William Booth was born in 1829 in Nottinghamshire. His family were well off, but descended into poverty, and William was apprenticed to a pawnbroker at the age of 13. After a couple of years, he was converted to Methodism, and his overriding desire in life was to be an evangelist, and help as many people as possible hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be saved.
He trained as a minister, but was frustrated at being put in pastoral roles, when he wanted to save souls. In 1861 he resigned from the Methodist church and became an independent preacher. He set up a mission at Mile End in London’s East End and preached. There was a fair amount of abuse and he got wounded with bricks and other missiles.
But he could not fail to respond to the depth of human suffering he found on the streets. There were those evangelical reformers, or do-gooders, who genuinely improved the lot of the poor. But there was an expectation that they would be worthy and fit in with society. The people Booth was dealing with had fallen out of society entirely.
The homelessness and alcoholism, of this neglected part of society, did not fail to touch William’s heart. Not backing done one inch from his preaching values, he set up various schemes to help the poor and help them help themselves. Soup kitchens, help for prostitutes, homes for the homeless, help for ex-prisoners. Anything that would help get the needy up on their feet.
By 1878 the movement took to a new image. In an age of empire building, his movement took on a military bearing. Uniforms, ranks, marching bands and of course strict tee-totalism were the order of the day. The Salvation Army was born and spread its work throughout much of the world.
For Booth, the preaching of the message of Christ was indivisible from the actions of Christ to feed the poor and heal the sick. Congruent to his beliefs, his example has spread the love of Christ in word and deed worldwide.
William Booth, March on!