Religions of the world.

This is the thirteenth in our series.

The Salvation Army

by Stan Griffin

It is in fact an army: soldiers in uniform, led by generals, colonels, and other officers. They differ from the traditional armies in their objectives and methods. They are unarmed, except for their faith in God; they are truly "Christian soldiers." They don't use violence; their methods are "kinder, gentler," although no less persistent and dedicated. They unselfishly serve humanity, helping the needy without regard to race, creed, sex, or age. They are found all over the world, which makes them a real-life international force for good works.

The founder of this "Army" was an Englishman named William Booth. He was born in 1829 in Nottingham, England. When Booth was 13, his father suffered severe financial problems. To assist in this family crisis, William was apprenticed to a pawnbroker. He disliked the work immensely, but circumstances required him to stay at it.

By the age of 15, William was out in the streets after working hours, preaching to "street people" who were the dregs (the lowest element) of Nottingham society; they were the poor, the violent, and the criminals. Many of them were brought by William into the local Methodist Church. Reaction from the members was not always positive.

When he was 20 years of age, Booth moved to London and continued his activities: he again worked in a pawnshop, and he kept going out at night to carry his religious message to those he found on the streets.

In 1852 William became engaged to Catherine Mumford. He was finally able to give up the pawnshop position that he despised so fervently and became an ordained preacher for an evangelistic group known as the "Methodist New Connection."

During the next nine years, Booth worked hard at his ministry. He married Catherine in 1855. By the time he was 32, conflicts with the church had increased in intensity, creating an impossible situation. Many members did not like his practice of holding outdoor revival meetings. So he left this church; and for the next four years, he teamed up with another evangelist to conduct joint tent meetings in Whitechapel (a section of London).

It was in July of 1865 that William formed the "East London Revival Society." It soon became known as "The Christian Mission--A Volunteer Army." People who attended Booth's meetings were shunned (snubbed) by most "respectable" people. They were desperately poor and unwashed: thieves, prostitutes, drunks, gamblers and even worse. Services were held in tents, dance halls, storage sheds, old saloons--anywhere William could find room. He and his assistants worked in the shabbiest areas of London and even went to other English cities.

Booth recognized that a cold and hungry body was not receptive to talk of religion. So he started providing for those physical needs to bring his audiences to a point where they would listen and believe his message of salvation (deliverance of man or his soul from the power or penalty of sin). He was quite successful in his efforts during these early years.

Within a year there were 300 people in Booth's organization. In four years, the number had grown to 3,000. They began referring to themselves as the "Hallelujah Army" and calling their leader "General Booth."

After working for 13 years, Booth had a sudden inspiration. The year was 1878, and he was looking at his mission's financial report when a thought struck him. He replaced the word "Volunteer" in the organization's name with "Salvation," and since that time it has been known as "The Salvation Army."

Soon his "army" acquired all the elements of a military organization: uniforms, flags, and a strict code of discipline. As in a regular army, the Salvation Army had ranks: levels containing ministers who hold officer titles from General Booth (in command) down through colonels, majors, captains, and lieutenants. The members who carried out much of the Army's work were called "soldiers." William felt this was the most efficient way of achieving his goals.

General Booth sent out battalions of officers and soldiers to campaign throughout England, even carrying his message beyond its borders to: Canada, Australia, France, Switzerland, India, South Africa, Ireland, and North America (to name a few).

Booth's far-reaching plans were intended to achieve a number of objectives. Some of these were: (1) organize self-help communities that could train the poor and assist them in finding jobs; (2) establish rescue homes for drunks, released prisoners, and "fallen women"; (3) set up farm colonies; (4) provide legal assistance and banking services for the poor; (5) create traveling hospitals (6) form missing-person bureaus; (7) build maternity homes and family-aid offices. He was ultimately successful in achieving many of these goals.

The Army's first meeting in the United States was held in 1879. The place was Philadelphia. At the time there was only one English representative here: Lt. Eliza Shirley. Six months later, reinforcements arrived in the person of a commander and seven female officers. They held the first U. S. open-air meeting in New York City; the year was 1880. By 1886 members had met with President Grover Cleveland. Every President since have endorsed the organization, both officially and personally.

William's wife, Catherine, was a slightly built, gentle-looking woman. On the surface, she seemed to be timid, but her looks were deceiving. Catherine was a very determined person. Through her efforts, the Army accepted women as preachers 25 years before other churches. She began speaking at services in 1860 and defended the right of other women who wanted to follow her lead. Catherine was responsible for the measure of freedom enjoyed by women in the Army. She also designed their flag and the "poke bonnet" worn by female officers and soldiers. Catherine was known as the "Mother of the Army."

Catherine Mumford Booth died of cancer at age 61 in 1890. She remained active in the Army for as long as she was able.

William Booth took his first world tour in 1891. He was invited to the coronation (the ceremony of crowning a king or queen) of King Edward VIII in 1902. In his lifetime, he traveled a total of 5,000,000 miles and preached 60,000 sermons.

Booth died on August 20, 1912 at the age of 83. More than 65,000 people filed passed his body as it lay in state at Clapton, England. Messages of condolence were received from heads of churches and nations around the world. Hundreds of thousands of people lined the route as the funeral procession carried Booth to his final resting place.

The basic unit of the Salvation Army is the corps community center which is directed by a commanding officer. He administers both religious and social-service activities. Centers provide church services, counseling, and moral education.

