With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day just around the corner, here’s some encouragement for Christian parents from the examples of William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army. The Booths carried out their parental responsibilities with a great blend of diligence, wisdom, seriousness and even fun. Though William and Catherine were heavily involved with their public ministries, they were also devoted to the healthy upbringing of their children. Their pronounced influence on their nine children (including an adopted son) resulted in all of them growing up to become dedicated believers, with most of them entering vocational Christian service.
The Booths sought, under God, to lead each of their children to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Savior at a young age. Once after an evangelistic meeting that was being held in a tent, Catherine approached their oldest son Bramwell, who was then seven years of age. It was obvious he was under deep spiritual conviction. “You are very unhappy,” she stated tenderly, then asked, “You know the reason?” He indicated he did. But when she asked if he was ready to make a public decision for Christ, he immediately and emphatically responded, “No!” Years later he related of that moment: “She put her hands suddenly to her face, and I can never forget my feelings on seeing the tears fall through them on the sawdust beneath our feet. But I still said ‘No!’”
Not many months later, however, following a meeting conducted specifically for children, Catherine was delighted to find Bramwell kneeling among the group of young penitents at the close of the service. The tenderhearted lad wept aloud over his sins. When his mother knelt and prayed with him, he experienced God’s forgiveness and knew he had been saved through faith in Jesus.
Family Bible reading and prayer was an everyday occurrence in the Booth household. In keeping with William and Catherine’s conservative convictions (which were common among many Evangelical Christians of their era), drinking alcohol, smoking, dancing, playing cards, going to theatres and dressing in worldly fashions that called attention to oneself were strictly forbidden.
While the Christian Sabbath was carefully observed, the Booths believed Sunday should be a happy day. When the children were younger, Catherine held Sunday meetings for them at home. Those services included singing, praying and a Bible lesson she always sought to make interesting for her children. The children began attending public services after they were old enough to take an interest in them.
The Booths were great believers in fresh air and encouraged their children to play outdoors a great deal. The children especially enjoyed tennis, soccer and cricket. Occasionally William Booth would join his children for a lively game of Fox and Goose in which he always led the chase and provoked the squeals of excitement.
Catherine insisted on having a good degree of peace and quiet in her home, but she did not want to thwart her children’s energetic play. So the Booths had a double floor (packed with sawdust between as a sound barrier) installed between the children’s upstairs playroom and the ceiling of the house’s main story. The children could thus romp upstairs without disturbing the tranquility of the rest of the house. Many of the games the children played reflected their Christian upbringing, as when they reenacted Bible stories or held pretend revival meetings.
The Booth children were encouraged to keep a variety of pets, both as a way of enjoying some of God’s creatures and as a means of learning to care responsibly for others. Dogs, rabbits, mice, guinea pigs (the latter numbering nearly 100 at one time!) and other creatures made up the family’s revolving menagerie.
Most of the educating of the children was done at home under their mother’s watchful eye and with the help of a governess. Catherine considered it of greatest importance not only to impart knowledge but also to shape character and train the heart. Over the home’s five-foot bookcase she exercised a vigilant though broadminded censorship aimed at reserving the children’s attention for literature that was really worth their time.
William and Catherine diligently taught their children that their lives were not their own to do with as they pleased. Rather, they rightly belonged to God who had redeemed them, and their lives were to be devoted to serving Him and the needy world around them. From the time they were teens the Booth children were given significant responsibilities in their parents’ mission work. Each of William and Catherine’s children (except one daughter who had a significant learning disability) eventually served as officers in The Salvation Army, some at the highest levels.
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A much-fuller account of Catherine Booth’s life, public ministries and parental practices is related in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). Other encouraging and instructive incidents from the lives of William and Catherine Booth are included in my book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians (Christian Focus, 2010).
In addition, Tim Challies is currently running a series of Saturday blogs on the helpful theme of “Christian Men and Their Godly Moms.” You’ll find a number of examples of devoted Christian mothers who profoundly impacted the lives of their children in that series at challies.com.
Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie