A Season of Self Denial

by Commissioner Ralph Bukiewicz

“In August, 1886, William Booth delivered a stirring challenge at London’s Exeter Hall, encouraging support of The Salvation Army so it could expand its ministries around the globe. In the audience sat Salvation Army Major John Carleton, a one-time Irish textile executive. He was surrounded by wealthy ‘civilians’ who jotted lavish sums on their ‘canaries,’ the Army’s term for the yellow pledge cards individuals submitted.

“Carleton was already living on a shoestring budget. Unlike the well-to-do people all around him, he had no discretionary funds [to give]. Suddenly he was struck with an idea of how he could contribute to this special offering. On his pledge card he wrote: ‘By going without pudding every day for a year, I calculate I can save 50 shillings. This I will do, and will remit the amount named as quickly as possible.’”

And with that, writes Vance Christie, author of Timeless Stories: God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians, Booth was inspired to launch a new initiative, called Self-Denial Week.

Moved by Carleton’s pledge, which despite its relatively small size represented a significant sacrifice for the major, Booth had the idea to ask people to cut back on some regular expenses for a week—even if it meant skipping dessert, or living on bread and water—then donate the savings to The Salvation Army.

According to Christie, the first Self-Denial Week raised 4,820 pounds (the equivalent of over 518,000 pounds today, or $640,000) and it would become an annual springtime event. “To Booth’s delight,” writes Christie, “the bulk…came in pennies and halfpennies. His aides were troubled by the scarcity of gold coins but the General stated enthusiastically, ‘Never mind! There is plenty of copper.’ He realized that many had given their coppers at greater sacrifice to themselves than when [wealthier individuals contributed] gold and silver coins.”

The principles of self-denial are a perfect match for the season of Lent, when faith communities turn their hearts toward sacrificial living. Even 138 years after Booth began Self-Denial Week in the U.K., self-denial is a discipline worth considering by all Salvationists.

The Eastern Territory is committed to supporting the Army’s global ministry, where funds raised by soldiers and corps units are the foundation of our World Services gifts. To consider sacrificing a regular expense (e.g., Starbucks, snacks, dessert, a movie, etc.) for a season and giving that amount toward your local World Services goal is an excellent opportunity for YOU to make a powerful difference in the lives and circumstances of others served by our global Army.

When we sacrifice to raise vital funds, we also align ourselves with the New Testament churches in Macedonia, where Paul witnessed: “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.” (2 Corinthians 8:3–5, NIV)