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Our own women of influence

Catherine Booth
The women of influence, who have helped shape The Salvation Army and continue to expand its mission.

Last week, the inaugural Women of Influence awards celebrated some outstanding New Zealand leaders. The Salvation Army has had a strong heritage of female leaders since Catherine Booth stepped up to the pulpit in 1860. We celebrate our own women of influence, who have helped shape The Salvation Army and continue to expand its mission.

The Army Mother: Catherine Booth

No celebration of Salvation Army women could be complete without mention of ‘the Army Mother’, co-founder Catherine Booth, who historians have credited as the theologian behind Salvation Army beliefs. Her passion for the scriptures began as a child, and by the time she was 12, Catherine had already read the entire Bible through. Although her father was an occasional lay preacher, he fell into alcoholism. This seems to have greatly influenced Catherine, who as a young girl was secretary for her local Juvenile Temperance Society.

It was at a friend’s house in 1851 that young Catherine met William Booth, who was just finding his path into ministry. An unlikely love affair began between the poor son of a pawn broker and this articulate young woman. They married in 1855, but Catherine never stood behind her husband in either teaching or leadership. She became a powerful preacher, at times more in demand than her husband, writing several pamphlets and books throughout her life, including Female Ministry: Woman’s Right to Preach the Gospel.

William and Catherine worked among the most destitute in society, in gin houses, in squalid conditions, and with young prostitutes and alcoholics. They came to see that salvation belonged hand-in-hand with social reform, and their ministry evolved into The Salvation Army. The radical new ministry was attacked by tavern owners for its tee-total position; orthodox denominations slated its theology, and open-air preachers were physically assaulted. Yet the Army spread rapidly, and Catherine trained many ‘Hallelujah lassies’ to preach and plant new corps (churches).

When Catherine died in 1890, 27,000 people lined up to view her body. She has been described as second only to Queen Victoria, as the most influential woman of her time.

Commissioner Janine DonaldsonTaking the Lead: Commissioner Janine Donaldson

This week we welcome Commissioners Robert and Janine Donaldson as the new leaders of The Salvation Army New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga Territory.

New Zealand is a homecoming, as the couple have been in the Southern Africa Territory since January 2010. Janine says she sees the primary focus of her leadership role as service. ‘William Booth’s one word message to his officers was “others”. The relevance of this message has never changed,’ she says, ‘I look forward to encouraging, empowering and working alongside those who are engaged in Salvation Army mission.’

Janine was only seven when she was listening to her father preach, and felt the strong conviction of the Holy Spirit. ‘I was totally convicted to give my life to God.’ And she was only 14, when she felt the call to officership.

‘I wasn’t particularly impressed, as I had other plans for my life,’ she says. ‘I put off telling my parents in the hope that if I didn’t say anything it might go away.’ But when she finally confessed to her parents when she was 17, her mother promptly replied, ‘I already knew.’

In their officership roles, Janine has seen many times how God’s plans are greater than our own. She didn’t think that officer training was for her, but she and Robert then spent 10 years training other Salvation Army officers. ‘Being involved in the development of leaders, being part of their spiritual journeys, and sharing intimately in their lives is a rare and humbling experience,’ she says.

While Robert had felt called to serve internationally, Janine did not share his desire. Yet they responded when they were asked to serve in Africa, and have spent another decade in the land of ‘red dust’. ‘Ten years of service in Africa has opened my mind and heart to other cultures, poverty, sickness, faith, joy and forgiveness.’ says Janine, ‘God proves to me that I don’t know what’s good for me, but he does.’

Despite her own influential role in The Salvation Army, Janine says her own biggest influences remain her family, including three lively sons. ‘A women of influence is simply someone who can be themselves and live that out with confidence and freedom,’ says Janine. ‘You have one life—make it count!’

Major Sue HayAt the Coalface: Major Sue Hay

It was at a day of prayer that Sue Hay experienced a significant and personal invitation from God: ‘I heard the parable of the banquet table, which was about God sending his servants out into the highways and byways to compel the “least, lonely and lost” to connect with God,’ she says. ‘I had an intuitive sense that The Salvation Army was the place to fulfil such a mission.’

Sue credits her mum as a huge early influence. ‘She was very unwell physically, so in my teenage years our family had to grapple with where to find God in the presence of suffering.’ Sue found healing from her childhood experiences through the 12 Step programme. ‘I spent many years asking God to take away my rage over tough childhood experiences. The 12 Steps unpacked my prayer into steps and showed me that behind the rage was deep pain that needed healing.’

As director of The Salvation Army Christchurch Addiction Services, these early experiences helped shape Sue’s own ministry to those suffering. Addiction Services uses the 12 Steps as part of its therapeutic programme, and Sue has seen many others find a place of healing. ‘The standout highlight of ministry for me is helping someone find healing for their inner pain,’ she says. ‘To be able to receive the raw pain another person feels and stand with them is an honour and incredibly meaningful. To see despair replaced by hope is a privilege.’

Next year, Sue will take up a national role as Assistant Director at The Salvation Army Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit in Manukau. ‘I hope to help shift social justice from being a vague, scary concept, and translate this into our everyday lives,’ she says.

Sue believes leadership role models are still very masculine, and says women need to find their own style of leadership. ‘I believe who we are as a leader is more important than what we do, and ultimately our character is our key influence. Women of influence need to find the courage to stand up for their convictions. We need to be prepared to accept the costs of leadership, and embrace the power of leadership without abusing that power.’

Sue is still in awe of what God has done in her life. ‘I sit back and marvel that the timid, broken person who signed up 24 years ago could be used by God in so many ways.’

Lieutenant Colonel Lynette HutsonChallenging the Assumptions: Lieut-Colonel Lynette Hutson

As a Salvation Army officer for 28 years, Lynette Hutson has been a significant role model for other women. She has headed up The Salvation Army’s Addiction and Supportive Accommodation Services and is currently Territorial Secretary for Business Administration in Wellington.

Lynette presented a paper entitled ‘Holiness? Gender? Leadership? Assumptions along the Journey’ at the recent Thought Matters tri-territorial theological conference in Melbourne. In her paper, she says two default assumptions about leadership are quashing other skills and leadership styles. Firstly, the ‘power/personality leadership model’, and secondly, the view that ‘this type of leadership is more likely to be found in a man’.

Lynette suggests that ‘a focus on wisdom, judgement, fairness and justice’ may be more effective than a focus on ‘power or personality’. She argues that ‘by focusing on stereotypical male leadership models, The Salvation Army is limiting the potential contribution of females’.

People only have to look to Christ to see there are alternative leadership styles, says Lynette. ‘While Jesus’ followers grew increasingly frustrated by his refusal to seek political power, the model of leadership that Christ showed is predominately one of surrender and sacrifice. And yet, we would never look at Christ’s leadership and say it was weak and powerless. His leadership was freeing and powerful, gentle and persuasive—without being passive.’

She continues, ‘Styles of leadership that rely on cooperation and collaboration are extremely effective. This leadership style is often seen as “feminine”, and although Jesus was fully masculine, it is perhaps the “feminine aspects” of his leadership that made it so powerful—in the true and purest sense.’

She questions, ‘Have we paid too little attention to other styles of leadership, and what is lost if this is the case?’

By Ingrid Barratt