Stained glass tribute to General Edward Higgins
By: Lt. Colonel Danny R. Morrow
The earliest known “stained glass” was glass with color infused to soften the brightness of the much-needed sunlight in homes, buildings, synagogues, and churches and still provide protection from the elements. The craft/art-form of coloring glass evolved, improved, and became a way to communicate biblical stories to largely illiterate worshipers in cathedrals throughout medieval times. The primary purpose of stained-glass windows was now more for information and inspiration rather than for artistic and esthetic expression.
Ted Palmer, writing in Marching On, A Fresh Look at Salvation Army History, proclaims proudly, “The Salvation Army is the stained-glass window of the Christian Church. It is the world’s most colorful expression of the light and life of Christ. Through its worldwide ministry has come a technicolor experience for thousands of those for whom existence would otherwise always have been grey or black.”
As one who has admired the stained-glass window produced as an 80th birthday salute to the first elected General of The Salvation Army, Edward J. Higgins, I read Palmer’s words as more than hyperbole.
The window, suggested by Southern Territorial Commander Commissioner William C. Arnold and South Atlantic Divisional Commander, Major Ernest Pickering, was dedicated during a celebration in late November 1944 that included most of the leadership of the city of Sebring, Florida, and all of the leadership of the Salvation Army USA Southern Territory.
But the saga of The Salvation Army and the city of Sebring is much deeper, much wider, and much more colorful than one weekend in the sunny South which on that weekend was, according to the General George Carpenter was a time when “many hearts in many lands will turn in love and gratitude to sunny Sebring today.”
Any account of the window, including this one, must begin with the City of Sebring itself. It happened this way according to a contemporary newspaper article authored by Elaine Levey. “The Salvation Army has been in Sebring since the beginning of the tow. (1912) George E. Sebring was a longtime supporter of The Salvation Army and donated land to them and two years later in 1914 The Salvation Army moved into their new building at 120 N Ridgewood Dr where they are today in one of the oldest buildings in downtown Sebring.
“George Sebring was no stranger to The Salvation Army. His son Payne wrote the following about his father, ‘while he was working in the pottery company, he was converted on a street corner in East Liverpool Ohio on a Saturday night by the Salvation Army. He was 16 at the time and he later played a cornet in their band on that same street corner.’”
That band is recognized as the first Salvation Army band in the United States. Founded by Dick Albright and, by the time George E. Sebring moved to Florida he had served for a time as bandmaster of the East Liverpool Band.
Sebring and his family moved to the area surrounding Lake Jackson in South Central Florida, purchased land and worked toward chartering the city of Sebring. The city grew rapidly primarily because The Seaboard Air Line (SAL) Railroad was extended from Jacksonville and because of a marketing campaign Mr. Sebring launched in the Northeastern States.
George Sebring’s interest in and affection for The Salvation Army was not left behind in East Liverpool.
An outpost of The Salvation Army from Tampa was established in Sebring and even though no officer was assigned, the outpost was officially recognized as a place of worship and included in a “census of religious leaders” document indicated eight members in 1914.
Which brings us, again, to the window.
In 1929 The Salvation Army found itself in crisis when Founders William and Catherine Booth’s son and second General fell ill and was unable to continue his leadership of the Army, and yet refused to retire. Using a caveat built into the Deed Poll (Articles of Incorporation), Commissioner Edward J. Higgins, Chief of the Staff, summoned the collective leadership of the Salvation Army worldwide to convened as the High Council to remedy such a situation. (The latest historical account of these proceedings is in 1929-A Crisis That Shaped The Salvation Army’s Future by General John Larsson.)
Imagine this scenario: It’s sometime early in 1944, a conversation between the territorial commander of the Southern Territory and the divisional commander for the South Atlantic division that included most of Florida, including Sebring where retired Salvation Army General Edward Higgins was a soldier. Both, knowing Higgins was a very active and engaged soldier, well known, and well liked throughout Sebring, the division and the territory, they also knew he would celebrate his 80th birthday later in the year. The details of any such meeting and conversation are lost to the records located for this article, but what is known is that November 26-30, 1944, a birthday celebration was held in Sebring, Florida that is still remembered and revered as an historic event in Sebring.
Rather than a party, this was a coming together of a grateful community for the mission and ministry The Salvation Army in Sebring, the United States, and the entire world, at that time still at war.
Every meeting for four days was filled with gospel preaching, hymns and Salvation Army songs declaring the claims of Christ on all those who will respond to His seeking them. The retired General and Mrs. Higgins spoke of the faithfulness of Christ in their lives and ministry on several occasions over that long and event filled weekend. It was clear from the community leaders who attended and participated in this celebration, that even in retirement the Higgins, were fully active in the “Soup, Soap, and Salvation” tradition and commitment of The Salvation Army.
It was also clear that Salvation Army leaders around the world were grateful for the leadership gifts and soul saving passion of these two Salvationists.
The weekend was beautifully reported in the War Cry December 16, 1944, in superb prose and photographs. Few, if any, details of the seven major events is missing from this report that begins with: “General Edward J. Higgins (R) Celebrates Eightieth Birthday Anniversary. All roads lead to Sebring, Florida as Commissioner William C. Arnold directs world attention on former international leader. Anniversary observance unique in Army annals.”
Events included two open-air meetings, two public meeting at the local high school and the largest hotel in town led by the mayor and the territorial commander and featured major addresses by General and Mrs. Higgins. Also featured were messages from the Florida governor and Salvation Army leaders from around the world. The Sunday Holiness Meeting at the corps and an officers’ council on Monday filled the chapel to capacity.
Pulpits around the city and county were filled by Salvation Army officers as the entire area worshiped with and in the spirit of the Army.
The War Cry reported, “A unique event was that of Monday afternoon in the unveiling and dedication of a Window of Tribute. In this writer’s experience it is the first time such an event had occurred.
“A short time ago Commissioner Arnold with Major Pickering, conceived the idea of a Salvation Army window in stained glass for the front of the Sebring Hall. The window has for its centerpiece a picture of the Founder, and first General, William Booth, and the colors are yellow, red, and blue.
“The whole is a beautiful and impressing sight. Inspiring. This service of dedication was not long, and its climax was reached when the congregation, reversing its position, turn to face the window and in the spirit of dedication sang one of the old Army songs led by Commissioner Arnold.
“The Dedication inscription reads: ‘In Tribute to General Edward J. Higgins (R) on his 80th Birthday, Born November 26, 1864, The First Elected General of The Salvation Army.’”
The ministry of The Salvation Army in Sebring no longer includes a worshiping congregation, so in June 2022, the window was retired and has been hung in tribute to the Sebring Corps in the lobby of the Army’s Florida Divisional Headquarters.