ON 20 August 1912, General William Booth – Founder of The Salvation Army – was promoted to Glory. A century later, his Army is bigger, stronger and more far-reaching than ever. The General's legacy is The Salvation Army of today, his priceless gift to the poor and marginalised – a lasting tribute to the working of God in the life of an ordinary man who was able to do extraordinary things.
Salvation Army historian Gordon Taylor allowed All the World magazine to publish an excerpt from his forthcoming book William Booth – His Life and Legacy which gives a moving insight into the lives and thoughts of the Founder's family and colleagues as the great man prepared to 'lay down his sword'.
After the General was promoted to Glory, tributes poured in from all over the world. King George V of the United Kingdom wrote to the Army's new General (William's son, Bramwell): 'The nation has lost a great organiser and the poor a whole-hearted and sincere friend, who devoted his life to helping them in a practical way.' President Howard Taft of the USA wrote that the Founder's 'long life and great talents were dedicated to the noble work of helping the poor and weak and giving them another chance to attain success and happiness'.
The media reaction was swift and effusive. The Daily Express in the UK reported: 'The loss to the world is very real, and really felt.' The South African News said: 'William Booth is dead. And with him passed away one of the most vivid and striking personalities the world has ever seen.' Describing The Salvation Army as 'a miracle wrought in an age of materialism' it concluded: 'You may disagree with the methods of the Army ... but you must recognise the miracle and acknowledge the gifts of the miracle worker.'
In Canada the Toronto Mail and Globe told its readers: 'William Booth ... accomplished in his lifetime a task of such world magnitude as commanded not recognition alone, but sincere personal admiration from three British sovereigns, and won the reverent affection of an innumerable host out of every nation of mankind.' The New York Times put it more simply: 'No man of his time did more for the benefit of the people than William Booth.'
The scale of the reaction to the promotion to Glory of the Salvation Army Founder is difficult to rationalise from a modern viewpoint. For many people the closest experience is perhaps the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997. Her funeral procession went through London streets lined with more than a million people. Booth’s funeral procession drew crowds of double that size!
Richard Collier's biography of the Founder, The General Next to God, records that 40,000 people attended the General's funeral. Among this vast crowd were 'thieves, tramps, harlots, the lost and outcast to whom Booth had given his heart'. Also there – sitting unnoticed by many at the rear of the hall – was Queen Mary, wife of King George V. This was as clear a message as any that the man who had begun his work among the outcasts of society had touched the hearts – and maybe stirred the consciences – of even the most privileged people.
Around the Salvation Army world, much has been made of this 100th anniversary, with a number of territories producing special issues of their publications. The July–September issue of All the World recognised the anniversary by linking modern stories of Salvation Army programmes with William Booth's famous 'I'll Fight!' speech. A specially adapted version of the cover, which anchors the speech in today's Salvation Army ministry, can be downloaded from http://sar.my/fight100.
Crest Books in the USA has also published the book Farewell to the Founder by R. G. Moyles, which shows Booth’s influence on early 20th-century society by reporting in detail the General's last days, his funeral and the reaction of the Army and the wider world to his death. Gordon Taylor's William Booth – His Life and Legacy, to be published by International Headquarters' Salvation Books, uses previously unpublished journals and letters to tell the story of William Booth and his influence.
The UK Territory with the Republic of Ireland is marking the 100th anniversary of the promotion to Glory of General Booth with the release of a DVD called William Booth: A Passion for the Poor, put together by the territory's Video Production Unit. The 30-minute programme is narrated by TV presenter Sue Radford and includes comments from Majors Anne Read and Mark Sawyer.
The video production unit's director, John Anscombe, adds: 'The stars of the show are restored film footage (including a couple of clips which will be new to most people) and the amazing 3D treatment that has been given to old photographs.'
Some people may question the point of remembering the death of the Army's Founder, but this article is not a memorial – it's a cue for both remembrance and celebration. Even in 1912, the understandable sadness of loss was accompanied by what The Times of London reported as an 'air of gladness pervading the ranks of the Army'.
When William Booth 'laid down his sword' – as Salvationists were informed in 1912 – his Salvation Army was at work in 58 countries. Today, that number is 124 and growing. This centenary of the General's 'promotion to Glory' should be treated as just that – a 'promotion'; a moving on, a stepping forward. We do not reflect morbidly on what has been lost but instead we celebrate the legacy and influence of a great man who, 100 years ago, went to meet his maker and claim his eternal reward.
Feature by Kevin Sims
William Booth: A Passion for the Poor can be purchased from Salvationist Publishing and Supplies (www.sps-shop.com) for £14.95 (plus postage). The initial batch will be in region-free PAL format (used throughout Europe and Australasia) but it is planned to produce an NTSC version (used in the Americas) shortly. All DVDs will include a high-definition video file that will play on any modern computer.