Salvation Army marks a century of serving the community

October marks a special time for the local Salvation Army, as the church and community ministry marks a century of service in Red Deer.

Special events include a visit by the Salvation Army territorial leaders and a concert from the Salvation Army’s Canadian staff band. It’s all part of the celebrations set for the weekend of Oct. 12-14.

Highlights also include an anniversary dinner on the Friday evening at the church. The Canadian staff band also performs on the Saturday evening at the Memorial Centre, starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are available through the Black Knight Inn Ticket Centre.

Rounding out the weekend, a Sunday morning worship will run at 10 a.m. as well.

It’s a significant year for the Salvation Army in several ways – besides marking the centennial of the ministry in Red Deer, 2012 is also the 100th anniversary of the death of founder William Booth and the 130th anniversary of the Army’s ministry in Canada.

The Salvation Army is one of those rare organizations that enjoys an exemplary reputation around the world. There isn’t a hint of scandal or financial mismanagement that has tainted so many other Christian ministries over the years. The Christmas kettles are also always a friendly and welcome site each holiday season, and the public time and again open up their hearts and pocketbooks to generously support programs that run through the entire year.

Their mission is simple but profound – ‘Heart to God, Hand to Man’. It’s a principal that has been guiding the church’s steps since its beginning in the poverty-wracked areas of east London in the late 19th century.

Booth spent years as a Methodist minister traveling all around the country and preaching. He returned to London with his family, and found himself extremely burdened by the state of the masses. London’s east end was known for excruciating homelessness, poverty and alcoholism.

He formed ‘The Christian Mission’ which was changed in 1878 to the Salvation Army. By the time Booth died the Army was at work in 58 countries. Today, the Army is working in about 120 countries.

In 2010, I had the opportunity to visit London and I embarked on a walking tour of east London which featured the sites that were related to the Salvation Army’s beginnings. I stood outside the Blind Beggar Pub where Booth, on a June evening in 1865, stopped as he made his way along Whitechapel Road, teeming as it was with the poor who crowded the beer shops. According to the Salvation Army web site, he noticed a leader of a group of missioners holding an open-air meeting. The man was asking any Christian bystander to have a word.

Booth shared the gospel and the missionaries were so impressed they asked if he would take charge of a special tent mission they were holding nearby.

Near this site there are two statues of Booth, denoting the fact that this very area was where so much of the ministry’s foundations were laid. I also saw the small, unassuming building – a rundown beer shop at the time – that the ministry managed to purchase in 1867. Another interesting nearby building bears a blue plaque indicating that on Sept. 3, 1865, Professor Orson’s Dancing Academy became the setting for The Christian Mission’s first Sunday meetings after their meeting tent had blown down.

When the Saturday night dancers went home in the early hours of Sunday morning, the missioners would move in with their brooms and benches to prepare the room for Sunday worship. I also saw a disused Quaker burial ground (now a public park) on which Booth conducted a meeting in the large tent erected by a group of missioners. That started on July 2, 1865. And out of this small cluster of supporters grew the global work of the Salvation Army.

It was truly inspiring to see these places and imagine the exciting chapters of the church’s history that had taken place there. It struck me what a rich history and heritage the Salvation Army has – both in Red Deer, across Canada and around the world. That passion to serve humanity both spiritually and physically also led many early members to become missionaries themselves, settling in communities around the world – including in Canada.

Thankfully, some settled in Red Deer and their legacy continues to inspire the local ministry to this day.