Australian Biography

Eva Burrows - full interview transcript

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Why are you called Eva?

Well, I was named Eva by my parents and actually it was after the first woman General of the Salvation Army. Little did my parents know that one day I would be a General Eva. But Salvationists, especially of earlier days, they so admired the Booth family that they called many of their children after the names of the Booth children. For example, the General after William Booth was his son Bramwell, which is a very unusual name and it was the surname of a great evangelist in Britain. And William Booth named his son after this great preacher. Well, now, I mean, so many Salvation Army boys are called Bramwell so if you meet someone called Bramwell, I assure you he'll be a Salvationist or have a Salvation Army background. I have a brother Bramwell. And I was called Eva. And jokingly many people later said I was General Eva number two. It was really quite amazing because, as you know, I was only the second woman General after so many years.

How was it that your family was in the Salvation Army?

Well, it came about through my mother's side. My mother's mother lived in a squatter's family, a sheep station in New England. And she fell in love with a shearer who came round to shear the sheep. And you know, the squatter families were very aristocratic. And she eloped with this shearer so she was sort of cast off from the family. And later, she and her husband met the Salvation Army in a rural town in northern New South Wales. And they joined the Salvation Army. And their daughter Ella, my mother, grew up in the Salvation Army. And then my father had migrated from Britain and when he came to Australia, he was probably about 18 or something like that. In those days you went to sort of conscripted work if you were a migrant. And they indicated what kind of work there was available, dairy farming, sheep farming, and they said banana farming. My father had never worked in anything like that, so he said he'd go to this banana farm, so he was conscripted to work up in the area where my mother lived. And my father had really no religious background at all. In fact, he said that when he went to work in this place, he worked so hard, he said it was terribly hard work in a banana plantation. He thought it was going to be just picking the bananas. He didn't know he'd have to do all the hoeing and lots of tremendously physical work. And so when he was free at the weekend he used to go and drink in the pub at the town nearby which was called Murwillumbah. And one day he heard a group of Salvation Army people standing in the street, having one of their street meetings. And he was a bit tipsy and standing on the verandah of this pub. And he listened. And he was so struck by a young man who was speaking his witness, telling why he was a Christian, that later -- I don't know if it was in that meeting but in a later street meeting -- my father went and knelt in the street and asked to be a good man and to become a Christian. And then he joined the Salvation Army. And my mother was the sister of that man whose witness he heard in the street. He actually was invited by Salvationists to go and work for them in a dairy farm. And he used to tell us that they treated him like a member of the family. And the first day he went in to breakfast, they said, 'we will pray', and he said they all put their heads down and prayed. He said, 'I'd never prayed in my life like that.' So everything was very new to him. But he was a very ardent Salvationist and then having fallen in love with my mother, they had their wedding there in Murwillumbah. And later were accepted to train in the Salvation Army college in Sydney. And he describes how he tried to learn the doctrines of the Salvation Army: Later he used to drive a cart delivering groceries in Murwillumbah. This was another job he had. And as he would be driving the horses and his dray, he would be memorising the doctrines of the Salvation Army to really show them he knew what he was about.

Why is it the Salvation Army? The idea of a sort of military, a military concept alongside a religious concept, is a rather odd thing to our ears today. Why was it called an army and why was it organised that way?

Well, we believe that is under the inspiration of God because when William Booth first began to preach in Britain, he was a Methodist minister, an ordained minister of the Methodist New Connection. And he discovered that he had this great gift of preaching as an evangelist. And that when he preached many people felt the need to find repentance and begin life as Christians. So he would invite people to make decisions, like evangelists do everywhere in the world. So that he asked the Methodist Church if he could be released to do that kind of work. And they have their Methodist Council, which meets annually. And so when his application went forward, they took a vote and said, no, he was to stay in the one place. And his wife, who was present also, said to him 'No, you are called to this itinerant evangelistic ministry. So we don't accept that decision.' So they moved out of the Methodist church and for a period were doing evangelistic services. And then, it seems by coincidence, but we believe providential, he was walking down the Mile End Road in the East End of London, a very poverty-stricken area, when he saw a group of missioners holding a street meeting outside a pub which is called the Blind Beggar. You know how English pubs all have a name. And it's still there and you can go and see it today. And he was wearing clerical dress, and they invited him to speak. And they were so impressed with what he said, that they invited him to join them. So they were holding mission services there. They were already a sort of well-organised group. And then they became so impressed with him they asked him to become the head of their mission. So that was called the Christian Mission.

