Go-ahead Dare-Devils Wanted!

The young William Booth – done up nice and proper for a picture
The young William Booth – done up nice and proper for a picture

After a year working in East London, Booth had managed to gather about 60 people. This was a ‘mission’ rather than a church, the focus being on evangelism and not on Christian worship as such.

Booth and Barnardo
One of Booth’s early partners in the East End of London was soon to leave him: Thomas Barnardo, then a medical student, but who soon founded the impressive Barnardo’s charity, which opened schools and orphanges for abandoned children and is still operating today.

Generously, Booth said, ‘You look after the children and I’ll look after the adults – and together we’ll convert the world.’[i]

Early skirmishes and victories
One of Booth’s earliest converts became his first bodyguard. Peter Monk, an Irish prizefighter, was an imposing figure and accompanied Booth to evangelistic meetings.

But one bodyguard is apparently not always enough. Richard Collier records that disturbances were frequent at Booth’s early London meetings. Mrs Eliza Trotman narrowly escaped death when some yobs fired a train of gunpowder at her, causing her clothes to catch fire.

Peter Monk, the ‘General’s Boxer’, would walk up and down the meeting place staring menacingly at trouble-makers to keep them quiet while Booth was preaching.

Booth’s operation gradually became successful. The famous evangelist Gypsy Smith was converted and trained for ministry by Booth when he was only seventeen. Smith was one of numerous young, poor, uneducated men who became the chief evangelists in London. While others were wowing crowds with oratory, these unschooled, rough, preachers were somehow able to reach those who would never approach church or chapel.

Young people released into leadership
It may seem crazy to us, but Booth had little choice. He worked with those God gave him – and they were often young. Very young. Gypsy Smith was rejected when he was sent by Booth to Chatham in Kent. Even the other new converts thought a seventeen-year-old way too young to be a leader.

Smith’s answer? ‘If you let me stop here awhile I shall get older. [And] if I haven’t any more whiskers than a gooseberry I have got a wife.’[ii]

Booth began to send these young preachers to different locations across London and beyond. Careful not to call them ‘churches’, in the early days they were known simply as ‘mission stations.’ They were led – overwhelmingly – by those in their twenties, or younger (more of that in a later post).

Booth was clear: he did not want settled congregations enjoying their favourite preacher: He wanted evangelists on a mission to reach their cities – ‘Godly go-ahead dare-devils.’[iii]

We could probably do with a few more of them today.

More next time…
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
© 2015 Lex Loizides / Church History Review

[i] Richard Collier, The General Next to God (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1965) p.42
[ii] ibid p. 46
[iii] ibid p.47

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