Encouraged by previous fights for equality – Catherine Booth

Most days over the last two years I have tried to read the daily reflection from Common Prayer: a liturgy for ordinary Radicals. Most days, not every day, Most days as a result I am not only drawn to passages of the scriptures, to liturgies from a range of faith traditions, but also to be inspired by the saints who have gone before. The women and men who have stood up for injustice, and seek prejudice, and inequality, and tried to deal with the consequences, symptoms and causes. It is an inspiration every day to try and stand on the shoulder of previous giants.

Today the person in Question was Catherine Booth, renown for founding The Salvation army, amongst other things and a fight for the place of women in the church. Not a small task in the 1850’s.  This is what ‘Common Prayer’ said of her today;

Catherine Booth, a great nineteenth-century preacher and co-founder of the Salvation Army, said, “Cast off all bonds of prejudice and custom, and let the love of Christ, which is in you, have free course to run out in all conceivable schemes and methods of labour for the souls of men.”

I thought I would find out more about her, put her in context, and what it appears is that she was something of a teenage rebel, a rebel for ‘being good’ and holding to high levels of character and behaviour. :

She was born as Catherine Mumford in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, England, in 1829 to Methodist parents, John Mumford and Sarah Milward. Her father was an occasional lay preacher and carriage maker. Her family later moved to Boston, Lincolnshire, and later lived in Brixton, London. From an early age, Catherine was a serious and sensitive girl. She had a strong Christian upbringing and was said to have read the Bible through eight times before the age of 12.[1]

During Catherine’s adolescence a spinal curvature led to years of enforced idleness.[2] She kept herself busy, however, and was especially concerned about the problems of alcoholism. Even as a young girl she had served as secretary of a Juvenile Temperance Society writing articles for a temperance magazine. Catherine was a member of the local Band of Hope and a supporter of the national Temperance Society.

When Catherine refused to condemn Methodist Reformers in 1850, the Wesleyans expelled her. For the Reformers she led a girls’ Sunday school class in Clapham. At the home of Edward Rabbits, in 1851, she met William Booth, who also had been expelled by the Wesleyans for reform sympathies. William was reciting a temperance poem, “The Grog-seller’s Dream,” which appealed to Catherine, who had embraced the new Methodist passion for abstinence.[3]

At the same time, she wrote and campaigned for the equality of women in the pulpit, in preaching and in the church, the wikipedia entry says that: “Catherine began to be more active in the work of the church at Brighouse. Though she was extremely nervous, she enjoyed wo rking with young people and found the courage to speak in children’s meetings. During this period she discovered a model, American Wesleyan revivalist Phoebe Palmer. With William’s encouragement, Catherine wrote a pamphlet, Female Ministry: Woman’s Right to Preach the Gospel (1859), in defense of American preacher Mrs. Phoebe Palmer’s preaching, whose preaching had caused a great stir in the area where the Booths lived. Female Ministry was a short, powerful apology for women’s rights to preach the gospel. The pamphlet identifies three major principles on which her convictions rested. First, Catherine saw that women are neither naturally nor morally inferior to men. Second, she believed there was no scriptural reason to deny them a public ministry. Third, she maintained that what the Bible urged, the Holy Spirit had ordained and blessed and so must be justified.[2] She complained that the “unjustifiable application” of Paul’s advice, “ ‘Let your women keep silence in the Churches,’ has resulted in more loss to the Church, evil to the world, and dishonor to God, than any of [its] errors.”[3] A woman preacher was a rare phenomenon in a world where women had few civil rights, and no place in the professions. Catherine Booth was both a woman and a fine preacher, a magnetic combination that attracted large numbers to hear her and made its own statement about the validity of women’s ministry.[2]

Today, encouraged by the fight for equality in History, to those who acted out of their beliefs, to those who stood up and created cultures that were prophetic and counter-cultural in a wider society and also in the church of its day. May those who have such transforming and pioneering spirits not find conformity in their way for an alternative transforming culture for the love and gospel amongst people oppressed in society.



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