Now the Christian Mission expanded in parts of London and one or two places in Britain, in England. And they had a motivation to be evangelistic, but then when William Booth got working in the East End and he saw the poverty of the people, he came to this great awareness that you can't preach to people about feasting in paradise or wearing heavenly robes in glory, if you haven't given them a meal or if they haven't got a shirt on their back. So he came to this great awareness, that you must not only preach the gospel, but that you must care for people. And at this time, the mission began to expand and the mission convention said to William Booth, you know, 'You've got so much inspirational power, we don't need conventions and committees things never get decided in.'

So why, how did he come to reorganise it into this army form?

Well, he first of all he was made leader of the mission in a new way that they didn't depend on committees and so forth. And so you had this quite aggressive evangelistic stance in the work of the mission and this community work, when some of the people who were working as missioners were saying things like, you know, 'We must get out and really fight for God.' And they took some of those aspects of the New Testament, which says be a good solider of Jesus Christ, fight the good fight. And up in Newcastle in England, there was a member of the Salvation Army who was actually calling himself 'I'm the captain of this movement,' you know, 'let's go out to fight against the forces of evil.' And meanwhile, back in London, a very strange thing happened. They produced a little journal from the mission. And William Booth was looking at some proofs of a new journal, where it said we are a volunteer army. And he crossed out volunteer and just wrote the word salvation. And when they had their next convention, they actually [called] it a war council. And so almost, you might call it fortuitously, but we say providentially, the awareness that we were the Army of God, came to us like an inspiration. Nobody designed it. Nobody sat down with William Booth and said, 'We will be the Salvation Army.' It happened. Well, once it happened and we called ourself by that name, then we began to set down orders and regulations, conditions of service, training program, all that kind of thing. Then we became a very disciplined and organised movement. But to actually become the Army of God, as we're often called, was I believe at the inspiration and direction of the Holy Spirit. It's a conviction of mine.

Now where does that place you in relation to other churches, other denominations?

Well, the Salvation Army has always been seen as, kind of, the evangelistic, aggressively evangelistic, arm of the church. And we have a doctrinal position which is very similar to the other Protestant denominations so that I think we have a place in the church of Jesus Christ as that wing which may not have great scholars. We have not contributed to the great theological dissertations of the world but we are practical Christians who want to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ, both in our preaching and in our compassionate welfare program. Because William Booth became both dynamic preacher and also a compassionate champion of the poor. He fought for the poor.

Now that very practical, energetic style of Christianity, based on a reasonably simple theology, did that suit you?

Yes, very much.


It came naturally to me, I think. I know that in the Salvation Army we do have fine thinkers and theologians. But they then go on to do further study themselves in that field. But you see, I had this motivation to go and serve in Africa, and therefore my direction was more in educating young people to open their minds to the modern world and open their hearts to the teaching of Christ. So that really I didn't get involved deeply into the theology of the church although I consider that I did a lot of personal study. And as the General, I actually refounded what we called the International Doctrine Council. We have a book which outlines in great detail our theological position. I felt it was rather old in terms of the expressions in the book, very wordy, not up to date. So I set up a Doctrine Council, which was very international, on which sat an African, an American, a Canadian, Australian correspondent, British people. So we had a view of our doctrine from all round the world. And now, I'm pleased to say, we are just ready to print the new doctrine book, expressed in modern language, with the thinking of the Salvation Army today. So though I may not be a great theologian myself, I know how to use the people who have got that theological knowledge. The group, who have been working, many of whom are PhDs in theology, certainly having doctorates and masters degree in theology. One of them is a woman from Denmark, who is very prominent in the Council of Churches in her own country and in Europe. So I feel that we must know what we believe theologically and have an answer to give to all those who ask, but we are people who, as Bramwell Booth once said, 'We carry our theology in a knapsack because we're all pilgrims.'

You were at home and took naturally to the general direction of the Salvation Army and what it stood for in the Christian spectrum of churches. What about the hierarchical structure that had come with the army organisation? Was that as natural for you to follow? Or did you do things to relax that very, very strict line of command that came from the British Army model?

