The Salvation Army began in 1865 when William Booth, a London minister, abandoned the conventional concept of a church and a pulpit, instead taking his message to the people where it would reach the poor, the homeless, the hungry and the destitute.
William Booth held a series of evangelistic meetings in the East End of London. He set up a tent in a Quaker graveyard, and his services became an instant success. His renown as a religious leader spread throughout London, and he attracted followers who were dedicated to fight for the souls of men and women.
Thieves, prostitutes and, gamblers were among Booth’s first converts to Christianity. To congregations who were desperately poor, he preached hope and salvation. His aim was to lead people to Christ and link them to a church for further spiritual guidance, but soon realized that the poor were not welcome in the pews of most churches and chapels of Victiorian England. Regular churchgoers were appalled when these shabbily dressed, unwashed people came to join them in worship.
Booth decided to found a church especially for them – the East London Christian Mission. The mission grew slowly, so William and his wife Catherine expanded their services within the community. They advocated that their mission should be “Soup, Soap and Salvation,” then took their mission directly to the streets, helping to feed the hungry, rehabilitate alcoholics and fight teenage prostitution – all while offering spiritual guidance.
In 1878, after reading a printer’s proof of The Salvation Army’s Annual Report, William Booth noticed the statement, “The Christian Mission is a volunteer army.” Booth crossed out the words “Volunteer Army” and wrote in “Salvation Army.” From those words came the basis of the foundation deed of The Salvation Army.
From that point, William Booth became the General and converts became soldiers of Christ and were known then, as now, as Salvationists. They preached throughout the British Isles, in some cases facing real battles as organized gangs mocked and attacked them. In spite of violence and persecution, some 250,000 people were converted under the ministry of The Salvation Army between 1881 and 1885.
The Salvation Army movement expanded rapidly to the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Switzerland, India, South Africa, Iceland, and local neighborhood units. Today, The Salvation Army is active in virtually every corner of the world and has evolved over the decades into a social service provider with an unmatched scope and breadth with a mission to meet human needs without discrimination.