She Preaches Gospel: Catherine Booth

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On January 17, 1829 Catherine Mumford was born to John Mumford and Sarah Milward Mumford in Ashbourne, Derbyshire in England (Read, 6; Green, 19-21). Catherine grew up to become the wife of William Booth, a mother, a preacher, a prolific author, the co-founder of the Salvation Army, and a highly influential woman in Victorian England.

Catherine’s mother was a steady influence in Catherine’s live. She was a strict Methodist who did not trust public education. Consequently, she taught Catherine using the Bible as her main text book. When Catherine was 12, she enrolled in public school (Green 21-23). After two years, she developed severe curvature of the spine and dropped out. She continued her studies on her own, focusing on the writings of various Christian scholars and leaders including John Wesley, John Fletcher, Charles Finney, Joseph Butler, John Bunyan, and Lutheran historians, Johann Lorenz Mosheim and Augustus Neander (Read 7).

Catherine believed that each person needed to have a conversion experience. At the age of sixteen she earnestly sought assurance that she was saved because it seemed “unreasonable to suppose that (she) could be saved and yet not know it” (Green 30-31). She received that assurance one morning as she read one of Charles Wesley’s hymns, “My God, I am Thine, What a comfort Divine. What a blessing to know that Jesus is mine” (Green 31).

Catherine and William met in 1851. They became engaged on May 15, 1852, and married on June 16, 1855. The couple had a long-distance courtship and engagement. They carried on an extensive correspondence, and Catherine made known to William her strong opinions concerning the consumption of alcohol and her views on women in ministry. She was deeply committed to total abstinence (Green 47-57), and she was convinced that women were inherently equal to men and the scriptures mandated that women should be involved in ministry. William adopted Catherine’s views on both issues. In 1859 he helped her publish a pamphlet entitled Female Teaching that promoted women in ministry (Green 125-127).

For the first two years of their marriage William was an itinerant evangelist working for the New Methodist Connexion. They were often separated due to William’s schedule and Catherine’s health. Catherine gave birth to eight children.

From 1857 to 1862 William pastored circuits for the New Methodist Connexion. He spent four years at Gateshead where Catherine started her public ministry at Gateshead. She began by leading class meetings (Green 87-90), calling on people in their homes, inviting them to church, and assisting the poverty stricken with their needs (Green (92-93). She did not preach until January of 1860. On a Sunday morning she went forward after her husband had completed his sermon, and she informed the congregation that she had disobeyed God’s call to preach. William immediately announced that she would preach her first sermon at the church that night. Later that year when William became ill, Catherine substituted for him. Her preaching was mentioned in the newspapers—often negatively—but she quickly gained a large following (Green 134-137)

In 1861 Catherine entered into the experience of sanctification. She read Wesley widely and also the writings of Phoebe Palmer. In a letter dated February 11, 1861 written to her parents, she testified to having experienced sanctification and wrote her understanding of what it meant. She had fully surrendered her will to God. (Green 97-106).

In 1862 William and Catherine left the New Methodist Connexion and became independent itinerant evangelists (Green 113-116). They developed separate schedules and were often apart from each other (Green 144-145). At the beginning of 1865 they moved to London and formed a partnership in ministry that allowed them each to maintain a unique ministry and identity while mutually supporting the other’s work. William accepted an invitation to work for six weeks at a mission in London’s east end in one of the most depressed areas of the city. People lived in extreme poverty, crime was wide-spread, and drunkenness and prostitution were rife.

When he saw the needs, William became convinced that his life’s calling was to work among the poor. This led Catherine and William to co-found the East London Christian Mission. A group of “philanthropist involved in religious work” supported the mission (Green 161-162). As the work expanded the name was changed to the Christian Mission. Catherine preached widely to London’s affluent people, speaking bluntly about the sis of the wealthy. The money that Catherine received from the offerings taken at her campaigns provided for the family and helped support the work in London’s east end (155-160).

Catherine’s influence over mission policy was evident. The mission recognized the equality of men and women, insisted that its staff members abstain from alcoholic drink, and used working class man and women as preachers in spite of their educational limitations (Green 173-176).

In 1877 under the leadership of William and Catherine Booth, the Christian Mission was reorganized and renamed the Salvation Army. It attracted attention because of its controversial methods. They held open air marches and used women cadets known as the Hallelujah lasses. Volunteers went into bars and brothels and spoke the language of the streets from which the converts came (Green 212-214). They attracted large crowds, grew quickly, and often met violent opposition.

Catherine fully supported the salvation Army’s message, its methods, and its use of the common language of the people. She claimed that “the Spirit gave life to the army and not the army’s means and methods” (Green 276). She continued her preaching ministry to the wealthy, traveling widely, raising support for the army, and making the wider society aware of the army’s ministry. Many of her sermons were published the War Cry, the Salvation Army’s official publication (Green 241-245, 272-275).

The purpose of the Salvation Army was evangelism. The involvement in social issues “was understood as being a natural consequence of their salvation in Christ, their involvement in every aspect of the lives of the people, and a faithful witness to such biblical passages as Matthew 25” (Green 248).

In February of 1888 Catherine learned that she had breast cancer. The doctor proposed surgery, but Catherine refused to consider it. She preached her last sermon in London on June 21, 1888 (Green, 281). She died on October 4, 1890 (Green 288-291). She had fully surrendered her life to God, and today she is remembered as “wife, mother, preacher, teacher, (and) writer” (Green 298). She is especially remembered as one who strongly promoted women in ministry and as a “the mother of an army” (Green 298)

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“If the Word of God forbids female ministry, we would ask how it happens that so many of the most devoted handmaidens of the Lord have felt constrained by the Holy Ghost to exercise it? … The Word and the Spirit cannot contradict each other.” (Catherine Booth)

References & Biographical Works Consulted

Booth-Tucker, Frederick St. George De Lautour. The Life of Catherine Booth: The Mother of the Salvation Army. New York: Fleming H. Revell Co, 1892.

Bramwell-Booth, Catherine. Catherine Booth: The Story of Her Loves. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1970.

Green, Roger Joseph. Catherine Booth: A Biography of the Cofounder of the Salvation Army. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1996.

Read, John. Catherine Booth: Laying the Theological Foundations of a Radical Movement. Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2013.

Stead, W. T. Life of Mrs. Booth, The Founder of the Salvation Army. New York, Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1900.

Online Sources about Catherine Booth

 

http://www.historyswomen.com/womenoffaith/CatherineBooth.html (Accessed 9-01-2016)

http://www.crivoice.org/cbooth.html (Accessed 9-01-2016)

http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book//lookupname?key=Booth%2C%20Catherine%20Mumford%2C%201829-1890 (Accessed 9-01-2016)

http://www.gospeltruth.net/booth/booth_index.htm (Accessed 9-01-2016)

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Dr. Ruth Tipton served as a missionary in Papua New Guinea for 37 years under the auspices of the Churches of Christ in Christian Union and World Gospel Mission. She worked primarily in translation and literacy. In 2008 she received an honorary doctorate in Christian Leadership from Ohio Christian University. When she retired, she enrolled in Asbury Theological Seminary’s PhD program in Intercultural Studies, earning her degree in 2015. She is currently involved in research and writing.

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