Congress through the years…

This year’s International Congress was the eighth in Army history. From the beginning, Congresses have served to identify, unite, and inspire Salvationists around the world.


1886 congress
DELEGATES to the 1886 Congress pose in uniforms that included pith helments.


There can be no doubt that the first International Congress gave a tremendous boost to the Army’s ever-widening influence. Representatives coming to London from five continents caught a vision of this irresistible Salvation force. In their General they saw they had a courageous commander, seen before only in pictures. Hearing the thunder of his speeches, they would follow him with fanatical zeal on return to their native lands. They learned that it was not necessary to wait for a “landing party,” but that any man or woman, fully consecrated to God, with brains, initiative, courage, a fiery purpose, a will of iron and a heart of gold could be John the Baptist in his native land.

The tumultuous street meetings, the marches, the drums and timbrels during the Congress unfortunately left behind a legacy of resentment by some segments of the public, and persecutions increased as a result.


The second International Congress was held in 1894 to mark the 50th an-niversary of the General’s conversion and the 29th of the birth of the Christian Mission.

Hindus, Zulus, Hottentots and Kaffirs, some resplendent in native attire, attracted the attention of wondering crowds, as did the ebony faces and star-spangled costumes of the U.S. Minstrel Singers. An exhibition at the Crystal Palace of the Darkest England scheme created considerable interest. It depicted “Destruction Street” with its “multitude of infamous establishments” at one extreme, to “the institutions and departments already in working order” at the other. The general appearance, discipline and ability of the young people were the subjects of special attention.

An “invasion of the provinces” increased the Congress’s effect as three contingents of overseas representatives went on tour for two weeks, visiting towns in England, Scotland and Wales. Such exotic faces and costumes had never been seen in many of these cities.


For this event an International Congress Hall was erected in the Strand capable of seating more than 5,000. Bramwell Booth was in charge of the mammoth undertaking, in which 49 different countries and colonies were represented.

An “electrifying procession” paraded before the General like a “human kaleidoscope.” Australians, the first to arrive after eight weeks at sea, included Major Perry, the foremost cinematographer in the Southern Hemisphere.

From the United States came 350, including the National Staff Band in cowboy costume, whose arrival had brought throngs to the station. Staff Captain Gunpei Yamamuro led the Japanese contingent, and 300 from Canada included a Bermudan band and two Klondike pioneers.

By receiving General Booth at Buckingham Palace, Edward VII “extinguished what remained in some intolerant quarters of the storm of hostility which The Salvation Army had at one time to encounter.”


The first to be held without the inspiring presence of William Booth, this was the last Congress of its kind for the next 50 years. Preparations were elaborate, and hopes high as Salvationists converged from over the globe. As if to foreshadow the tragedy of the war to come, 200 delegates from Canada perished when the Canadian Pacific liner Empress of Ireland was rammed in a fog and sank in the Gulf of St. Lawrence a few hours after leaving Quebec. The lost ones included Commissioner David Rees, his wife and daughter, as well as the Chief Secretary and his wife, many headquarters staff, and most of the Staff Band. Though the 627 American delegates had been invited to accompany their Canadian comrades on the voyage, Commander Evangeline had declined.

Congress went on as planned. The delegates presented an impressive variety of costumes; New Zealanders marched beside Zulus, thousands of flags were scattered from overhead when the smiling Danes marched by; Americans displayed their variety from cowboys and miners to Uncle Sam-dressed songsters. The surviving Canadians marched in silence, their arms wearing white bands of mourning.


Two World Wars had come and gone, their after-effects lingering after fighting ceased. At last the time was right for another International Congress.

Though greeted warmly by previous monarchs, Salvationists were honored for the first time at the opening meeting by the presence of Queen Elizabeth II. Representatives of 25 countries made a ceremonial entry into Westminster Abbey for a special Centenary Congress service of thanksgiving, during which General Frederick Coutts unveiled a bust of General William Booth. In a 1905 Renault, “William Booth” and “Commissioner John Lawley” rode along Whitehall to an open-air rally held in the historic Trafalgar Square. The International Staff Band, joined by others, played at Buckingham Palace.


Designated by General Arnold Brown as “the greatest-ever convocation of Salvationists,” more than 30,000 from all five continents attended the series of events at the Centennial Congress.

A “Pageant of the Nations” welcomed the newest Salvationists from Fiji, Portugal, Spain and Tenerife. There were reenactments of the Army’s change of name from the “Christian Mission,” the presentation of the first flag at Coventry, and the beginning of brass bands by the Fry family.

Thunderous applause and a resounding fanfare greeted Prince Charles as he defined the Army in eloquent terms. A 1,000 voice chorus presented the work, We Believe, in recognition of a century of Salvation Army doctrine. This Congress also saw the debut of the Gowans-Larsson musical, Blood of the Lamb.

Commissioner Catherine Bramwell-Booth, the Founder’s 95-year-old granddaughter, was introduced as the “Darling of the Toastmasters and the television star of The Salvation Army.” The Church of England paid its own tribute with a service of thanksgiving held in Westminster Abbey, where the Dean spoke eloquently of the burning enthusiasm and compassion of William Booth.

Said the London Evening Standard, “With or without their Founder, The Salvation Army proved this week that they fight on–a thriving testimonial to the inspiration of Booth and the message of Christ.”


Twenty thousand Salvationists overall, with 3,570 registered delegates from 50 territories and commands, gathered in London with the motto, “With Christ Into the Future.” General Eva Burrows outlined the purposes: to strengthen the bond of international unity, to challenge each delegate to a new level of dedication to Christ and the Army, and to look to the future with vision and realism.

Experts of the Army world held three-day seminars on vital and practical subjects, and the days were filled with something for everyone, including a glorious Youth Spectacular.

Crowds roared their approval as heroes Major Yin Hung-Shun (R) and Brigadier Josef Korbel (R) were admitted to the Order of the Founder, as well as Envoy Kim, Yung-Sook of Korea and Envoy Wilbur Walker of Australia Eastern Territory.

The Grand Parade “became a swirling multicolored sea, from which flags and placards rose like masts and sails.” (Gariepy). It was reported to be the largest Army march since the funeral of the Founder in 1912.

On the final Sunday, large cross-shaped altars drew thousands as the General said, “We are separated by great distances, yet the Cross joins us here.”

[Research by Frances Dingman. Sources: History of The Salvation Army, Vol. II (Sandall); Vol. IV and V (Wiggins); Vol. VII (Coutts); Vol. VIII (Gariepy); S.A. National Archives; The War Cry. ]

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