The Salvation Army in Canada
Before long, the Salvationists were spreading. If they were determined enough to try the zaniest ideas on British audiences, they were willing to travel long distances to take their message elsewhere.
I read this short account of the work of Abbie Thompson in 1883. She was a 19yr old Salvation Army Captain who sought to bring the gospel to Kingston, Ontario, Canada. I’ll let the statement stand on its own, except to give a brief introduction by quoting from two contemporary sources, both of which are hilarious.
The Salvation Army had already ‘opened fire’ in Canada, and were not altogether well received. Their youthful working-class roots were difficult to conceal and some didn’t like it. After all, the two founding officers were still teenagers.
On November 8th 1882, the Toronto Globe recorded,
Rev Mr.Bray of Montreal, is opposed to The Salvation Army and its methods. The Reverend gentleman particularly objects to the hymnology of the Army, portions of which contain, in his opinion, very little of religious fervour. Certainly it is hardly possible to escape the conclusion that there is something irreverent in the hymn, "Elijah was a jolly old man, and was carried off to heaven in a fiery van." Yet its intent is good. It is designed to convey to the untutored mind a biblical truth in language suited to the capacities of the persons on whose behalf The Salvation Army labours.
Abbie Thompson made her first appearance in 1883. The Toronto Mail actually made reference to her arrival:
(Kingston) This morning a trunk arrived from the Cape upon which were written the words ”Captain Abbie Thompson” “Hallelujah” “Fire”. The Customs officer eyed it suspiciously, and thought of dynamite, infernal machines, and fenians. He refused to search it, and ordered its removal to the warehouse to await its owner.[i]
12,000 attending each night!
Richard Collier puts this early work in Canada in a condensed but baffling paragraph:
And Canada, where two like-minded pioneers had begun on their own initiative, needed organisers too. From May, 1882, when Jack Addie, an eighteen-year-old dry goods salesman and Joe Ludgate, a clothes presser, paraded the streets of London, Ontario, in blue tunics and helmets like British bobbies, The Army’s cause spread like fire under a leaning wind. At Bowmanville, where every leading citizen became a local officer, new ordinances soon forbade men swearing in the streets. At Guelph, one-ninth of the entire population were Salvationists. When Captain “Hallelujah Abbie” Thompson, a vivacious nineteen-year-old brunette, began drawing crowds of 12,000 a night, a sharp-witted Kingston, Ontario, cosmetics manufacturer was quick to cash in. Swiftly he launched a new line in toiletries – “Hallelujah Abbie Soap.”[ii]
Booth seemed entirely confident in his young, energetic, working-class leaders. And their ability to attract large crowds is almost baffling. Perhaps we are too keen to polish up our new leaders or wait a little too long. Perhaps we could learn a little from history and release more of that youthful energy into ministry (just wait ‘til we get to Spurgeon).
©2016 Lex Loizides / Church History Review
[i] Both newspaper quotes from http://salvationist.ca/docs/crest/Crest_Spring05.pdf
[ii] Richard Collier, The General Next to God (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1965) p.76