Larne Salvationists gather for congress

Members of The Salvation Army in Larne have taken part in the biggest ever gathering of Salvationists in its Ireland division.

Commanding officer Captain Susan Whitla led her church members to Belfast for The Salvation Army’s Ireland divisional congress at the weekend.

The Salvation Army is celebrating 135 years of mission work in its Ireland division this year and to mark the milestone, around 700 Salvationists and supporters of the organisation gathered in the city for the three-day event.

General André Cox, who is the world leader of the 1.5 million-strong church and charity, was the guest speaker at the congress.

Captain Susan said: “We’re delighted to have taken part in this amazing event.

“It’s a special time for Salvationists which was made extra special by the visit of General Cox.

“Our church in Larne is growing and ready to be inspired and challenged.”

The Salvation Army’s Ireland division work began in Belfast in 1880 when founder William Booth appointed Major Caroline Reynolds to establish the work.

On May 3 of that year, she and four other female officers – Captains Phoebe Strong, Elizabeth Spencer, Mary Ann Marshall and Polly Flinn – were commissioned and the next day set sail for Belfast before landing in the city on May 7, 1880.

The first Salvation Army church (corps) in its Ireland Division was Belfast Citadel (Dublin Road), which was opened on March 3, 1881.

The first Salvation Army’s first church in the Republic of Ireland was opened in 1888 at Rathmines in Dublin.

The Salvation Army now has 19 churches and seven social centres in its Ireland division, designed to helpsvulnerable and disadvantaged people through a range of initiatives.

General Cox said: “I am delighted to have the opportunity to visit Belfast for the congress weekend.

“Our twin themes of ‘reaching up’ and ‘reaching out’ beautifully capture Jesus’ greatest commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and all our mind, and to love our neighbour as yourself.

“In gathering together in worship we want to receive from, and respond to, the Lord so that when returning to our homes, our schools, and our workplaces we can better serve our neighbour in Jesus’ name.”

The congress got underway with an Adult and Family Ministries rally at Belfast Temple Corps (Cregagh Road) last Friday, followed by a Youth event at Belfast Sydenham Corps.

An outreach event took place at the Victoria Square shopping centre the following day.

‘Ireland Division Celebrates’ took place on Saturday at the Spires Conference and Exhibition Centre.

The themes of this event were ‘Reaching Up’ and ‘Reaching Out’ and looked at how the work of The Salvation Army began in Ireland 135 years ago.

There was also a screening of a short film featuring various aspects of The Salvation Army’s work.

On Sunday, the General led a morning worship service at the Spires, followed by a March of Witness through the city centre in the afternoon. The final celebration took place in the Spires following the March of Witness.