Yes, well, I'm not that kind of a person really. And the Salvation Army was changing. I mean there used to be the comment that the Salvation Army was under the hat of William Booth. Everything was under his hat. And he made the decisions. And it was very authoritarian. Then we began to talk about beneficent authority, so that though you had the chain of command, you were concerned for people. But then we moved into a new era, when we began to think more of consultative leadership, which was my style really. And I think that I enjoyed much more making decisions in the group, than thinking I had all the best ideas under my hat, or bonnet, whichever it was.

Now, the other aspect of the Salvation Army that has always been a little different is its approach to women. Was the Salvation Army the first church to ordain women?

Well, I know we have ordained women to the ministry since the very beginning of our movement, right back in the 1860s. And that was because of Catherine Booth, the wife of William, whom we often call the co-founder of the Salvation Army. She was a deeply religious woman, but a great student of The Bible, a very incisive thinker. And at that time in Britain, there was a woman evangelist from America preaching and she had received a lot of criticism from other churches. And Catherine Booth produced a pamphlet which was called Female Ministry, in which she supported women's ordination, and not only from the point of view of women's gifts and abilities, but also she took all the passages of Scripture that people would say meant that women couldn't preach, such as 'Women should be silent in church.' She was a great Bible scholar, and she produced this pamphlet in support of women's ministry. At that time she wasn't even preaching herself. But then one day she felt this impulse to stand up and speak in the pulpit. And she went up to her husband who had just concluded his preaching and she said, very modestly, 'May I have a word?' And that word has been a very big word ever since. Because then women had the great opportunity of two privileges in the Salvation Army -- to be ordained and preach, and to have any position equal with men in the ministry. So that right from the very beginning we ordained women. I think women had been ordained in America before that. But not in Britain. And many young women took the great opportunity in the Salvation Army to be released to preach the gospel very effectively.

In the middle of Victorian England, it was a pretty daring move to let women into those kinds of positions. Did it put people off? Was there criticism of that … radical stance?

There was criticism from other denominations. In fact, it is quite an interesting period in Salvation Army history: the Anglican Church, very impressed with William Booth's ministry and his ability to, what they call, attract the masses to the gospel, they actually approached William Booth about the Salvation Army becoming a section of the Anglican Church. Several bishops would come in mufti (you know, in ordinary civilian clothes and not in their clerical robes) and sit in our meetings because they wanted to see what it was about William Booth and his people that attracted the working class to the gospel. But when the discussions went ahead, we did not become an order within the Anglican Church, partly because of the ordination of women. And it was a long time later when the Anglicans themselves came to the decision in Britain to ordain women to the ministry.

Do you feel, especially as General, that it was actually an advantage to you to be a woman?

Yes, because I felt that I led in a feminine way. When I became the leader of the whole world and I travelled the world and met people of every denomination, I was always so warmly welcomed. And I think that people were pleased to see a woman who could [have] a spiritual role in the world. Certainly I didn't have any antagonism from people.

Do you think that it helped that you were single?

I consider it did, because I had no emotional concerns regarding family. My brothers and sisters all had their own homes and family. My parents were no longer alive. And I could concentrate entirely on the work itself. Many parents these days, even Christian parents, have anxieties about children, divorces in the family, perhaps children who don't follow what their parents have taught. These provide anxieties which certainly I didn't have to face so that in many ways it was to my advantage I think to have been single.

But you also had to sacrifice that sense of having another person, a man, who was complementary to you and supporting you in that work. And the love of a man in your life. Was there ever a time where you wavered in your determination to remain single because of somebody that you thought you might have been able to share your life with?

I did think about it at a certain stage but never seriously enough to ever actually contemplate marrying. And therefore, no, I really would say that I believed that my role was to live a celibate life and therefore I have found God's grace sufficient for that. Because I believe that what we sacrifice for God, he more than repays to us. So what we give up for him, I think God has given me so much more, and although I didn't have one person with whom to share all my decision-making and all the problems that I faced, yet I had family all round the world. The Salvation Army was my family. And the people were my children. No, I never felt that I'd been cheated by God.

The moment that you had to decide --the period where you'd met somebody that you found you were attracted to -- that must have been a real valley of decision for you to make up your mind at that point. What were the circumstances there?

It was just the fact that I had to make the decision and prayer is always a guiding light. And I think this inner conviction that I had gifts that I wanted God to use within the Salvation Army, and therefore I would have to accept that unless I married someone who was himself ordained, and prepared to be ordained, then it was no.

And so the person that you met, that you felt drawn to, was in fact not somebody who was ordained?

No, that's correct.

