Catherine Booth: honoring God, helping others

‘Army mother’ was a woman who bucked the traditions of her time to reach those in need.

by Karen Gleason

From 1865 on, Catherine Booth—co-founder of The Salvation Army with her husband, William—and her “Hallelujah Lasses” galvanized the streets of East London with the good news of Jesus Christ. She and her army of women succeeded in making The Salvation Army one of the most effective ministries in England.

A revolutionary woman for her time, Catherine believed in the God-given right of women to preach. She wrote: “If the Word of God forbids female ministry, we would ask how it happens that so many of the most devoted handmaidens of the Lord have felt constrained by the Holy Ghost to exercise it… .The Word and the Spirit cannot contradict each other.”

Catherine began preaching in 1860. Originally William had been opposed to the idea of a woman in this role, but he changed his mind when he heard her speak—she had a gift. Later Catherine recalled how before that first sermon an inner voice taunted her: “You will look like a fool and have nothing to say.” Deciding this was the Devil’s voice, she retorted: “That’s just the point. I have never yet been willing to be a fool for Christ. Now I will be one.”

From then on Catherine took a leading role in the Booths’ ministry, preaching at revival services in the rough areas of East London. Members of The Salvation Army often preached in the open air—and were imprisoned for doing so—but they fought on, waging war on poverty and injustice and sharing the redemptive love of Christ.

Catherine—who juggled the demands of work and home before it was the fashion or a necessity for women to do so—became known as the “Army mother.” To scores of Hallelujah Lasses, she was their mentor. And William—once lukewarm regarding women’s role in ministry, wrote in the Orders and Regulations for the Army: “Women shall have the right to an equal share with men in the work of publishing salvation.”

Catherine Booth truly set the standard for future Salvation Army women leaders.

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