In addition to these centers, the Army operates other institutions. Some of these are: (1) hospitals; (2) drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers; (3) youth clubs for boys and girls; (4) residences and clubs for senior citizens; (5) day care centers. It also provides education programs for unwed mothers and aid to prisoners and their families.

The Army provides temporary shelter for those who need a bed for one or two nights. Food is provided in soup kitchens operated by officers and soldiers. Temporary jobs are supplied when desired.

Another avenue of assistance provided by the Salvation Army is to victims of natural disasters (floods, tornados, earthquakes, etc.). Every year they help out more than a half-million people with food, clothing, and temporary housing.

The Army includes many musicians who use their talent as a way to preach the Gospel. They play rousing hymns to show people the way out of their despair. Some of the instruments played by officers and soldiers are: cornets, trombones, baritone and alto horns, bass drums, accordions, tubas, and tambourines (actually a small drum with only one head; metal disks fastened loosely on the rim give a jingling sound when shaken or hit with the hand). Besides being played, the tambourine is used as a container for money donations from the audience or from passers-by on the street.

In the United States the Salvation Army is organized under four administrative regions. The four cities that serve as a base of operations for each region are New York (where the national headquarters is also located), Chicago, Atlanta, and San Francisco. An officer called the National Commander is in charge of the entire U. S. structure. The Army is incorporated as a non-profit religious and charitable organization.

There are four schools for Army Officer Training in this country. Their curriculum consists of formal study and practical field experience for each cadet (both men and women). Graduates are commissioned as lieutenants AND ordained (officially declared) ministers. From that point they can advance up the ladder of authority through the ranks of captain, major, lieutenant colonel, colonel, lieutenant commissioner, and commissioner.

Officers serve where they are assigned. They receive a living allowance based on their rank and (for heads of families) the number of children. They also receive living quarters with furnishings and (in some cases) a car. All officers pledge total abstinence (denial) of intoxicating liquor, harmful drugs, and tobacco.

Currently there are approximately 4,000 officers and 80,000 soldiers serving the Salvation Army in the United States. Additionally, there are 420,000 people who consider themselves members. Most of the soldiers have other jobs and serve the Army part-time. They wear uniforms when they are on duty: playing in the band at outdoor meetings, teaching Bible classes, or assisting officers in their visits to the poor or ailing.

Today Salvation Army officers and soldiers serve in over 85 countries where 109 languages are spoken. There are about 25,000 men and women serving as officers worldwide. More than 14,000 corps community centers have been established around the world. In less-developed countries, service to people is in the form of education, basic needs, vocational instruction, and disaster relief.

Other members of the Booth family played important parts in the Army's growth. Son Bramwell succeeded his father as Commanding General in 1912. Son Ballington was Australia's Army Commander for several years; he then traveled to the United States where he and his wife served from 1887-1896. While there, the two of them formed the "Volunteers of America."

The V.O.A. was a parallel organization to the Army--separate but in many ways connected. Its specific aim was to act as an auxiliary to American churches. They urged their converts to join the church of their preference. Like the Army, they conducted services, Sunday schools, and missions. Additionally, they carried on a number of welfare activities; one of these was a "Volunteer Prison League," begun by Ballington's wife.

Daughter Evangeline spent the years from 1904 to 1939 serving in the United States. Part of that time she was National Commander. Previous to that assignment she was Commander in Canada from 1895-1904.

Daughter Emma and her husband jointly commanded the Army from 1896-1908.

The "Foundation Deed of 1878," written by William Booth, expresses the important principles of Salvation Army doctrine. It states in part:

(2) We believe in God as both Creator and Father of all mankind.

(3) We believe in the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.

(4) Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Son of Man.

(5) Sin is the great destroyer of man's soul and of society.

(6) Salvation is God's remedy for man's sin. Man's eternal hope is available through Christ.

Salvation Army services are lively and informal. To attract newcomers, they are frequently held outside. Music also lures people to attend. During a service, soldiers can be enrolled, and children can be dedicated through baptism.

The official Salvation Army newspaper is "The War Cry." It is published weekly and contains reports about "Salvationists" (members), stories of human need, lists of missing persons who have been reported, and stories of individuals who have had their lives changed by turning to God.

Traditionally Salvation Army musicians or soldiers raise funds at Christmastime by playing on street corners or in front of stores. Money collected in red kettles purchase food, clothing, and shelter for the needy. Use of the symbolic red kettle began in 1891. As this custom has developed in recent years, a single volunteer stands next to the kettle ringing a hand bell. The sound of those bells has come to be a part of the Christmas atmosphere, "putting people in a holiday mood."

In the 1990s, fewer red kettles are being seen in U. S. cities. Volunteers are harder to find. Also, fewer retail outlets are giving the Army access to prime locations in front of their stores. Some of the major chains have enacted policies which ban solicitation (asking for money) of any kind on their property. One reason given by executives concerns challenges from other charities for equal sidewalk space. When retailers' refuse ALL such requests, conflict and lawsuits are avoided.

Reports from the Cincinnati, Ohio area indicate that the sound of ringing bells has appreciably diminished (decreased). Statistics show that just a few years ago there were about 80-85 kettles on the streets. During the 1995 Christmas season, that number had dropped to 30-35.

In spite of such setbacks, the fervor of William Booth still lives within the Salvation Army. An illustration of this passion can be found in his last public speech. Part of this statement follows:

"...while little children go hungry ... I'll fight; ... while there yet remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight. I'll fight to the very end."

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