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Heroes: Eliza Shirley

by in Action, Features, Sliding Gallery

HERO: Eliza Shirley
Years fighting: 1863-1932
Hero ID: Hallelujah Lassie
Mission: Pioneered The Salvation Army in the USA
Strength: Zeal, Self-starter, Courage, Risk-taker

At the age of 15, Eliza Shirley- a minister’s kid living in Coventry, England- saw The Salvation Army (TSA) march through town. She was especially impressed by the women (called ‘Hallelujah Lassies’) who preached on the streets and lead meetings. This was quite scandalous since in most churches women were forbidden to participate publicly. Soon after, Eliza felt that to be an officer (pastor in The Salvation Army) was her destiny in her life, but her parents requested she wait another year to decide. So, for her sweet 16 she was accepted into The Salvation Army as a Lieutenant and stationed immediately to assist in running the Bishop Aukland Corps (church). Any 16 year olds out there feel like assisting in leading a church anytime soon?

Eliza’s life as an officer was short-lived though since that same year, because of financial difficulties, the Shirleys made the life-changing decision to move to America and wanted Eliza to come with them. As if assisting in running a corps at 16 wasn’t daunting enough, Eliza wrote William Booth (founder and current leader of The Salvation Army at that time) to ask if she could ‘open fire’ (begin TSA) in America!!!! I mean, starting a new movement in a foreign country is no big deal, right? Well, unbelievably William Booth wasn’t yet sold on the idea of TSA being a worldwide movement and he declined to offer any real support to Eliza, saying “Start it on the Principles of The Salvation Army, and if it is a success we may see our way to take it over.”

Foreign country, financial strain, no back-up from Billy Booth… sounds like a long list of good excuses to leave firing up an American branch of TSA to someone other than a 16 year old girl don’t you think? Remember what we said earlier, women weren’t even accepted as legit preachers in most churches then, nor are they today!!

Once again, Firey Lizey (ok maybe not such a good nickname) seems not to have noticed the setbacks. Arriving in Philadelphia, her family found an old, derelict furniture factory to rent for meetings. It needed an extreme makeover. It had busted windows, a roof holier than thou, mucky dirt floors and nowhere for a potential congregation to sit. With lots of sweat and even more cash Mr. Shirley secured through a loan (Did I mention they went to America to get OUT of debt?) the place was fixed up to be able to hold meetings.

Posters were hung and “The Salvation Factory” was in business. On Oct. 5th, 1879 a total of 12 people showed up for the first meeting. Things weren’t looking so good. During open airs (meetings held in a public place where people publicly declared the gospel) it wasn’t unusual for Eliza to be pelted with mud, stones, sticks, and rotten vegetables. I mean I tolerate a few rotting vegetables in the sketchy bottom drawer of my fridge, but having one hurled at my head is the stuff of nightmares. It was late November before things took off when, during an open air, a notorious drunkard got saved! That was the spark that ignited a flame and Eliza’s hard work and determination made TSA an international movement. Only two months later in January, Eliza and one of her young girl converts were starting the second Salvation Army Corps in Philadelphia! Pretty soon William Booth was sending officers to New York to get the fire spreading throughout the country.

Are you an American Salvationist? If you are, it’s because of this spunky teenager who wouldn’t take no for an answer and wholeheartedly fought on for Jesus and The Salvation Army.

R-U a part of The Salvation Army? If so, this stuff is in your D.N.A- it’s part of your spiritual tree! Tap into it. Let it speak and breathe life into you. Wake up from your trance. Dust yourself off.

Do yourself a favour. Sit down for a minute. Turn off your cell phone and ipod and reflect for a couple minutes of ‘you’ time to do some soul searching. Answering these questions below will help give you a sense of purpose in your life.

  • What challenges do you face in telling others about Jesus where you live?
  • Think you’re too young to make a difference? How can you ignore the obstacles and fight with passion, like Eliza?
  • Are there people and places around you The Salvation Army hasn’t reached yet? Are you willing to be a pioneer for Jesus today?
  • What heroic things are you currently a part of? If you’re not, why not (lazy, $, time…)?
  • What kind of hero will you be?
  • What heroic things/social injustices will you BECOME a part of fighting?
  • How can you start taking action on that RIGHT NOW (this week)?
  • What will you be remembered for when you’re dead and gone?

See previous Heroes Episodes:
Frederick | Joe | Donut Girls

Fight against injustice // Fight hard // Fight with love

:: by Heidi Adams of Triton, NL
I’m a Salvation Army youth pastor and enjoy unicycling, playing the ukulele and singing off-key, loving Jesus, making the world a better place, and refusing to grow up. Check out Just Youth.

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  • sks

    My daughters love reading/talking about Eliza Shirley. They both have read and had read to them Hallelujah Lass! several time and have shared it with friends.
    What an inspiration to my 2 young girls. We first were introduced to her in American Heritage Girls, and since the eldest was 2 we have been active in Salvation Army bell ringing, collection, and promotion. Thanks for including her on your website. Can’t wait to dig around more!

  • heidster

    Wow- thanks for the encouragement and support and for encouraging you daughters to read about Eliza! She’s an amazing role model to young girls and women for sure. It’s too bad women like her aren’t esteemed in popular culture, but we’re doing our best to emulate real ‘heroes’ like Eliza Shirley.