church

Changing the World!

It’s 17 January 1829 and in a place called Ashbourne in Derbyshire in England, a baby girl is coming into the world.

Her name is Catherine – Catherine Mumford – and little did her parents John and Sarah know, but their daughter would grow up to change the world.

I’m not understating that. Really!

And if you doubt me then I need to tell you one more thing. Catherine Mumford young

Catherine grew up to marry a man called William – William Booth – and together they would go on to found a Christian ‘movement’ that would eventually become The Salvation Army, the global church and charity organisation that today supports and cares for millions of people, many of them disadvantaged and unable to help themselves.

People with addictions, homeless men and women, children, people who don’t have enough food and who are ill, people who yearn for education, those who are seeking work, and those who are exploited including the victims of human trafficking or modern slavery. Today, The Salvation Army is in over 130 countries and responds to need wherever they find it. And although the history dates back more than 150 years they remain relevant. During this COVID-19 pandemic, local Salvation Army churches and other associated groups are working to help people in over 100 countries!

The Salvation Army makes a difference to people’s lives every day … and it is ultimately all down to William and Catherine Booth, who’s Christian faith, vision and inspiration started it all back in 1865.

I think Catherine was an incredible person. She grew up in a Methodist household but quickly developed her own Christian faith and although she was a sickly child, she apparently read the Bible voraciously and immersed herself in spiritual things from an early age. She wasn’t a healthy person all round, it’s thought among other things she suffered from a curvature of the spine. But in her spirit she was bold and brave, and determined in her Christian faith.

When she met William Booth, a fellow radical Methodist, in 1851 – it was almost love at first sight. He was a poor would-be evangelist who would struggle for years to find a place in a church. She supported him through difficult years, and after they married in July 1855, despite her ill health they went on to have eight children, all of whom survived into adulthood and who would all become part of their mission. Catherine was also a Christian evangelist and writer/theologian, and a sought after preacher in her own right, at a time when women preachers were not only rare but frowned upon by ‘polite society’.

Catherine Booth preaching

In fact, it was ‘polite society’ to whom Catherine often preached  - middle class and upper class ladies in particular.

And in 1865, after the family moved to London for one of HER preaching engagements, William finally found his purpose, preaching to the poor and uneducated, those who 'polite society' and established churches of the day often disregarded and even excluded. From this grew a mission to reach out and support those who could not look after themselves and who others considered unworthy.

Between them, William and Catherine Booth founded the (East London) Christian Mission and then in 1878 the name was changed to The Salvation Army, adopted uniforms and a military structure, and the mission really took off. Yes, it was and is still ultimately about preaching the Christian gospel, and 'saving lost souls' but it became more. What was the point of preaching to a person who was hungry - perhaps food might be a good idea?  The Salvation Army wasn't and isn't just about a 'hand out', helping people to survive their day, but also about a 'hand up', assisting people to help themselves, providing accommodation, skills, work and helping to rebuild their confidence. 

I know what you’re thinking – Cathy seems to know a lot about this woman and her husband and the movement they founded!

Well, I should. My first ever book – published in September 2013 – was a biography of the couple.

William and catherine book coverDrawing on letters which they exchanged from the time of their first meeting until Catherine’s death in 1890 from breast cancer, I learned so much about the duo, and how they came to create the worldwide Christian movement which today is their legacy.

Much of what The Salvation Army stands for today is down to Catherine, her interpretation of scripture and her personal and professional influence. The teetotal stance which The Salvation Army still holds to, the equality of the sexes in ministry – both men and women are ‘ordained’ and 'commissioned' to preach and lead - and even the work with victims of human trafficking which dates back to Catherine and other pioneering women from across society and church denominations to advocate for the raising of the age of consent and the protection of girls and women lured into the sex trade. This was just one of the campaigns for the betterment of poor people at a time when poverty blighted British society.

My book is called ‘William and Catherine – the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army, told through their letters’ (Monarch Books 2013)  Weird I know, but true! If you fancy reading all about them then I invite you to do so! The book is still available on many online platforms.

And I hope you will be as inspired as I am, not just by their joint passion for God and people but also by the life of Catherine – a complicated, strong Victorian who was truly a woman before her time!

When she died (or in Salvation army parlance, when she was 'Promoted to Glory'),  The Salvation Army was still  a rather peculiar notion to many who still did not understand it,  but it was gaining credibility.

The Methodist Recorder paid tribute to he as ‘the greatest Methodist woman of this generation’ (9 Oct 1890) and the Manchester Guardian newspaper wrote in its obituary ‘She has probably done more in her own person to establish the right of women to preach the gospel than anyone who has ever lived.’(18 Oct 1890)

All that - and The Salvation Army!

