over the opening stages of the council and arranges for the council to elect a President and a Vice-President. When that has been accomplished, the Chief of the Staff takes his place as a member of the council.

Under the leadership of the President, the High Council begins its deliberations. The working of a High Council is governed by Schedule 4 of the Salvation Army Act 1980 (as amended). But within that framework High Councils can determine their own procedures. High Councils usually base their procedures on the experience of previous councils, and past procedures are therefore reviewed, amended as necessary, and then adopted. The tellers and the members of the questions committee, which is charged with supervising the preparation of a questionnaire for candidates and (where applicable) their spouses, are elected.

A High Council is an exercise of spiritual discernment and time is therefore set aside for worship, reflection and prayer throughout the duration of the council. One of the members acts as Chaplain to the council. Together as a group and each individually, the members are asking God for wisdom and guidance in order to discern who should be the next leader of his Army. Like an appointments board that is considering which officer is to be appointed to a key appointment, the members have to weigh up in their hearts and minds the differing, and sometimes contrasting, qualities of those who might be elected. Their collective longing is to be able to echo Acts 15:28 (New International Version): ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us …’ The sense of God’s presence becomes very real.

Time is also set aside for discussions about the challenges and opportunities the Army faces. The High Council is not a conference of leaders, and all discussion is therefore set in the context of the election of a new leader. The clarification of issues helps to clarify the kind of leader that the Army needs.


The High Council then moves into the vital stage of nominations. Every member has the privilege of nominating someone to be a candidate for General. It is a sacred and awesome responsibility.

The one and only criterion laid down is that the person nominated must be an officer. And even that criterion dates only from 1980. Before that time, the words of William Booth’s original 1904 Supplemental Deed of Constitution were still operative, namely that ‘the person so to be elected may be either one of the members of the High Council or some other person’. It must have been the prophetic streak in William Booth that impelled him to place no restrictions whatever on the High Council in its choice of a General. But by 1980 it was deemed right to limit eligibility to officers only.

While the council as a whole engages in reflection and prayer, each member in turn goes into the small voting room, writes the name of the person nominated on a piece of paper, and places the unsigned paper in a locked box. This process can take nearly an hour.

The tellers then count the nominations. No person is deemed to have been nominated unless he or she has been nominated by at least three other persons. This threshold was raised from two to three in October 2005 by an amendment to Schedule 4 of the Salvation Army Act 1980 in order to reflect the larger size of the High Council.

The President announces in alphabetical order the names of those nominated, but does not indicate how many nominations each has received. The council then adjourns to give opportunity for the nominees to decide whether or not to accept nomination. During this time they have the right to ask the President privately how many nominations they have received.

In the procedures of the council there is provision for the possibility of officers who are not members of the High Council being nominated. Any such nominees are to be contacted and, if they accept nomination, are to be invited to become part of the High Council process at Sunbury – the council remaining adjourned until their arrival. So far in the history of High Councils no one from outside the High Council itself has become a candidate.

When the council reconvenes, the President asks the nominees whether they are prepared to accept nomination. Each responds, accepting or declining with a few well-chosen words. Those who accept become candidates. And it is from this panel of candidates that the High Council will be called to elect the next General.

At this stage the High Council adjourns for at least one full day to enable the candidates and spouses to prepare written answers to the questions in the questionnaires that the council has approved. Candidates also prepare a speech. Through the questions the High Council seeks to know the views of candidates and spouses on a wide range of subjects related to the Army and its ministry, and seeks to learn more about them as leaders and as persons.

Reprinted from The Officer by permission of the General

How a High Council works – Part 2

Delegates to High Council
Electing A New Leader
The History of the High Council
God’s General: Points of Prayer
High Council Chatroom
Sunbury Court

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