Interestingly, though we take this as the "official start date", at the time it was anything but "official". Gore and Saunders happened to meet earlier that year and, being Salvationists who had moved to Australia recently and convinced of the need of the Army in Australia, wrote to William Booth requesting that Officers be sent to Australia to commence the work.
Obviously in the late 19th Century a letter from Adelaide would take months to get to the "mother land" and so this wait, for Gore and Saunders, was way too long for the urgent need they saw around them. So... they didn't wait. They "opened fire" on their own. Something tells me, however, that they had truly captured the vision that William Booth had for the Army for the words that were shared in that first open air will go down in history as capturing the intent of this movement; "If there is any man here who hasn't had a decent meal today, let him come home to tea with me." Gore and Saunders commenced the first corps in Australia (now Adelaide Congress Hall), without permission, without 'officers', and without funding, property, committees, uniforms (dare I say it) or anything else other than the vision that they had captured from their time in the Army in England.
What an exciting time it must have been.
I heard someone say recently, there are two types of leaders; firstly, those who say "If you find a problem come to me and I'll solve it for you". Then secondly those who say "if you find a problem go and solve it and I'll back you up." I suspect that William and Catherine Booth were leaders of the second type. Clearly Gore and Saunders weren't reprimanded for starting the work on their own. They were applauded for it. Once they did, Booth soon supported this new work by sending officers (Captain and Mrs Thomas Sutherland) to help lead this small but vibrant group of new Salvationists. When they arrived in February 1881 they wore the first Salvation Army uniforms to be seen in Australia. We shouldn't read too much into this because uniforms were still not standardised, and it had only been "The Salvation Army" for 3 years at this point. Plus it was still 12 months before the Articles of War would come into existence. But clearly, the vision that William and Catherine Booth had for "winning the world for Jesus" was not only inspiring, but being well and truly communicated to, and captured by, every Salvationist. Clearly, Gore and Saunders understood this mission, and what it would entail - reaching out to those who "hadn't yet had a meal today". They got it. They understood it. And they acted upon it.
There is some significant theology at play here. In those early days there was not that much difference between an "officer" and a "soldier". It was more to do with "function" than it was "status", and so it was natural that two soldiers who met in "uncharted territory" should start the work themselves. That was what was expected of all Salvationists - Officers and Soldiers alike. They didn't need express permission, because they knew that they had it. This we would describe as the Army's understanding of the "priesthood of all believers". (Let me just state as an aside that I wouldn't subscribe to a theology of the "priesthood of all believers" myself at all. I think it's stating too much. Rather I prefer to speak of the "sole priesthood of Christ" and the "ministry of all believers" who are "in Christ". A slightly different emphasis, but the same desired outcome - all believers engaged in the ministry of making disciples of all the people groups in the name of Christ).
Is this still the same today? Is it the case that Salvationists feel a natural sense of "permission" to engage in mission regardless of what role they currently fulfil (soldier or officer), what resources they have, and, importantly, what permissions they have? Can we recapture that internal culture once again?
Before you jump to an answer let me recount a story I heard recently from Commissioner Kay Rader about The Salvation Army in Kenya. The Army is massive in Kenya, with well over 200,000 soldiers in the country. The territory had a congress event and as a part of the celebrations had a "march past". The Territorial Commander (leader of the territory) and the Chief Secretary (second-in-command) stood and saluted the hundreds of corps and thousands of soldiers as they marched past. Then came a group of people who had a sign displaying their corps name. It was unfamiliar to both leaders. They were dressed in make-shift Salvation Army uniforms, with cardboard epaulettes attached to their shoulders. The Territorial Commander looked to the Chief Secretary who looked back in bewilderment. Neither of them had heard of this corps or the people that made it up. It had just started all by itself. This mystery corps saluted their leaders, and the leaders saluted back.
Clearly something is going right when a Salvation Army corps can appear "out of nowhere"!!!
How do we recapture that sense of "permission inspired by a clear vision" within The Salvation Army in the West where it appears to be lacking? How do we mobilise the soldiery to engage wholeheartedly in the mission of the Army without the sense that it's "the Officer's job" to do it all, lead it all, or permit it all? What kind of leadership does that call for? What will it take to get back there?
I suspect that it starts with leaders who say "if you find a problem go and solve it and I'll back you up" and actually mean those words. That means encouraging innovation, allowing for failures and stuff-ups, and praising success - both with words and funding those activities that are actually achieving the purposes that we believe God has called us to.
These are huge problems, and I don't pretend to suggest easy answers to significant problems, but we have to start somewhere and it may as well be with us.