1914 Congress Of Nations

Lower Manhattan woke up to a joyful extravaganza on the morning of May 31, 1914. Salvation Army National Commander Evangeline Booth, riding on horseback, led 700 of her fellow officers and soldiers in a parade from National Headquarters on 14th Street to the wharf where the SS Olympic was berthed. With flags, banners, and handkerchiefs wafting in the breeze, the marchers embarked on the Olympic for the Salvation Army’s Congress of Nations, to be held in London June 11–26. For an Army at work in 58 countries, it was to be the fourth and largest international gathering since 1886.

The happy throng, including a contingent of “negro” Salvationist Gospel singers from Massachusetts, wore cowboy hats and had sashes with stars and stripes draped over their blue uniforms.

Songs of salvation rang out, aided by the New York and Chicago Staff Bands and two corps (church) bands from Worcester, Mass., and Flint, Mich.

Former President Theodore Roosevelt, an Olympic passenger, was impressed by what he heard from the four American bands. Months later, he requested that the Flint Citadel Band perform during a civic function in Detroit where he was to be guest speaker.

Sadly, the congress would be marked by tragedy. The Empress of Ireland sank in the St. Lawrence Seaway on May 29, killing 167 of 176 Salvationist delegates from Canada. The disaster decimated the Canadian Staff Band. Prayers and tributes were offered in London, and the remaining Canadian delegates wore white ribbons and sashes.

Yet the spirit of celebration for God’s boundless salvation could not be dampened. At the opening ceremonies at Royal Albert Hall, General Bramwell Booth led the packed–out audience in singing, “Come Let Us All Unite and Sing, God Is Love!”

The meetings, with many events open to the public, were the rave of London. The London Times noted: “The meetings … have been crammed … and on Tuesday the gathering at the Crystal Palace (50,000 in attendance) was equal to anything that the palace has ever known.”

Little did anyone know that the fifth congress wouldn’t take place until more than 50 years later. Two days after the 1914 celebrations ended, Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated at Sarajevo, and World War 1 began. A great economic depression, another world war, and post–war reconstruction periods kept the worldwide Army from gathering until its centenary year in 1965.

Fifty years later, in 2015, delegates from around the world will converge on London once more, this time to celebrate the Army’s 150th anniversary.

by Daryl Lach


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