Ministries come. Ministries go. For the last twenty-six years, my wife and I have been teaching with Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS). Occasionally, I pause and wonder: How exactly did A. J. Gordon and Russell Conwell pull this off? How did they each establish a ministry that not only lasted throughout their lifetimes, but went beyond and today continues to thrive together? Did they ever imagine that, sometime long after their deaths, people they never met would fuse their two ministries into a powerful institution that would propel their vision for training pastors on into a second century?
That’s certainly not a given in ministry! So many worthwhile endeavors, begun with such promise and flourishing for a particular place in time, begin but then end. Why do some last while others do not?
In the course of what has now become for me forty-two years of trying to serve the Lord, which began with my conversion in 1966, taking to the streets with a handful of tracts (which was all that I understood about ministry in those days) then eventually seeking training that unexpectedly ended in ordination, after the presbytery called up Aída and me in 1973 and asked if we wanted to be ordained—and what else is so clearly a calling, as one done by telephone!—we’ve seen numerous worthwhile ministries come and go. Obviously, the Lord is in control of initiating and extending ministries. We all know that. But, at the same time, there is a certain propinquity of resources and personnel, a vision that can be shared and owned by more than one person, a dedication and perseverance that, no matter the cost, this ministry is worth doing long-term. Some worthwhile ministries we’ve seen have starved to death for lack of resources, being in the wrong place and/or with the wrong people to gain sufficient attention for support. Others were personal visions and served a clientele that was transient and whose need proved to be just for a time and dissipated with their passing. Still others were simply given up and let go of, their founders or inheritors figuring the investment was not worth the yield and their energies could be invested elsewhere. And sometimes they were the victims of a change of vision of the overseeing body and the ministry moved on into another phase. These are some of the more positive reasons for the passing of a ministry, but, in the last analysis, the positive effect on the people served is the way to judge any effort—namely, did it move anyone along in the faith?
One such ministry we experienced, during several short-term but worthwhile ones we had prior to landing at GCTS, was a four-year stint in the center of Newark, New Jersey, with The Salvation Army. Prior to that, my experience with the Army as a youth was confined to haunting its thrift shop in my birth town of Plainfield, picking up cheap Western pulp novels to sell through the thriving little one-boy mail order book shop I operated out of my attic when I was in junior high school. I also remember my mom always dropping a dollar into any Army kettle she saw at Christmas—an exorbitant amount in the 1950s for a working woman whose husband was in therapy recovering from a devastating work-related injury (with no governmental or work-related support). She always explained it was for “the wonderful work they did in World War 2.” Some twenty years later, I would have the opportunity to view that wonderful work up close when Bill Iverson, an evangelist with whom I’d done street ministry, invited Aída and me to pioneer a training ministry with New York Seminary primarily back in Newark, working jointly with The Salvation Army and living and operating out of a brownstone they’d been bequeathed across the parking lot from their Newark Central Corps. That began an arduous but worthwhile ministry with the pastors (or corps commanders), the then A-Captains Lionel and Marilyn Chapman, under the overall district commander, Major David Baxendale. The major was very supportive, even though some wondered what a pack of Presbyterian ministers were doing running classes in one of his corps as well as in the storefronts of Newark, Jersey City, and on Fulton Street in Harlem in New York. The Army is regimented, no one questions that, but that structure is not unwieldy; in fact, it moves efficiently and does marvelous things in people’s lives through its family services, men’s socials, missions works, and, of course, its corps. Working closely with the Chapmans was one of the great blessings of our lives. We learned so much about true dedication to one’s congregation from their selfless, tenderhearted, sacrificial, unflagging persistence with that motley urban flock of retired officers, working folks, and street people. Salvation Army officers take their commitment as seriously as do any military personnel—they are in for the whole hitch. In its vision, women and men serve together on the front lines. And, a woman can serve as the top executive of the entire organization, as women have. The Army has been closer to being truly egalitarian for more years than the rest of us have even thought about it.
All this wondrous infrastructure began with William and Catherine Booth. Their inspiration and key decision to support the gifts of both women and men and to do so with militant dedication forged a movement that not only lasted, but today spans the world. The Army builds its values into its followers with a discipline of love. There is no other church like The Salvation Army—it really is a unique blessing.
In this issue, we celebrate the lasting legacy of the Booths, with special attention to the contribution of Catherine, and the encouragement of her gifts by William. Centuries ago, when so many regarded male superiority in ministry as a given, this couple was operating in a shared framework that not only proved efficacious for their time, but also revealed itself as timeless in its implications for freeing all Christians—both male and female—to serve fully in ministry by committing them firmly to a structured means to do that ministry. What seems like an oxymoron was actually a strategy that worked in God’s logic: one structures firmly in order to support and thus to free. What an example they provided and continue to provide for us all.
Our issue begins with Dr. Mary Maddox, who focuses with illuminating insights on Catherine Booth’s aggressive approach to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. Professor Roger Green follows with a fascinating and thoroughly researched study of the intrigues surrounding the Army’s championing of young girls sold or lured into prostitution. As no one is more qualified to assess the present and future state of a movement than those who have helmed it, we are privileged to hear next from The Salvation Army’s former international leaders and CBE Lifetime Achievement Award winners General Paul (ret.) and Commissioner Kay Rader as they assess the success of and challenges to William and Catherine’s legacy of cooperative ministry as their model impacts women and men ministering in The Salvation Army today. Salvation Army Major JoAnn Streeter Shade then contributes a thought-provoking Bible study on Hagar as it enlightens the plight of women trying to serve God in the institutional church. Dr. Kevin Giles reviews the book Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism, and our poet Ruth Hoppin, commensurate with the theme of “Blood and Fire,” the Salvation Army’s battle cry, gives us a poem on the “Fire” element, the Holy Spirit, as it impacts the “Blood” component, our lives, to round out the issue.
Why devote an entire issue in 2008 to a couple dead for nearly a century? The answer is simple and telling: their contribution to a fully orbed ministry of men and women working together remains a model for us today as relevant and as essential as it was when they established it. And, the organization the Holy Spirit spawned through their partnership continues to reach out and shake the world.