Drama between San Francisco and Seattle

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General John Larsson (Ret.) writes about his new book “1929-A crisis that shaped The Salvation Army’s future.”

Evangeline Booth

“Do you not remember, dear Bramwell,” wrote Commander Evangeline Booth to her brother General Bramwell Booth on April 9, 1928, “when we journeyed together from San Francisco to Seattle, I knelt by your side and spoke of growing unrest among our people upon the question of the successorship of the General? And how I felt that the fact of the General’s deciding his successor, and the result of this decision being in a ‘sealed envelope’, would after your reign work an injustice to the Army?

“Do you not call to mind,” she continued, “how in your reply you said: ‘Well, Eva, perhaps the time is soon at hand we must do so—when there must be a change of government of the Army?’”

No passengers on the train witnessing the scene would realize what drama was unfolding before them. In that exchange Commander Evangeline Booth was pleading with her brother to make changes to the Army’s constitution before it was too late. For a moment it seemed as if General Bramwell Booth was open to the idea. But it was a passing moment. At heart he was utterly convinced that it his duty was to defend the legacy bequeathed by William Booth to the Army. He would stand firm—and did until it was too late.

In 1929 the constitutional storm that had long been gathering suddenly burst—and General Bramwell Booth was swept from office, deposed by the High Council. The crisis stunned The Salvation Army. So traumatic was this event that for many years “1929”—for that is how it was known—was only talked of in hushed tones in Army circles. But now, for the first time, a Salvationist writer tells the story in full.

The chief actors in those momentous events were the son and daughter of the Founder who conversed on the train between San Francisco and Seattle. Evangeline stood for change. Bramwell stood for permanence. Both were passionately persuaded that their stance was the one William Booth would have taken were he still alive.

The drama also includes many of the Army’s best-known historical personalities in its cast—notably Commissioner Samuel Brengle. The territorial commander of the USA Western Territory, Commissioner Adam Gifford, who had been the territory’s leader since its creation in 1920, was a member of the 1929 High Council and, by the rank he held, had also been a key figure in the lead-up to its calling.

Seven commissioners making a joint requisition could trigger the summoning of the High Council. But they had to be full commissioners, not lieut. commissioners. As the storm gathered during the summer and fall of 1928 it was thought that the High Council might be summoned by North American initiative. In the USA there were only three commissioners of full rank—Evangeline Booth, Samuel Brengle and Adam Gifford—and they were therefore the focus of special attention. But in the end seven commissioners in Britain took the initiative on November 14, 1928.

By any measure the 1929 crisis is a remarkable chapter of Salvation Army history. The story spans the Atlantic, takes the most astonishing twists and turns, and extends from 1875 to the present day.

If it has taken 80 years for the story to be told it is because very real sensitivities are involved—sensitivities which even now have had to be carefully weighed. But there is no doubt that what stunned the Army in 1929 shaped its future, and set it on a path of reform that continues to this day. “1929” is therefore part of the heritage of every Salvationist. (601)
1929 by John Larsson is published by International Headquarters (Salvation Books) and can be ordered from Resource Connection for $18.95 (SAResourceConnection.org or (800) 937-8896).

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