For Eva Burrows, 57, Christmas is the merriest of seasons. “We take our message into the streets to show our love,” explains the woman who last July was elected general of the 121-year-old Salvation Army, the worldwide religious organization with 1.5 million adherents in 90 countries. “We put kettles in the streets so people can share their happiness and we can share what they give with others.”
This Christmas, as in all those of recent memory, there will be no missing the tootling brasses serenading shoppers as uniformed Major Barbaras and their male counterparts raise their voices in evangelistic hymns and Christmas carols. In the U.S. the Army, with 400,000 soliders and 5,300 officers, has 84,500 musicians ready for this year’s Christmas fund raising. And the 15,000 kettles they are setting out are expected to collect $30 million in donations, 40 percent of the $75 million they hope to raise this holiday season. The money will buy toys for needy children, food and shelter for the homeless, clothing for the poor and medical help for addicts and alcoholics.
The kettles have a long tradition. At the turn of the century during a dock-workers’ strike in San Francisco, the local Salvation Army began serving meals, prepared in large iron kettles, to the unemployed seamen and their families. When the Army’s food supply began running out, the pots were moved onto the street along with signs that said, “Keep the kettle boiling.” The plea for donated food was so successful that kettles have been the Army’s trademark ever since.
So have the brass bands stationed nearby. “If you put out a kettle in a mall with someone ringing the bell, you might get $100,” explains Lt. Col. Leon Ferraez, the Army’s national director of communications. “But put a band out there and you might get $1,000.”
Not all the Army’s bandsmen are amateurs. Among the musicians who have volunteered over the years have been bandleader Harry James, Bruce Broughton (composer of the scores for Silverado and Dallas) and Philip Smith, trumpeter with the New York Philharmonic. But all the Army regular musicians are soldiers or officers, and for them the Army is first and foremost a church.
The organization was founded in 1865 by William Booth, a pawnbroker’s apprentice turned Evangelical, whose original charge to his troops was: “Go for the souls, and go for the worst.” In response, the Army rounded up drunks, taking the ones who were too inebriated to walk to Army shelters in a wagon. Those failing to embrace abstinence were said to “fall off the wagon.” Booth soon realized that, as Ferraez puts it, “you can’t preach to a man with an empty stomach or cold feet. So he started providing material assistance. After that, it just grew.”
Becoming a soldier is similar to joining any Protestant denomination: One must profess belief in Christ and sign a pledge called the Articles of War stating “that you’ll be faithful to the Christian principles and not take any drugs and will not drink or smoke,” explains Ferraez. New soldiers get 12 weeks of preparatory training, and officers, who are chosen from the ranks, must complete a two-year program at one of the Army’s training schools. (There are four in the U.S.) While soldiers work for free, officers are paid as full-time ministers and have the right to perform weddings and funerals. To avoid conflict, they are forbidden to marry anyone but another officer; prospective spouses must take the officer training course prior to marriage, and after that husband and wife are promoted together.
General Burrows, the second woman in the Army’s history to hold the post of general (the first was General
Booth’s daughter, Evangeline), is a product of that all-in-the-family system, the eighth of nine children of Robert Burrows and his wife, Etta, both Salvation Army officers in Australia. “We all felt it was important to reach out to people,” Eva recalls of her family. “It was God first, people next and yourself last.”
As a teenager, however, Burrows backed away from the church. She found the Army’s daily activities excessive (three weekly services are still required), preferring to swim and play tennis for her high school. It was not until 1949, after graduating from the University of Queensland with a B.A. in English and history, that Burrows responded to a “divine compulsion” and joined the Army.
Since then her career has taken her from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where she trained black teachers, to Australia, where she started Employment 2000, a training program for out-of-work youth. She has created shelters in Great Britain for battered women and served meals to hard-core alcoholics in Edinburgh. “We don’t only deal with people with whom we think we can be successful,” she says. “You just love, give and help where you can.”
A couple of years ago that meant singing Christmas carols on the streets in Paris with several French Salvationist friends. “My French is just terrible, but I was singing quite strongly,” recalls Burrows with a laugh. “People were throwing money into the kettle, and one friend said to me, ‘Keep singing. I think they feel sorry for you.’ ”