The Salvation Army, Sebring, Florida - William Booth stained glass window given in honor of the 80th birthday of General Edward Higgins the first elected General of the Salvation Army.
Photo by Chuck Burn of Sebring Florida
postmarked in 1994 with 19 cent deer stamp
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William Booth (10 April 1829 – 20 August 1912) was a British Methodist preacher who founded the Salvation Army and became its first General (1878–1912). The Christian movement, with a military structure and government - but with no physical weaponry - founded in 1865, has spread from London, England, to many parts of the world and is known for being one of the largest distributors of humanitarian aid.
William was born in Sneinton, Nottingham, England, the only son of four surviving children born to Samuel Booth and Mary Moss. His father was wealthy by the standards of the time, but during Booth's childhood, as a result of his father's bad investments, the family descended into poverty.
After his fathers death, he started to read extensively and trained himself in writing and in speech, becoming a Methodist lay preacher.
In 1851, Booth joined the 'Reformers' (Methodist Reform Church), and on 10 April 1852, his 23rd birthday, he became a full-time preacher at their headquarters at Binfield Chapel in Clapham. Just over a month after he started full-time preaching, on 15 May 1852, William Booth became formally engaged to Catherine Mumford. In November 1853, Booth was invited to become the Reformers' minister at Spalding, in Lincolnshire.
Though Booth became a prominent Methodist evangelist, he was unhappy that the denomination kept assigning him to a pastorate, the duties of which he had to neglect to respond to the frequent requests that he do evangelistic campaigns. At the Liverpool conference in 1861, after having spent three years at Gateshead, his request to be freed for evangelism full-time was refused yet again, and Booth resigned from the ministry of the Methodist New Connexion.
Soon he was barred from campaigning in Methodist congregations, so he became an independent evangelist. His doctrine remained much the same, though; he preached that eternal punishment was the fate of those who do not believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the necessity of repentance from sin, and the promise of holiness. He taught that this belief would manifest itself in a life of love for God and mankind.
In 1865, Booth and his wife Catherine opened The Christian Revival Society in the East End of London, where they held meetings every evening and on Sundays, to offer repentance, salvation and Christian ethics to the poorest and most needy, including alcoholics, criminals and prostitutes. The Christian Revival Society was later renamed The Christian Mission.
Booth and his followers practiced what they preached and performed self-sacrificing Christian and social work, such as opening “Food for the Million” shops (soup kitchens), not caring if they were scoffed at or derided for their Christian ministry work.
In 1878 the name of the organization was changed to The Salvation Army, modelling it in some ways after the military, with its own flag and its own music, often with Christian words to popular and folkloric tunes sung in the pubs. He and the other soldiers in God's Army would wear the Army's own uniform. He became the "General" and his other ministers were given appropriate ranks as "officers".
Though the early years were lean ones, with the need of money to help the needy an ever growing issue, Booth and The Salvation Army persevered. In the early 1880s, operations were extended to other countries.
During his lifetime, William Booth established Army work in 58 countries and colonies, travelling extensively and holding, "salvation meetings."
Booth regularly published a magazine and was the author of a number of books; he also composed several songs. His books In Darkest England and the Way Out were reprinted several times and lately in 2006.
Opinion of the Salvation Army and William Booth eventually changed to that of favour. In his later years, he was received in audience by kings, emperors and presidents, who were among his ardent admirers. Even the mass media began to use his title of 'General' with reverence.
In 1899, Booth suffered from blindness in both eyes, but with a short rest, was able to recover his sight. Later in 1899, he had to have his right eye removed and had a cataract in his left eye.
William Booth was 83 years old when he died, in Hadley Wood, London. He was buried with his wife in the main London burial ground of Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington.