EXACTLY 150 years to the day since William Booth approved the opening of Christian Mission Station Number Nine in Croydon, just south of London, General Brian Peddle and World President of Women’s Ministries Commissioner Rosalie Peddle visited the town to lead the 150th anniversary celebrations of the mission station’s successor – Croydon Citadel, corps number nine, the second-oldest surviving corps (church) in The Salvation Army. The establishment of the work in Croydon led directly to the former East London Christian Mission being renamed simply The Christian Mission before its metamorphosis into The Salvation Army in 1878.
The history of the corps – which began with a meeting in a Croydon tea shop in June 1869 attended by The Salvation Army’s Founders, William and Catherine Booth – was thrillingly told in an epic multimedia pageant featuring the corps music sections and soldiers on the Sunday afternoon of the international leaders’ visit.
Before then, however, came a whole weekend of celebrations, beginning with the General and Commissioner Peddle accompanying corps officers Majors Mike and Lisa Lloyd-Jones, South London Divisional Commander Major Valerie Mylechreest, Community Services Director Chris Waldock and Corps Sergeant-Major Cheryl Ingram on a visit to Croydon Town Hall to meet the Mayor, Councillor Humayun Kabir, and receive his congratulations and good wishes. Simultaneously, the corps band and soldiers were conducting an open-air meeting outside the town hall.
The visit to the Mayor’s parlour over, the Army’s international leaders led the band and soldiers in glorious heatwave weather on a march of witness through Croydon’s packed town centre.
The march led to the former Christian Mission hall, just a stone’s throw from Croydon Citadel, where another open-air meeting was held. Then, back to the hall for an anniversary tea before a great festival of praise featuring the corps music sections. A guest of honour was the Deputy Mayor of Croydon, Councillor Maddie Henson.
During the meeting the General spoke of his feelings as he led the march through the streets of Croydon – the same streets William Booth had walked a century and a half earlier. He spoke persuasively of the faithfulness of God not just over the past 150 years but for all time, challenging the corps members to continue to show the same faithfulness to God over the next 150 years. ‘But you don’t have to stick around for all that time,’ he quipped.
The congregation for the Sunday morning meeting was swelled by many former members, previous corps officers and friends of the corps who returned to share in the celebrations.
During the meeting the General enrolled seven-year-old Freya Finch as a junior soldier, and Jesus Devayapalli as a senior soldier. In his testimony, Jesus, who hails from India, spoke of how he hopes one day to be an officer. Fifteen-year-old Glenice Nuginamau Musuele, a junior soldier of the corps, also testified to her growing faith.
The General invited to the platform Croydon soldier Gordon Taylor to recognise his soon-to-be published two-volume biography of William Booth. The first volume is entitled ‘The Man and his Mission’ and the second ‘The General and his Army’.
For her powerful Bible message, Commissioner Peddle took as her theme words from Isaiah: ‘Forget the former things, do not dwell in the past, I am doing a new thing.’
‘We must be forward-thinking people,’ she said. ‘The fire of God’s Spirit must be kept burning in us. Fan into flame the gift of God which is in you.’
In the moving prayer meeting that followed, a stream of seekers knelt at the mercy seat in response to the commissioner’s altar call.
More open-air witness in the town centre followed the meeting, before a buffet lunch at the hall for corps members and visitors alike. Then came the gala presentation, ‘Celebrating the Years’.
The General challenged the corps to recognise God’s faithfulness down through the years. He invited all present to place themselves in the palm of God’s hand and to continue to fight the wrong and stand for the right.
The joyous celebration of 150 years of the faithfulness of God and 150 years of the faithfulness of Croydon’s Salvationists came to an end with everyone joining in a triumphant rendition of the Founder’s song, ‘O Boundless Salvation!’.
Report by Charles King