The History of Self Denial
The Salvation Army has a rich and varied past which is preserved at the Heritage Centre and Archives (Plowman Resource Centre, Upper Hutt). This edition of Salvationists in History looks at the origins of the Self Denial Appeal, previously known as One Week’s Salary on Missionary Service (OWSOMS).
The Salvation Army is widely recognised for its community outreach, both locally and on an international scale. The Self Denial Appeal perfectly encapsulates this for the Army. The appeal was initially proposed in England in 1886 by General William Booth. Cyril R Bradwell reports in his Salvation Army history Fight the Good Fight, that ‘a British officer, Major (later Commissioner) John Carleton offered to go without his pudding for a year and donate the money saved to Army funds’.
While the idea of giving up something for a year was rejected, Booth suggested instead that one week should be set aside for Salvationists to deny themselves something and have the funds go towards the work of the Army. That first year of the Self Denial week, held just in the United Kingdom, raised nearly £5000—an impressive feat at the time!
This yearly commitment later became known as the Self Denial Appeal, and the funds raised during the appeal were used both for overseas missionary work and for local social and community work of the Army. The Self Denial Appeal operates each year in all of The Salvation Army’s 130 territories. A specific challenge arose for officers and Salvationists alike to commit to donate One Week’s Salary On Missionary Service.
Issues of The War Cry over the 1890s and early 1900s reported contests between corps officers and Salvationists and individuals as they strived to raise funds for overseas mission. One standout supporter of the Self Denial Appeal was Tommy Gibbs, a chimney sweep who would annually throw out an open challenge for any other collector to raise more money for the Self Denial Appeal than him. His challenge was accepted by Mrs Adjutant Hollins in 1901, who raised £80 to Tommy’s £60, and forced him to admit defeat.
A great opportunity that arose from the Self Denial Appeal was the ability to make use of the Army’s talented musicians. The original October season for the appeal allowed for bands and singing groups to tour during the springtime, giving more rural towns the enjoyment of public entertainment during the appeal.
Although other fundraising appeals have since sprung up in the Army, the Self Denial Appeal, along with its challenge of donating One Week’s Salary On Missionary Service, still remains an important pillar of the overseas mission for the territory and across the international Army.
For New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa Territory, each year’s appeal centres around a small number of other territories and their outreach programmes. This year’s Self Denial Appeal focuses on the Kenya and Papua New Guinea Territories, sharing stories of people supported by programmes that the appeal will help fund—putting faces to the missional work of the appeal.