On this day in 1865 British revivalist preacher William Booth founded the Salvation Army.
Originally a prominent Methodist evangelist, Booth felt constrained by the need to have a pastorate. Eventually he resigned from the ministry and began preaching to crowds of people in the streets of the East End of London. Soon he and his wife opened ‘The Christian Revival Society’ (later renamed The Christian Mission) where they held meetings every evening and on Sundays.
The Salvation Army, as the mission became known, was modeled after the military, with its own flag (or colors) and its own music, often with Christian words put to popular and folk tunes sung in the pubs. Booth and the other soldiers in “God’s Army” wore the Army’s own uniform, ‘putting on the armor’ for meetings and ministry work. He became the General and his other ministers were given appropriate ranks as officers. Other members became soldiers. During his lifetime, William Booth established Army work in 58 countries and colonies, traveling extensively and holding salvation meetings.
Today the Salvation Army is one of the largest and most popular charitable organizations in the world.
George Bernard Shaw wrote a three-act play Major Barbara about a Salvation Army member who becomes disillusioned when the charity accepts money from a arms maker and a whiskey distiller. In the preface to the play, however, Shaw derided the idea that charities should only take money from “morally pure” sources. He points out that donations can always be used for good, whatever their provenance, and he quotes a Salvation Army officer, “they would take money from the devil himself and be only too glad to get it out of his hands and into God’s”.
Vachel Lindsay wrote a poem about General Booth, General William Booth Enters Into Heaven. (You can read the whole poem here. )
And when Booth halted at the curb for prayer
He saw his Master thro’ the flag-filled air.
Christ came gently with a robe and crown
For Booth the soldier, while the throng knelt down.
He saw King Jesus. They were face to face,
And he knelt a-weeping in that holy place.
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
On a lighter note, while toasting the Army tonight, we could all watch Guys and Dolls (1955).
As you know, this is how my mind works…