Written by Lydia Miller
Hats, tambourines and an old corrugated iron hut. These random yet vivid images are like snapshots that make up my earliest memory of The Salvation Army. We only attended a handful of times, when the town-wide service ‘did the rounds’ but I remember it vividly. There was a lot of talking about a man called William Booth and how important he was. As then Methodists who had just celebrated their 200th birthday, our church was unsurprisingly big John Wesley fans. I remember idly wondering who would win in a Top Trumps style battle.
One thing I don’t remember is Catherine Booth. It may be that my twenty year old memories have faded in parts, or that I’d zoned out for that part of the sermon. Although it may have been that she wasn’t mentioned. Wasn’t referenced as the co-founder of The Salvation Army. Demoted to simply ‘wife of William’ and ‘mother of Bramwell.’
I was surprised when I read about Catherine and all that she achieved. As well as working with young people, the poor, the homeless, drug and alcohol addicts, she was a well-respected and talented preacher. In the late nineteenth century, it was unheard of for a woman to speak and preach in public, particularly to adult congregations that included (gasp) men. Despite the age and culture in which she lived, Catherine spoke widely and powerfully, seeing many men and women come to faith through her teachings. As well as establishing her own successful ministry, Catherine Booth also fought for other women and their right to preach the gospel on the same terms as men. Her pamphlet ‘Female Ministry: Woman’s Right to Preach the Gospel’ was published in 1859 which outlined the Holy Spirit’s anointing of women and defended their right to share the Word in public.
Sometimes it feels as though nothing has changed. Men still outnumber women in our boardrooms, in our government and on the platform, church or otherwise. Sometimes it feels like fighting for equality is just too hard. That it won’t really make a difference. That we will never reach that golden 50:50 ratio.
Catherine Booth shows us otherwise; that we have to persevere. Not just for ourselves and for our own ministry, but for all of our gifted sisters that have been anointed by God to speak the truth. Her views were revolutionary, her convictions were strong and her example was inspiring. Will we pick up the baton (or the tambourine) and continue her work?
Lydia is a twenty-something year old, diet coke addicted youth worker from Kent. She is the Director of Farsight; a charity that challenges the stigma surrounding mental health across Central Africa and has just begun an MA in Transcultural Mental Health.