Story: Salvation Army

Page 3. Salvation Army culture and development

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Gambling, drugs and alcohol

The original Salvation Army was a way of life for its members, not just a set of religious ideas. The Army discouraged its members from gambling, using alcohol or tobacco, and wearing ‘fashionable dress and worldly adornment [such as jewellery]’1. At first, these rules attracted many followers. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which arrived in New Zealand in 1885, campaigned for votes for women and a ban on alcohol, and many Salvation Army women supported both causes.

Film pioneer

Major Joe Perry of the New Zealand Salvation Army was a pioneer film-maker. In the 1890s he toured Australia and New Zealand with a magic lantern, an early type of slide projector, to raise funds for the Army. In 1896 his equipment was destroyed in a fire in Marton, but he obtained a movie projector and began screening films. Perry then began making some of the world’s first feature films. In 1901 the New Zealand government commissioned him to record the visit of the future British King and Queen. However in 1910 the Salvation Army in Australia shut down Perry’s thriving production business. None of his films have survived.

Other evil influences

In the 1930s Salvation Army leaders regarded with suspicion the country’s passion for rugby. Until after the Second World War, young members of the Army were discouraged from entering university because of fears this would lead them away from the church. When television arrived in New Zealand in 1960, some in the Army feared that it would ‘introduce a lot of evil influence right into the heart of thousands of homes’.2

Bold as brass

Lusty singing and loud music have been an important feature of Salvation Army meetings from their beginnings. Brass-band music proved to be one of the Army’s most effective ‘weapons’. Many bands achieved high musical standards, touring internationally and performing with major orchestras. The Wellington Citadel band was the first to appear on New Zealand television, in 1962. In the 2010s, Salvation Army brass bands performing Christmas carols in their maroon uniforms were still a common sight in most New Zealand cities.

The Salvation Army in wartime

In both world wars the Salvation Army provided chaplains, hostels and canteens to New Zealand troops serving overseas, and in military camps and cities on the home front. These efforts increased the profile and prestige of the Army among the general population.

Attitudes to homosexuality

The Salvation Army campaigned against the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1985, taking door-to-door a petition spearheaded by a group of conservative MPs and fundamentalist businessmen Keith Hay and Peter Tait. In 2006 the Army's national head, Garth McKenzie, expressed his organisation's regret at the hurt caused by the church’s past activities and opposition to gay law reform.

The Army overseas

New Zealand Salvation Army officers have worked as missionaries in many countries. One, Bramwell Cook, became chief medical officer of the Salvation Army’s Emery Hospital in Gujarat, India, in 1932. More recently, Army officers set up corps in Fiji in 1973, Tonga in 1986 and Samoa in 2018 (at the request of Samoa’s prime minister). In the 2010s activities in New Zealand and the South Pacific were run from the Salvation Army’s headquarters in Wellington.

The Salvation Army’s programmes of social work among the homeless, unemployed, addicted, imprisoned and other needy people were the most visible aspect of its work in the 21st century. Moving away from its earlier, strongly independent attitude, the Army worked closely with government agencies and other organisations. It also addressed the causes of social hardship, regularly advising and lobbying the government on policies affecting the most vulnerable.

Into the 21st century

By the 1990s the Salvation Army’s original emphasis on wearing uniforms and other military-style activities had decreased. Its national training college in Wellington’s Aro Street, which had opened in 1914, was replaced in 1982 by a new facility in Trentham, Upper Hutt.

By the early 21st century all Salvation Army homes for the elderly had closed, but support for the elderly in their own homes was a growing field of activity. The Salvation Army employed around 3,000 staff and officers nationwide, and had a further 5,000 soldiers, or dedicated members. There were about 90 Salvation Army corps (churches), including several for migrants from Vietnam, China and Korea.

More than 30 Salvation Army community centres provided food banks, budgeting advice, counselling and other services.

  1. Salvation Army, ‘Articles of war’. Back
  2. Quoted in Thomas G. Aitken, ‘Aspects of the history of the Salvation Army in New Zealand 1929–63: a study in adjustment.’ MA thesis, Victoria University, 1964, p. 27. Back
How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Salvation Army - Salvation Army culture and development', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by Mark Derby, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 20 Apr 2018