Reading an old copy of an internal salvation army magazine The Officer (Lt- Col Rader, H.C. and Rader, F. (2003) 'Salvation Army: Mission Strategy and ministry to the poor' in THE OFFICER march/april 2003.) I discovered that most days I walk or drive past a significant spot. The spot where The Salvation Army (then the East London Christian Mission) first started meeting the physical needs of a community in mission.
It happened during the 1866 and 1867 cholera epidemic and it sparked a revolution of authentic grace centred mission. The Revival (an early Christian Mission publication) of 31 January 1867, Booth wrote that at the Union Temperance Hall, High Street, Poplar, 'We are now giving away soup and bread, and propose doing so while the distress continues and funds are sent us.'
Funny we're into our eighth year at Poplar and I only just found that out. It's a place of significance.
It is significant that from that grew a love of community and transformation that saw the development of other soup kitchens; 'evening classes; ragged schools; reading rooms; penny banks; soup kitchens; relief for the destitute and sick poor by distribution of bread, meat and money; house to house visitation; Sabbath and day schools; maternal societies; supplying clothes for the needy.' There were literacy classes, a Drunkards' Rescue Society and a savings bank. In addition, there were five 'food for the millions' food shops.
It's significant that despite seemingly turning his back on such social services - that were at first considered a distraction and a financial drain, and despite the influence of Catherine and Railton - his attitude swung back to a holistic model of mission.
When in 1880 - Booth confronted Bramwell about the men sleeping under the bridges. It is significant that he didn't say "great... look at the evangelistic opportunity we have with these vulnerable men let's evangelise them when they are at their lowest" but he said, "do something...!".
It's significant that Booth saw that people were receptive to a gospel that addressed their needs; that was authentic, that was grace centred and saw transformation and wholeness.
It's significant that when once asked 'What about The Salvation Army proper? Has it suffered from the competition of the Social Work?' Booth responded "I know what you mean, but in my estimation it is all the Army proper. We want to abolish these distinctions..." (The War Cry, 1889).
"Abolish these distinctions" '- I wish there was someone yelling that out now to all those who honestly feel that it is totally ok to operate a 'small print', 'strings attached', 'graceless', 'means to an end', 'abusive' approach to mission.
When Booth wrote about Boundless Salvation I think he knew what he meant! And to think the journey of mission started at the end of my street!