Commissioning 2023: Saturday Night Block Party
By: Brad Rowland
From June 2-4, 2023, Commissioning Weekend for the Reflectors of Holiness session was held at the Atlanta Temple Corps with the theme of “All In: Everyone… Everywhere—A Call to Evangelism & Discipleship Mark 16:15 ERV.” Below is a recap of Saturday night’s Block Party.
Each year, the foundation of the USA Southern Territory’s Commissioning gathering centers on a theme. In 2023, that focus was evangelism and discipleship, with the official branding of “All In: Everyone… Everywhere” and a theme verse of Mark 16:15: He said to them, “Go everywhere in the world. Tell the Good News to everyone.” On Saturday, June 3 on The Salvation Army’s campus spanning Territorial Headquarters and the Atlanta Temple Corps, the first-ever “Block Party” was held under that banner, with approximately 1,600 people gathered.
“We looked to have everything that goes into the Commissioning weekend to focus on the theme of evangelism and discipleship,” said Roberta Simmons-Smith, territorial director of special events. “When viewing it through that lens, we thought the Block Party was a great way to evangelize and to get outside of our walls. It effectively becomes a giant open-air meeting, and everything needed to go back to evangelism and discipleship.”
The event spanned four hours in the late afternoon and evening, with five major components involved in an extensive planning process. First, visitors were greeted by a registration process, gathering information and ensuring that everyone in attendance felt welcome.
“We wanted everyone who came to have a touch point, especially if they didn’t make it to the vendor zone,” Simmons-Smith said. “We wanted to ensure that everyone, even if they were there for five minutes, heard the message of Jesus. That led to everyone coming through registration getting a swag bag that featured a card, also translated into Spanish, and it told them who we are as The Salvation Army, who Jesus is, and how to get connected.”
Then, within the party setup were four distinct zones: a children’s zone, vendor zone, prayer patio, and the main stage zone, which also included food and drink distribution as well as performances from the Southern Staff Band, Southern Staff Songsters, transMission, and Territorial Arts Ministry (TAM).
Simmons-Smith describes the children’s zone as something of a “carrot” when promoting the event, and the area included bounce houses and various activities designed for a good time for young people. The vendor zone featured a tent for each corps and Boys & Girls Club in the Metro Atlanta Area Command, as well as a coffee truck from Inman Coffee and booths from Trade South, Camp South, A Better Sign, and the Jack McDowell School for Leadership Development. Majors Cameron and Paula Henderson managed the prayer patio, with the opportunity for ministry and prayer for anyone in attendance.
The layout was specifically designed for separate zones, but also for the open-air ability for sounds and images to permeate from place to place.
“I was standing in the kid zone at one point, and you could hear the songsters and transMission perfectly,” Simmons-Smith said. “You could hear every word and beautiful harmony, even from a long way off. The ministry really traveled through the whole footprint of the party, and I’m sure that the families there had the same experience. That really seemed to have an impact.”
At 7:00 pm local time, the vendor and children’s zones ceased operation, with the focus shifting entirely to the main stage and a “Jesus Theater” presentation from TAM, written and directed by Amber Hood. This presentation, titled “Bounce,” was powerful and engaging, with well over 1,000 people seated and observing what transpired. Captain Juan Reyes, corps officer in Marietta, Georgia, also led an altar call, and seekers emerged,
“I was sitting towards the front of the audience during the Jesus Theater presentation,” said Emma Edelman, territorial child and adult safety coordinator and event management assistant for Commissioning weekend. “I got up to move to the back during the altar call, ready to help direct people back to the various zones when they reopened. That’s when I was able to see just how many people were experiencing God’s message of salvation. I was taken aback by the hundreds who had gathered and felt a true sense of God’s presence and purpose.”
Following the presentation of “Bounce,” the zones reopened and the gathering continued until shortly after 9:00 pm, when a fireworks display was launched to close the party. While the full-scale impact of the event will never be known to those who organized it, the spirit of outreach, evangelism, and discipleship was clear, with individuals and families coming into contact with The Salvation Army and, more importantly, the Lord through this ministry.
“I believe we were successful, due to the moving of the Spirit, to have that many people hearing the gospel in that moment around seven o’clock,” said Simmons-Smith. “It was all about that moment. We were able to get everyone there to receive in that way. That really validated all the planning and preparation, and we hope that people left our grounds having encountered Jesus Christ.”
For more information, photos, and to view streaming video of Commissioning 2023, visit the events portal by clicking here.