An inside look at what’s to come at the seventh-ever international congress
By Christin Davis –
Flowing through London, the River Thames is a longstanding maritime route, boundary and economic resource. As merchant ships sailed throughout the world, they brought back its riches to store in The City—the financial heart of the British Empire.
Yet the area is flanked by London’s East End, long synonymous with poverty, overcrowding, disease and criminality.
As the river brought treasure to the empire, it also brought an expanding population to the East End. Waves of immigrants—French Protestant Huguenots, Irish, Ashkenazi Jews, and Bangladeshi—poured in and general conditions worsened.
According to the 1881 census, over 1 million people lived in London’s East End, where the life expectancy of a laborer was less than 19 years. Two out of every 10 children died, and diseases like tuberculosis, rickets and scarlet fever were common.
“In that context began the Christian Mission,” said Lt. Colonel Alex Morrice, who served as an officer from Scotland to Japan and retired as the assistant chief secretary of the United Kingdom and Ireland Territory in 2001. A self-described historian, Morrice leads Salvation Army-focused tours through the East End. “If you don’t know our roots—where we’ve come from—you don’t know where we’re going. We get information and inspiration from our history, and while we can’t be imprisoned by our past, it gives us signposts for the future.”
Today, as in the 1800s, vendors peddle everything from produce to household supplies in market stalls down Whitechapel Road. It’s alongside these stalls that the East London Revival Association first held an open air outside the Blind Beggar pub.
“The slums were indescribable with dreadful squalor,” Morrice said. “Large families lived in tiny apartments with no water or heat. They were the neglected poor, the outcasts of society.”
It was a life so bad, the pub advertised: “Get drunk for half penny; blind drunk for a penny.”
When the leader of that revival meeting asked if anyone wanted a word, William Booth stepped forward. The following Sunday, July 2, 1865, he preached his first sermon under the association’s tent in Vallance Gardens.
History holds that Booth returned home that night and said to his wife, “Kate, I have found my destiny.” He became its leader, and so began what was renamed The Salvation Army in 1878.
“The Salvation Army—what a strange name!,” Booth wrote after The Christian Mission’s renaming. “What does it mean? Just what it says—a number of people joined together after the fashion of an army; and an army for the purpose of carrying salvation through the land…”
The Blind Beggar still operates today. Two nearby statues commemorate Booth’s work in the area, and a street mural features influential people—from Queen Elizabeth, to George Bernard Shaw, and Booth. Two corps, the longstanding Cambridge Heath Corps and the more recently opened Stepney Corps work in this community, along with the 150-bed Booth House for homeless men.
This is the birthplace of The Salvation Army, and in 2015—the organization’s 150th year—Salvationists will gather at the O2 in South East London for Boundless: The Whole World Redeeming. The 20,000-person capacity arena will host representatives from each of the Army’s 126 countries of work.
“It’s going to be an event that will inspire the entire Salvation Army world, and for the first time we truly have the capacity to reach the entire Salvation Army world,” said Lt. Col. Eddie Hobgood, congress coordinator, a USA Southern Territory officer who has spent most of his service in event planning roles.
Only the seventh international congress—the last in Atlanta, Ga., in 2000—this anniversary congress is named after Booth’s timeless song, “O Boundless Salvation,” which has been called the anthem of this army.
“When William wandered into the East End and saw the poverty and neglect of the church he was moved to do something,” Hobgood said. “We believe very strongly the call to save the world is as strong today and The Salvation Army needs to sometimes be reminded of what we’re all about. ‘Boundless’ is a call to continue into the next 150 years.”
From July 1-5, 2015, seven sessions will feature various aspects of General André Cox’s dream for the Army.
Forty performance groups from throughout the world will participate—from hula, to Chinese lion dancing, and the Angola National Band.
A six-person congress team at international headquarters is working with Texas-based production company Corporate Magic, which has worked with brands from Jaguar to Coca-Cola and has produced The Salvation Army USA Red Kettle Kickoff Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day halftime show.
“We know this is more than just celebration for celebration sake,” said Stephen Dahlem, Corporate Magic senior creative director. “We know people remember how they felt about an experience long after they forget what you told them about an experience, and we want people to leave moved and inspired.”[gss ids=”7128,7119,7126,7124,7120,7122″]
As soon as delegates exit the Tube’s North Greenwich Station, Dahlem said they should plan to be submerged in The Salvation Army story.
“More than just the attendees of the congress, this is an amazing opportunity to help pedestrian traffic understand what the Army is about and why it is celebrating,” he said. “We want to make sure this is a global celebration with viral legs.”
Beyond the theater—which will showcase an original Larsson and Larsson musical—and expo hall, 40 restaurants, a bowling alley and movie theater, the arena will also feature an interactive heritage display with rarely seen early Salvation Army artifacts and highlights into features of today’s Army and where it’s headed.
Commissioner William Cochrane, international secretary to the chief of the staff and chairman of the congress planning and advisory council, is responsible to ensure the General’s vision for the congress is met.
“We are what all the years have made us, but God has much more for us to do,” Cochrane said. “I have a strong sense that during the congress we will be galvanized into something that is fit for the rest of this century and as long as God wants us to work. All the experience of the years and empowerment of the years and the holy spirit have enabled the building of a movement that is stronger than it’s ever been in its history.”
Hobgood said the congress will have an “incredible international flavor,” and has included people from around the world in planning. Through the Mind the Gap initiative, Salvationists can sponsor international delegates from financially supported territories.
“We will want to hear and see expressions of the Army from around the world that demonstrate the incredible ways in which people are reaching out with the gospel,” Cochrane said. “Everyone is made in the image of God. Everyone is of equal value to God. His love knows no boundary of place, color, class, gender, and nothing is beyond the reach of God’s love.”
A one-mile march down the mall from Horse Guards Parade to Green Park beyond Buckingham Palace with the participating performers will give the event great exposure in the city.
“The call is to authenticity, to individual Salvationists leading authentically, Christ-like lives so that people notice a difference,” Cochrane said. “Booth saw Salvationists as a going people—going out into the open air because people weren’t coming in to the church.”
The congress is being funded by contributions from self-supporting territories throughout the world.
“We didn’t do any external fundraising, and we’ve been assured that no programming, no ministry is going to suffer because of these contributions,” Hobgood said.
“The Salvation Army has a remarkable testimony of trust in God. When the first Salvationists gathered in the East End, they had nothing—no place to call their own, no building, no money, and very few people—but somehow God took the commitment of those few people and multiplied it,” Cochrane said. “It will be an inspiring moment when we all gather in what is possibly the biggest tent in the world—the O2—just a short distance away from where they held those first meetings.”
Register and find more information at boundless2015.org.