William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army, devoted their lives to serving the industrial urban poor of London. In 1864, William began a mission in one of London’s worst districts which became a tightly knit, selfless, zealous military organization. Their unconventional methods – open air meetings held in the streets with drums and musical instruments – encountered violent opposition. Members were often arrested for “disturbing the peace.”
Catherine, a powerful public speaker, was effective in reaching and caring for women. Reading Song of Songs 6:4, “Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners,” Catherine Booth realized that it was the Church’s destiny to be an army of reformers. Her brilliant preaching and writing affected hundreds of thousands. Her temperance tracts, written under an assumed name, were widely distributed throughout Europe.
William Booth published In Darkest England and the Way Out in 1890 describing the economic, social and moral problems of London. The book prescribed rescue homes for prostitutes, a farm colony, suburban villages, a poor man’s bank and preventative homes for girls. The book was a blueprint for the rehabilitation of an entire nation, a grand social reconstruction plan a century ahead of its time.
The works of Christian social compassion and practical concern launched by this holy army are legendary. Almost every type of outreach and care for the poor and downtrodden imaginable were both attempted and usually successfully implemented by this radical band.