You know the sound. It usually begins right after Thanksgiving at a store in your neighborhood. To some, Salvation Army bell ringers are an irritating nuisance, to others, a harbinger of hope. But have you ever wondered how it all began, or what’s done with the proceeds?
History of the Salvation Army
In 1852 William Booth walked the streets of London preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. He reached out to the poor, homeless, hungry, and destitute dregs of London society. But a disagreement with London church leaders caused Booth to take his message to the people, leaving the pulpit behind. He journeyed throughout England, conducting evangelistic meetings with his wife, Catherine.
It wasn’t until 1865, at a tent meeting held in a Quaker graveyard, that Booth’s ministry attained recognition. Invitations poured in as his reputation spread, attracting followers that dedicated themselves to fight for lost souls.
His original intention was to lead people to Christ and then add them to a church for further spiritual guidance. However, the thieves, prostitutes, gamblers, and drunkards were rejected by local congregations because of their past. Undaunted, Booth gave his new converts the challenge of saving others like themselves. Their preaching and singing in the streets soon became a testimony to the saving grace and power of God.
By 1867, Booth’s work was known as “The Christian Mission.”And his followers called him “General.” Others referred to them as the “Hallelujah Army.” It wasn’t’ until 1878, when he noticed the statement “The Christian Mission is a volunteer army” in an annual report, that he changed the “volunteer army,” to “Salvation Army.” And the converts became soldiers for Christ.
From that beginning, The Salvation Army is now active in almost every nation in the world.
The Story of the Red Kettles
By 1891 Salvation Army soldiers had reached the shores of America. In San Francisco, Captain Joseph McFee fretted because so many poor went hungry. He decided to provide them a free Christmas dinner, but lay awake nights praying about funding the project. How he could he feed 1,000 of the city’s poorest individuals on Christmas Day?
Then he remembered his days in Liverpool, England as a sailor. At a place called Stage Landing, a large, iron kettle called “Simpson’s Pot” stood. People tossed money in to help the poor. So he set up a pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing, and placed a sign that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling.” The needed money was raised for the Christmas dinners. Within six years the kettles had spread to the Boston area. In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided funds for the first sit-down dinner held at Madison Square Garden.
Captain McFee’s kettle idea launched a Salvation Army tradition that has spread throughout the world. And public contributions to Salvation Army kettles allow them to provide meals, lodging for the homeless, holiday assistance, basic social services, disaster assistance, and sending kids to summer camp.
During the holiday season, The Salvation Army assists more than four-and-a-half million people.