Christian Faith Heroes - William and Catherine Booth
William and Catherine Booth built a movement by preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the destitute in London’s East End.
Catherine and William met when he came to preach at her church. They soon fell in love and became engaged. During their three-year engagement, William continued his work as a travelling evangelist. Catherine was a constant support to William, writing him letters of encouragement on his travels. They married on 16 June 1855.
Together, William and Catherine embarked on a lifelong journey to answer the call of God to bring the Gospel to the people. While William was a natural speaker, Catherine was a quiet woman and not at all accustomed to speaking at gatherings. It took time for her to find her voice, but she was driven by a conviction that woman had the same rights as men to speak. She grew into a courageous speaker, known for her gentle manner but powerful appeal, counselling alcoholics in their homes and holding cottage meetings for new faithfuls.
They were also parents to a growing family of eight children, who were brought up with a firm Christian education and a great love for their God’s mission. Two of their children, Bramwell and Evangeline went on to be Generals of The Salvation Army.
Booth abandoned the conventional concept of a church and a pulpit, instead taking his message to the people. His fervour led to disagreement with church leaders in London, who preferred traditional methods. As a result, he withdrew from the church and travelled throughout England, conducting evangelistic meetings.
In 1865, William Booth was invited to hold a series of evangelistic meetings in the East End of London. He set up a tent in a Quaker graveyard, and his services became an instant success. His renown as a religious leader spread throughout London, and he attracted followers who were dedicated to fight for the souls of men and women.
In 1865, William, by now an independent evangelist, along with Catherine founded The Christian Mission. William preached to the poor while Catherine spoke to the wealthy to gain support for their financially demanding work. In time, she began to hold her own fundraising campaigns.William Booth embarked upon his ministerial career in 1852, desiring to win the lost multitudes of England to Christ. He walked the streets of London to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor, the homeless, the hungry and the destitute.
To congregations who were desperately poor, he preached hope and salvation. His aim was to lead people to Christ and link them to a church for further spiritual guidance. Many churches, however, did not accept Booth’s followers because of their past. So Booth continued giving his new converts spiritual direction, challenging them to save others like themselves. Soon, they too were preaching and singing in the streets as a living testimony to the power of God.
In 1867, Booth had only 10 full-time workers, but by 1874, the number had grown to 1,000 volunteers and 42 evangelists, all serving under the name “The Christian Mission.” Booth assumed the title of general superintendent, with his followers calling him “General.” Known as the “Hallelujah Army,” the converts spread out of the East End of London into neighbouring areas and then to other cities.
While reading a printer’s proof of the 1878 annual report, Booth noticed the statement “The Christian Mission is a volunteer army.” Crossing out the words “volunteer army,” he penned in “Salvation Army.” From those words came the basis of the foundation deed of The Salvation Army.
From that point, converts became soldiers of Christ and were known then, as now, as Salvationists. They launched an offensive throughout the British Isles, in some cases facing real battles as organised gangs mocked and attacked them. In spite of violence and persecution, some 250,000 people were converted under the ministry of The Salvation Army between 1881 and 1885.
William Booth began The Salvation Army in 1865 as a means to help the suffering souls throughout London who were not willing to attend—or even welcomed into—a traditional church.
Thieves, prostitutes, gamblers and drunkards were among his first converts to Christianity, and as his ministry grew, the gospel of Jesus Christ was spread far and wide to the poor, the vulnerable and the destitute.
Though General Booth died in 1912, he laid a firm foundation for the life-saving work that The Salvation Army continues to perform today in 131 countries.
Catherine Booth was known as the “Army Mother” In her world, women had few rights, no place in the professional sphere, and a minimal presence in church leadership. Yet in her marriage to William Booth, she became an evangelist, preacher, theologian and co-founder of The Salvation Army.
A truly passionate Christian, Catherine believed loving God meant loving people through action. Her legacy of love, sacrifice and service continues to shape The Salvation Army today.
Both William and Catherine continue to be guiding influences in The Salvation Army and stand as the mightiest examples of how God uses the ordinary to create the extraordinary.