William Booth's First London HQ (1865)

William had been very downcast by what he saw in the lives of people after they were converted. They did not become missionaries, they did not make great sacrifices and they did not touch the lives of other people. He then realised that the one way he could lastingly change men and women was to make them, at the moment of conversion, seekers and savers of the lost.

William had no intention of forming an organisation to look after the people once they were saved; he wanted them to join churches, but most wouldn’t go and most churches wouldn’t have them as their respectable members felt uncomfortable having these ‘roughs’ amongst them. This meant he was forced to look after them himself, so the new Christians were set to work immediately. They were meant to evangelise their friends and neighbours, visit the sick, hand out tracts etc. 

Other Mission Movements had found it very difficult to keep their new converts, many fell away. They concluded that the only way was to put them in churches. However, the rough people of London did not like churches. William had developed a structure to solve the problem. He insisted on a definite confession of Christ by getting people to come out to the penitent form. In the past ministers used an enquiry room where people who were convicted of sin could be more private and where helpers would read Bible verses to the penitent to point them to Jesus as their Saviour. William believed that a person coming to Jesus at the penitent form resulted in a much stronger Christian than one who believed that all would be well if they believed a text in the Bible. (I assume that most had an encounter with God at the penitent form) The new converts would then be watched over and instructed, then trained and sent out to evangelise. This method produced long-lasting fruit.

William therefore created the East London Christian Revival Union, which in September 1867 became The East London Christian Mission. Two more venues were soon added which added to costs, but the Evangelisation Society heard about the work and became a generous supporter.

A newspaper report shows something of the way William reached the masses. ‘Mr Booth employed very simple language in his comments… frequently repeated the same sentence several times as if he was afraid his hearers would forget. It was curious to note the intense, almost painful degree of eagerness with which every sentence of the speaker was listened to. The crowd seemed fearful of even losing a word.

It was a powerful influence that the preacher possessed over his hearers. Very unconventional in style, no doubt… but it did enable him to reach the hearts of hundreds of those for whom prison and the convicts’ settlement have no terrors, of whom even the police stand in fear… He implored them, first, to leave their sins, second, to leave them at once, that night, and third, to come to Christ. Not a word was uttered by him that could be misconstrued; not a doctrine was propounded that was beyond the comprehension of those to whom it was addressed.

There was no sign of impatience during the sermon. There was too much dramatic action, too much anecdotal matter to admit of its being considered dull and when it terminated scarcely a person left his seat, indeed, some appeared to consider it too short, although the discourse had occupied fully an hour in its delivery.’

1867 was a year of substantial growth. Around nine more buildings (some were in terrible condition) were added to the Mission in nearby areas of London, including a Head Quarters for the Mission at the Eastern Star shop, 220 Whitechapel Road. This could not have been achieved without considerable support from the Evangelisation Society, whose minutes record all the money given to the various ventures of the Mission. A report during the year said that 1,000 had been converted and William now had a band of 300 helpers in his Mission. A further report in September said that there was seating for 8,000 at a time in the various buildings and ten people working full time. Volunteers were active in house to house visits, where they went out in pairs, delivering tracts, speaking and praying with people and inviting them to meetings. These visitors met together weekly to support one another and to report cases of great need that they had come across. There were also four Sunday and two-day schools and a Bible carriage in which two people went around selling Bibles and other religious literature, advertising meetings and preaching.

The Mission also provided reading rooms where men could get away from their rather horrid homes, into a peaceful environment where they could read and fellowship with others who encouraged them to persevere in reforming their lives. The Mission also gave away food to those particularly in need, they had a soup kitchen and several mothering societies.

From my biography of The Salvation Army on this website.

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