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Honouring the final words of the Founder

Honouring the final words of the Founder

Honouring the final words of the Founder

20 August 2017

To his dying day, William Booth's passion was that Salvationists would be found with those at the margins.

By Scott Simpson

According to tradition, among William Booth’s dying words was an order directed to his eldest son, Bramwell, the man who would take over the generalship of The Salvation Army from its founder.

“And the homeless children, Bramwell, look after the homeless. Promise me ...” are the words he is acknowledged to have spoken.

On 20 August, it will be 105 years to the day since Booth gave this final instruction to his son. While not a widely recognised event on The Salvation Army calendar, there are no doubt those who will use the anniversary as an occasion to pause and reflect on the life of one of the most influential men of the Victorian age – a man who gave himself to helping the poor.

Tellingly, of all the societal ills encountered that Booth could have chosen to emphasise to the man he had appointed to succeed him as General of The Salvation Army, he deliberately focused on the importance of helping the homeless.

This should come as no surprise to us; alongside saving souls, serving suffering humanity was, after, all, the Founder’s passion.

Booth’s wife and co-founder of The Salvation Army, Catherine, once told the story of her husband, having witnessed the deprivation of the slums of London’s East End for the first time, returning home and proclaiming: “I have found my destiny.”

It was a destiny he would spend his life – and in the process charging fellow Salvationists to be of the same mind – seeking to fulfil.

I wonder what General Booth would make of the modern-day Salvation Army’s attitude to the homeless? Over the past decade, as I have served as editor of Salvation Army publications Pipeline and now Others, I have been privileged on a number of occasions to travel to developing countries to see first-hand the work of the Army in these places.

On my travels, I’ve met Salvationists in large numbers, many of them living in poverty themselves, who are committed to serving suffering humanity and are enthusiastically opening their own homes to those in need. But what of Salvationists in the Western world and, in particular, right here in Australia? Do we display the same level of compassion for the needy, or have we become just a little bit too comfortable in our middle-class Christianity? Do we truly have a heart to “... look after the homeless”, as Booth implored his son, Bramwell, to do?

Sure, we have many wonderful programs designed to meet this ever-growing need you can read our recent articles highlighting the work of 614 Corps in Melbourne, Brisbane Streetlevel, and the amazing ministry of Ingle Farm Corps in suburban Adelaide.

All of these Salvation Army centres certainly do a fantastic job in reaching out to the needy, but in reality they are serviced by only a very small number of Salvationists.

Perhaps this 105th anniversary of William Booth’s death is an appropriate time for honest reflection on whether you are honouring those final words of the Founder.

Scott Simpson is the Managing Editor of Others Magazine.

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