The Salvation Army of Arkansas has served communities around the state since 1895 with programs such as social services, a youth department, music and arts, disaster relief, and camps. In times of crisis and calm, the Salvation Army has rallied to support the people of Arkansas, exemplifying the motto “Doing the Most Good.”
The Salvation Army was founded by Methodist minister William Booth and his wife, Catherine, in London, England, in 1865. William Booth rejected the traditional church setting in favor of communicating the message of Christianity to the people directly. Booth walked through the streets of London preaching the gospel to the homeless, the impoverished, and the hungry. His behavior drew criticism from church leaders in London, resulting in Booth parting ways with them and traveling around England holding evangelistic assemblies. Booth’s unconventional congregation of prostitutes, gamblers, and drunkards was shunned by many in Victorian England’s churches. By 1870, Booth had 1,000 volunteers and forty-two evangelists. Known as the general superintendent, Booth was given the official title of “The General” by his followers. The “Hallelujah Army,” as the movement was referred to, branched out from London’s East End into nearby areas and then neighboring cities. In 1878, Booth’s organization, dubbed the Christian Mission, was renamed the Salvation Army.
In 1879, Lieutenant Eliza Shirley, an English Salvationist, held the first American Salvation Army meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The members and their message were so well received that Shirley wrote Booth requesting reinforcements for the mission. On March 10, 1880, an English delegation arrived at the dock in Battery Park in New York City. Initially, the group faced opposition, and some members met violent deaths from gathering mobs, but the Salvationists continued their mission and eventually won praise and acceptance for the positive work they were doing. President Grover Cleveland hosted a group of representatives from the Salvation Army at the White House in 1886 and offered his approval of their efforts in America.
The Salvation Army was present in Arkansas as early as 1895, according to Salvation Army documentation. In the 1890s, there was a report published in an edition of The War Cry (a magazine produced by the Salvation Army) about adventures had by a Salvationist, one Brigadier Sully of Kansas, titled, “A Trip to Arkansas.” According to The Disposition of Forces (a directory of contact details used within the Salvation Army), the first Salvation Army church in Arkansas was located in Fayetteville (Washington County), established in March 1895. In 1897, notable Arkansas evangelist John Brown attended a Salvation Army revival meeting in Rogers (Benton County), leading to an enthusiastic belief in evangelic Christianity. Shortly thereafter, Brown joined the Salvation Army as a staff member working to organize an outpost in Siloam Springs (Benton County) before leaving in 1899 to evangelize professionally.
The Southern Territory of the Salvation Army was created in 1927 and joined by Arkansas in 1966, forming the Arkansas-Oklahoma (AOK) division with headquarters located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. As of 2013, there are thirty-two Corps and Area Commands and sixty-eight Service Units serving Oklahoma and Arkansas in the AOK division. Military terminology such as “Corps” is used to describe a church or place of worship within the Salvation Army, while “Area Commands” refer to a specific geographical area managed by a one commander, and “Service Units” address the needs of the community.
The state has two Area Commands in northwestern and central Arkansas. These have disaster relief operations in place to support communities, families, and individuals in the wake of disasters. Emergency disaster services rely upon volunteers to respond in times of crisis to those affected. The Salvation Army has been present for many disasters throughout its history in Arkansas, including caring for the needy in Jonesboro (Craighead County) during the Depression and assisting those affected by the worst drought on record in Arkansas during 1930–1931. After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the Salvation Army gave support to survivors. With pastoral and counseling services made available, the Salvation Army provided emotional and spiritual comfort to 277,000 people, many of whom were sheltered in Arkansas. Furthermore, the Salvation Army mobilized more than 178 canteen feeding units and eleven field kitchens, serving more than 5.7 million hot meals.
In Arkansas, the Central Arkansas Women’s Auxiliary provides volunteers to serve children, seniors, and mothers through the Angel Tree program and to raise money for the Salvation Army. Thrift stores provide rehabilitation and teach vocational skills. With each purchase, the funds are placed in the Salvation Army’s Corps Salvage Rehabilitation Center. Salvation Army Worship Centers (churches) are located in northwestern, southern, eastern, and central Arkansas.
For additional information:
McKinley, Edward. Marching to Glory: The History of the Salvation Army in the United States, 1880–1992. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980.
Ostrander, Rick. Head, Heart, and Hand: John Brown University and Modern Evangelical Higher Education. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2003.
Salvation Army of Arkansas and Oklahoma. http://salvationarmyaok.org/ (accessed October 21, 2021).
Columbia, South Carolina
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