15/12/2009

SOUP, SOAP AND SALVATION...


Most of us only notice the Salvation Army at Christmas - hearing their brass bands and choirs singing carols.The movement, first known as the Christian Mission, was founded in 1865; officially known as the Salvation Army from 1878.

At its head was William Booth, a maverick Methodist from Nottingham who set off to London  with one thing in mind - to raise his tent on the Whitechapel Road and start up his own evangelical church.

The Young evangelist, William Booth (1829-1912)

It was based it on a quasi-military structure with Booth at the head. His foot soldiers were men, women and children who marched though the streets with their banners and flags campaiging for all theatres and bars to be closed. And, it was a battle! Booth was considered a killjoy for his anti-alcohol, anti-gambling stance. His soldiers were often brutally attacked and, more than once, boys threw rocks and fireworks through the smashed windows of derelict warehouses where the earliest meetings were held.

But Booth was not to be deterred in his mission to fight Satan on the streets, making saints out of sinners and prostitutes. He had a mantra: Soup, Soap and Salvation - preferring to offer practical aid to the poor, destitute and fallen, rather than simply preaching the Gospel.

And despite his wish to have all the music halls closed down, he knew the value of a good sing song. When he heard Champagne Charlie sung on the streets, he asked, "Why should the devil have all the best tunes?" Using the very same melody, he changed the words to that of his hymn: Bless His Name, He Sets Me Free.


The original Army uniform was erratic, variations on a theme of navy blue - basically whatever came to hand. Women wore the famous Salvation bonnet, with ribbons and rossettes on the side. The movement gave many a purpose in life, and those who had been 'saved' themselves were perhaps the most fervent activists. There were surely many converts when, during the Ripper murders, shelters were set up in Whitechapel where street women were fed and washed, and then slept safely in Christ's arms - if not in the lap of luxury.

The men wore a  mixed collection of headgear which ranged from pith helmets and toppers to discarded sailors hats. But all were adorned with new bands and ribbons proclaiming the name of the Salvation Army.


 A rather dashing Salvation Army hat - Prepare to Meet Thy God

As time went by, bicycling brigades were formed, some riders with specially adapted machines, with poles from which to fly banners and flags and big boxes attached at the sides and back, to carry their bibles and pamphlets.



 
There were even mobile churches - caravans sent out to the suburbs.

And today, the Army works all over the world, spreading the word of General Booth, providing food or shelter to those who are lost or homeless. If you would like to hear some typical Salvation band music, and learn a little more of the movement today, I have provided a link to a video, promoting a Salvation Army album.


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