What a legacy!

Historic images from The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre

The Salvation Army UK

William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army, told through their letters - on Amazon


I arise today

I've been wittering on a bit over the last few days, so today I just bring you a prayer.

I love the Celtic Christian tradition and this won't be the last time I bring you a prayer or blessing from this heritage.

Today here's a blessing to start the day. This is a prayer that has probably been spoken for more than a thousand years, because it dates from the first millennium and attributed to an Irish saint called Brigid of Kildare, otherwise known at Bridget of Gael. 

Have a great day!

 

I arise today
Through a mighty strength:

God's power to guide me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's eyes to watch over me;
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to give me speech,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to shelter me,
God's host to secure me.

 

I Arise Today (St. Bridget) – A Collection of Prayers


A Red Letter Day

Are you on social media? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok ? The options, it seems, are endless.  

But once upon a time, even before the invention of the telephone, if people wanted to contact their business contacts, friends, or family when they were apart, the best way was to write a letter.

I love letters. I love handling them, thinking of the person who has taken the time to pick up a pen and write down their thoughts.  Cards also work for me and it’s about this time of year we file away or recycle last year’s Christmas cards.

The letters people have written to each other in the past are also accounts of history, of facts and feelings handed down to us from people who have long since departed our world.

A few years back I even wrote a book based on the love letters exchanged over nearly 40 years in the 19th century between the founders of The Salvation Army - William and Catherine Booth. I have to say, reading their letters, which are held in the British Library in London, and writing 'William and Catherine' not only helped me to understand their personalities and motivations in life, but also to get an insight into their deep Christian faith and how that helped to create what is now a global church and charity movement!

But back to the point of today's 'thought'.

It was on January 10th 1840 that the Penny Post was introduced in Great Britain. This meant that mail was delivered at a standard charge. Until that point every letter was paid for individually by the recipient and it was a cumbersome system.  It was at the end of the 1830s that a chap called Rowland Hill published a pamphlet entitled ‘Post Office Reform’, which proposed a uniform postage rate of one penny, wherever in the country the letter was posted or received.  To prevent postage fraud, he came up with the idea of an adhesive label to pre-pay the postage. So the postage stamp was born.  

The 'Penny Black' was that first ever stamp and its inventor was eventually knighted by Queen Victoria and became SIR Rowland Hill.

Red post box (edit)

Today we can still find old red postage boxes dotted about, and whenever I spot one it draws me right back into history. It's a link with the past!

Not so many people use ‘snail mail’ today, but every time we place a postage stamp on an envelope perhaps we can think again of those who have left  their impact on the world through letters.

In the New Testament we hear accounts of the life of Jesus Christ, and the early church through epistles, or letters.  Letters which contain wisdom which is as true today as when it was conceived and written down a couple of thousand years ago.

Like St Paul’s words to the early church in Corinth - ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love!’ (1Corinthians 13:13)

If that’s not a great blast from the past handed down to us in a letter, what is?

Note - http://www.victorianweb.org/history/pennypos.html


A 17th century Prayer

In my traveling and musings through the years, I’ve collected lots of sayings and readings that I find inspiring. I'm not a 'collector' of many things, but I do have a store of inspirational thoughts which I sometimes dip into.

I may share some of them with you from time to time ...

And here’s one of them.

Just proves  I think that us humans never change really … and the older I get, the more this seems to resonate with me.

 

I do not want to be a saint but......

Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself, that I am growing older and will some day be old.

Keep me from getting talkative and particularly from the fatal habit of thinking I may say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from the craving to try to straighten out everybody's affairs.

Make me thoughtful, but not moody; helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips from my aches and pains. They are increasing, and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of others' pains. Help me to endure them with patience.

Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally, it is possible that I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint. Some of them are hard to live with, but a sour old woman is one of the crowning works of the devil.

Help me to extract all possible fun out of life. There are so many funny things around us and I do not want to miss any of them.

AMEN

By a 17th century nun


Resolutions

We're one week into the new year.

So the questions for today are ...

Did you make any 'New Year Resolutions'? And if so ... have you broken them yet?

I guess one of the top 'resolutions' which lots of us (well at least us females) make year on year is 'LOSE WEIGHT'.

But maybe 'eat healthier' and 'exercise more' should be what we aim for. That will, we know, help us to lose the pounds.

Many of us set ourselves unrealistic resolutions, don't you think? They're more like dreams.

