Twice a mother: Reflections on Catherine Booth at Mother’s Day

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By Roger Green, Ph.D., D.D.

She was born Catherine Mumford on January 17, 1829. Her mother and father were Wesleyan Methodists, and  Catherine was reared in a religious home where the disciplined life was honored. By all accounts Catherine had a loving relationship with both parents, but was especially close to her mother, who became a model of what it meant to be a good parent in Victorian England.

In the same year of her birth William Booth was born, and through a mutual friend Catherine Mumford and William Booth met each other and were married on June 16, 1855. That began one of the great love affairs of the Victorian period. And as occasionally ill as Catherine Booth was, she bore eight children, and knew first hand what it meant to be a mother. As The Christian Mission grew and developed into The Salvation Army the Booth home became a whirlwind of activities, and many who entered that home felt that Catherine was their mother also.

Catherine reared her children in a strict, but loving, home. Certain rules of the home prevailed—her children were nurtured as vegetarians and alcohol was forbidden. Reading and learning were very important, reflecting Catherine’s own intellectual curiosity (she had read the Bible eight times by the time she was 12 years old). The language, stories, people and theology of the Bible would become familiar to her children.

As a mother of five girls and three sons, it was absolutely necessary that everyone in the family understood that all of the promises and privileges for working for the Kingdom of God were to be granted to the daughters as well as the sons. No gender discrimination would be tolerated in the Booth home, and Catherine especially warned her sons to treat their sisters as equals. Little wonder that all of the Booth children became Salvation Army officers, achieving remarkable success in the work of the Army for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

But Catherine Booth was twice a mother. After the founding of The Salvation Army, Catherine Booth was given the honorific title of the Army Mother. She had never been ordained into the ministry of any denomination.  She never became a Salvation Army officer. Catherine Booth’s entire public ministry, which began when she preached her first sermon on Pentecost Sunday of 1860, was as a layperson—sustained by her call from God and the recognition of the authority that she had as the Co-Founder of The Salvation Army. And this Mother of an Army led the Army along with her husband, William, until her promotion to Glory on October 4, 1890, when her voice was silenced. Her influence, however, has outlived her mortal life, and today Salvationists around the world who celebrate Mother’s Day can reflect on their mother in the faith, Catherine Booth.

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