Annually, on March 8, International Women’s Day is a global celebration for the achievements of women. The Salvation Army’s commitment to women began over a century ago and last year marked the 100th anniversary of the home league, an outreach of Salvation Army women’s ministries.
The home league was created in 1907 by Florence Booth, wife of Bramwell and daughter-in-law of the Army’s Founders, William and Catherine Booth. The idea proved to be quite popular and soon spread to Canada. Records indicate that the earliest home league programs began in 1911 in Hamilton, Ont., and Riverdale, Toronto. By 1914, there were various home leagues throughout Canada and the movement had taken hold.
“The original home league was structured around a four-fold program of worship, fellowship, education and service,” states Colonel Eleanor Shepherd, of The Salvation Army’s women’s ministries.
“In Canada and Bermuda,” says Colonel Shepherd, “the term ‘home league’ became less and less relevant in many places, particularly as women began to work outside the home. Over the years, the term ‘women’s ministries’ was used more often, as other things became important to women. That said, many of the new programs still stress one of the four original aspects of worship, fellowship, education and service, so it’s a very balanced approach.”
Colonel Shepherd acknowledges that there are still home leagues in Canada, especially in the Atlantic provinces. “Yet even though they are traditional in name,” she adds, “these Salvation Army women are still doing creative things.”
The following are snapshots of various women’s ministries across Canada and Bermuda:
Powell River, B.C.—A monthly parents’ event offers babysitting, and parents get the opportunity to enjoy activities like a night out at the movies, bowling, walking and board games, followed by dinner at a local Chinese restaurant.
Prince Rupert, B.C.—A fashion show with thrift store clothing, a spaghetti dinner and bake sale were organized to raise funds to cover the costs of sponsoring two children.
Gibsons, B.C.—Four women from Sunshine Coast Community Church went on a “mission trip” to the Redstone Reserve just west of Williams Lake, B.C., where they distributed much-needed clothes and supplies.
St. George’s, Bermuda—Programs on living with asthma and care of the eye are offered to help the aged.
Brandon, Man.—A bake sale raised more than $500 for child sponsorship.
Winnipeg—Women from Heritage Park filled gift bags and passed them on to The Salvation Army’s correctional and justice services for distribution to female inmates.
Kingston, Ont.—A women’s life skills course at Rideau Heights Community Church covers topics such as assertiveness, decision making, goal setting, crisis management, healthy relationships and legal, financial and employment concerns.
Ottawa—A women’s healthy living group meets weekly at Gladstone Community Church for exercise, teaching on nutrition and a Bible study.
Spryfield, N.S.—Home league members packed 50 “kits for camp,” consisting of soap, facecloth, toothbrush, toothpaste, flashlight and a blessing card. They were given to 32 children attending holiday camp, with the remainder to be used as needed. “I’m not sure who enjoyed the project most,” said the church pastor, “the women who packed the kits or the young people who received them.”
Elsewhere, support groups are offered for women coping with stress, grief or dramatic life changes such as divorce or the death of a close relative. Many preschool groups cater to the needs of mothers and their children. Some churches conduct a breakfast meeting where women business executives can go before work. Many of them engage in a Bible study. In fact, small-group Bible study sessions have become increasingly popular, where women encourage each other to grow in their faith. As they do that, they find ways to reach out to other parts of the world.
“Another important and growing aspect of women’s ministries is an awareness of human trafficking,” says Colonel Shepherd. “Women are quite concerned about it and are finding ways to help. One obvious way is prayer, which many of them are doing now. I’m certain that they’ll also find other creative ways to reach out to these women and children in need.”
Why are women so effective at getting to the heart of the matter? “Women have a real sensitivity to the needs of others,” Colonel Shepherd comments. “That’s why the service element is so important in all women’s ministries. Women who come to our various programs don’t want to be merely entertained—they really want to do something for other people. I think the members of our women’s ministries will continue to find effective ways to do good things for others.”
There are more than half a million home league members in more than 111 countries worldwide. They can boast of 100 years of accomplishment and service. While much remains to be done, the next century will no doubt see women’s ministries achieve even greater success in the fight against inequity, injustice and evil.
by Ken Ramstead