'Find the perfect partner', 'Be successful', 'Earn loads of money' ... you get my drift.

All our resolutions, I suggest, if taken seriously,  require a bit of effort, maybe even some imagination. Unless you are very fortunate, things don't usually get handed to us on a plate! 

If we want to be successful we need to have something we want to be successful at. If we want to earn more money, we need to think about how we might do that. We might need some aims, a plan, perhaps a strategy.

It all sounds a bit like hard work, right?

As for me, well I've given up making firm resolutions for the start of the calendar year because I've recognised that setting unrealistic expectations meant too much pressure, and too much self hatred when I failed, which I invariably did.

When I was a child I was a rather anxious personality and I was a nail biter. Every New Year I would resolve to stop biting my nails, sometimes down to the quick! I tried all sorts, including nasty-tasting stuff on the nails which made me feel sick when they touched my lips. 

Nothing worked. In fact, not being able to stop biting my nails made me even more anxious. 

Then, one day, I realised, I HAD stopped the nail chewing. Somehow, it felt almost miraculously, I had nails! I could file and polish them like other girls! Without trying, I had managed it!

Why had this, finally, happened?

Well, I'm convinced that it was because I stopped obsessing about it, and also because as I grew up I managed to grow a little more confident. Although I was (and still am actually) a bit of an anxious personality, I learned to live  with it, manage it and ... as a result ... my nails were no longer the victims of my angst! 

These days, if I secretly have 'resolutions' in my mind and heart, they are not just for the New Year but for all time.

Love, peace, joy, grace to face an uncertain future, gratitude for the people in my life and the things I have been blessed with - just a few of the things most of us yearn for I think. 

In my case, as I'm a person of faith, I also resolve to grow closer to God, to pray and read my Bible and 'dwell' on spiritual matters more than in the past, to learn to be more loving, peaceful, happy or joyful, attempting to be full of grace and gratitude. But like all resolutions, this also means my being willing and determined to do this regularly, on a daily basis. 

Nothing, not even those untouchable 'somethings' which are less about 'stuff' and 'possessions', come to us without our own determination and resolve ... and it might mean a bit of hard work on our part!

 

 

Epiphany - a bit of a revelation!

Today is officially the end of the Christmas season.

Yes, I’m aware that most of us think Christmas ends on Dec 25th, but in strictly theological terms, that’s the day it STARTS!

And the ’12 Days of Christmas’ then run until today – January 6th – which is also known as the Feast of the Epiphany.

This important holy day originates in Eastern Christianity and in fact today is Christmas Day in the Eastern Orthodox churches. It’s also called ‘Old Christmas Day’. In some countries  January 7th is also celebrated with a Christmas bank holiday.

Traditionally, today marks the moment when Jesus was made known to the world. If you think about it that’s where the word ‘epiphany'’ comes to us … not to get too technical but if you look up the word in the dictionary … it means ‘a moment of sudden and great revelation or realisation’.

Epiphany

January 6th is the day when the Magi – the Wise Men/Kings – are thought to have visited baby Jesus, the Christ Child,  as related in the New Testament of the Bible in Matthew Ch 2: 1-12. Yes, I know, in the traditional Nativity we have them coming to the manger in the stable at the same time as the shepherds on the night of the baby’s birth, but this narrative tells us it might have been a bit after that.

But as those wise men (and by the way there’s nothing to tell us there were three of them – we just assume that because they brought three gifts … gold, frankincense and myrrh) represented the wider world outside of the place of his birth, the place we now call ‘The Holy Land’, it has become the time when we commemorate the ‘revelation’ or ‘appearance’ of Jesus Christ to the world, to the Gentiles or the non-Jewish populations of the world.

Another tradition also links Epiphany with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, thirty odd years after his birth, just as he was about to start his ministry. This story is shared in Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11 and Luke 3:21-22, with Christ revealing himself to the world as God's son. Some Christian denominations also celebrate Epiphany as the commemoration of Jesus' first miracle of turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), an event thought to show the divinity of Christ and his divine power.

To put it simply - today, Epiphany, is a day laden with significance.

Epiphany was introduced into Western Christianity in the 4th century and these days many churches also celebrate the festival on the Sunday before January 6th – it’s called ‘Epiphany Sunday’ and soon after there is ‘Plough Monday’ but that’s perhaps a story for another time.

There are many traditions which have developed down the centuries associated with Epiphany. Today is the day when it’s thought we should take down our Christmas tree and decorations.

So that’s one of my jobs for today then!

Epiphany (holiday) - Wikipedia