Was it, at the time … how old were you?

I was in my late 20s.

Was it a struggle? The reason I'm asking this is that quite often when you talk to people who've made a decision to dedicate their life as a single person to God, they've never really actually been seriously tempted to depart from that course. And you were somebody in a religious order, or working in a religion, which would have allowed you to do that if you'd wanted to. You could have married. And yet you made that decision that way, and that's why I think it's interesting, because we're all confronted with decisions in our life. And this one that you made at that time, I wondered whether you'd like to just talk a little bit about it, so that we'd have an insight into what you went through emotionally at the time.

Well, I must say that I did not allow the friendship to go too far when it would be too hard to draw back. Partly because of my own convictions. And therefore I had to break the friendship at that time, when it was not as difficult. If I had let myself go further in the relationship, then it would have been really tough. But at that stage I felt this is the time for the decision, this is it.

Was it a hard one to make?

Well, all decisions like that are hard.

And what were you actually choosing between in your own mind?

Choosing between marriage and family, and a life which is a natural, normal life of people, which is such a joyous and happy way of living, home and family. And in fact God ordained families as the method by which our society functions. And it's so sad when people break families. So I knew that I was giving up a thing which to me was a beautiful way of life. But then what God ordained for me was, to me, even more beautiful.

And have you ever looked back and for a moment regretted it?

No. Actually I don't believe in regrets. I feel that what you've done you did with the very best intentions so you can't waste time in regrets. Actually I'm what you might call a 'now' person. I live in the now. I believe that what you do now is significant for the past and for the future. There's a great Christian writer, a Roman Catholic of many centuries ago, de Caussade [Jean-Pierre]. He wrote a book called The Sacrament of the Present Moment. And I greatly believe in that, that what I decide now is something that I've done with the very best intentions. And God has an amazing way of turning the things that have happened, even when you've made mistakes, he turns them into value. For example, you know, my rebellious period when I disappointed my parents for example, by not wanting to go to church, not wanting to follow the way that they'd taught me. I mean, I could say I regret that, but really that had taught me a great deal. And now I'm very sympathetic to young teenagers. That's why when I'm invited to speak to teenagers I often say, 'Oh, I'm too old.' 'Oh,' they say, 'no, come on, come on, you can talk to us.' Because I know what it was like for myself as a teenager. So, many errors which you might regret in the creative will of God can be turned to good use. So if you live in the now, what you do now becomes past almost as soon as you've finished it. I mean if it's now, then a minute later it's not now. It's past. So if you're now doing what is right, and according to what you feel is God's will, then you're looking after the future and you're looking after the past too.

But a lot of people would believe that but find it very hard to put into practice. What do you think it is about your character that enables you to do that, and also to achieve a lot of the other things that you've achieved in the course of your life?

I think I have a very positive attitude to life. That's always been with me. Even before I became a dedicated Christian, I was always looking to see how things could happen and what we could do, and this sort of positive outlook on life has always been there. And in a sense, when you devote your life to God, what you are isn't changed. I mean, God doesn't turn a cheerful person into a morbid, pious or Holy Joe. God takes the natural talents that you have and we would say sanctifies them, takes them and uses them, so I've always been very positive in that sense. And I think also I've had a strong sense of integrity and honesty. Not doing things secretly. I've always been very much against secret deals, cover-ups, you know, that kind of thing. I like to be open. I hope I'm transparent in that sense.

These are your virtues. Do you have any faults?

Well, I always say that you should always be aware of the fact that you're fallible, that you're vulnerable. And usually your strong points are your weak points, you know, like the two sides of a coin. I'm very decisive, very positive. But the other side to that, which is my weakness, [is that] I can be bossy and try and organise everybody so that they do what I think we should be doing. I'm also, I think, a very compassionate person, concerned with people. The other side of that is that when there is a big problem with a person I can be a bit soft. So that, yes, I have plenty of weaknesses. I think another is that I've never suffered fools gladly and I discovered that, so often, if somebody had done something that was of poor standard, I would really lay into them a bit. But then, you know, I discovered that encouragement is much more effective than really scolding people. As a school teacher for many years in Africa I think I did learn to encourage and help people to make great use of their mistakes. But I think always that's something I've had to struggle with, especially if the person could do better. It wasn't so much that they made a mistake or did wrong, but that they didn't live up to their own capabilities. I was always trying to bring out the best in other people.

[end of tape]

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