Articles

Soldier of the Lord

McKENZIE PORTER December 1 1948
Articles

Soldier of the Lord

McKENZIE PORTER December 1 1948

Soldier of the Lord

Articles

The tinkle of a tambourine made this carefree teen-ager lose interest in movies and make-up and set her to grappling with sin

McKENZIE PORTER

JUST about the time Adolf Hitler became possessed of the devil and set all Europe thundering to the tramp of marching feet Edith Frances McLean surrendered to The Lord.

She was driving with a man friend through her native suburb of Swansea in West End Toronto when she saw a group of men and women in drab blue serge with red facings standing on a corner in the rain singing “Rock of Ages.”

Something in the sardonic grins of a few loafers who were watching the little Salvation Army service hurt her heart.

“Gee,” she said, “I guess those people have got a lot of courage to stand right out there and sing like that.”

“Yes,” said her friend thoughtfully, “I’ve always sort of admired them.”

The next day when she was tapping her typewriter in the King Street, Toronto, offices of William R. Warner Ltd., and wondering how far the German tanks had clattered into Poland, she kept seeing in her mind The Figure on The Cross.

This was an unusual train of thought for a 19-year-old girl who had been one of the gayest and most comely ever to matriculate at Runnymede Collegiate.

Edith McLean used lipstick, rouge and powder, and because her employers were cosmetic manufacturers she knew how to make up more skilfully than most girls. She dressed in pretty, provocative clothes. She went to dances, movies and the

hockey games. Several young men were competing for her favors.

Her father was a well-set Ontario Provincial Government servant, head of a jolly, two-story brick household. Her mother was a sweet, intelligent woman. Behind Edith, the eldest child and only daughter, were five brothers, then aged 16, 14, 11, 6 and 4, who brought a riot of mischief and dishwashing into the domestic routine.

Every Sunday the whole family went to the Anglican Church. They were orthodox, devout, unquestioning communicants. They were no different from any other sound middle-class home except in so far as they were so hugely blessed with boys.

No More Perfume

THIS was hardly the background of the classic Salvationist, the type who one day in depravity sees the light and ascends “from the guttermost to the uttermost.”

Yet within three months of being touched by that group of sinners playing their way into heaven on a trombone Edith McLean was herself marching down the public street with joy, love and courage in her heart to seek out and fight The Prince of Darkness.

She renounced dancing, drinking, smoking, movies, theatres, ball games and boy friends. She removed the subtle lure of Guerlain’s “Chinois” to trail a wholesome whiff of carbolic. Her exciting summer frocks went to give mere decency to withered bodies from which filthy rags had been scraped.

She straightened the delicate contours of her own slender frame in thick serge and hid her shining hair under a black coal-scuttle bonnet.

While her family watched dubiously she turned her back on the litany, the collect, Te Deum and vespers with all their ancient poetry and the cool singing of boys. She shook a fist at the fear, remorse and despair of the old hell-ridden sects. And she went batting the tambourine behind a band which trumpeted joy in the love of God under the banner “Blood and Fire,” and brought weeping drunkards to their knees crying “Glory Hallelujah!”

David and Goliath

rTTODAY, at the age of 27, Edith Frances McLean spends her life among lechers, winos, cokies, bums, lunatics, harlots, paralytics, gamblers, thieves, consumptives, pregnant children and all the other specimens of broken, drifting humanity which clog the social drains of a big city.

She makes her headquarters in the Women’s Social Section of the Salvation Army, housed in a gabled brick building which looks up like David at the enemy Goliath from the corner of Dundas and Victoria Streets, in downtown Toronto, to the clean vast lines of a brewery. Her own office is about the size of a clothes closet, painted in depressing hues of brown bread and chocolate. On the wall for all her derelict visitors to see there is a tract which reads:

Give me a sense of humor Lord,

The Saving Grace to see a joke,

To win some happiness from life,

And pass it on to other folk.

Lieut. McLean’s pale face sweeps upward and outward from her fragile chin to form a perfect inverted triangle from the top of which her brushed hair runs back to join a bun on the nape of her neck. Her eyes are huge, wide

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apart and brown. Although they dance with fun and quick intellect you can tell they soon swim with tears. Her nose is prominent but delicate.

At first you think she is plain. But soon you are conscious of a pervading serenity, an immense understanding such as you get when you gawk at the Mona Lisa. Then she looks incredibly young and almost beautiful.

Occasionally as she talks eagerly about herself she seems amazed at what she has become. She has a sense of being “chosen” for a cause and wonders why she deserved the honor.

When she rises she is slim and tall and she moves like a doe, delicately, her long thin hands bent backward slightly from the wrists. When she sits down again she crosses her legs, and although her straight skirt is the regulation 14 inches from the ground she shows her black silk-clad knees and the frothy lace fringe of an underslip.

There is nothing pious or righteous in her manner.

She will tell you with gurgles of schoolgirlish amusement how once, when selling War Crys, she answered the call of a beverage room full of tipsy freight handlers and sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” right through, to settle a bet on how many verses there were.

When she had finished there was an electric silence. Then a great roar of applause.

No Sudden Revelation

What brought about this great transformation in the life of a previously carefree, dressand boy-conscious teen-ager? Certainly, something happened to her after that day eight years ago when she heard the Salvationists singing “Rock of Ages” in the rain. Yet for Edith McLean “being saved” was accompanied by none of the tearful breast-beating often associated with Salvation Army-style religion.

It‘happened that a few days after being moved by the street meeting she was invited by an Anglican friend to help in the nonsectarian Red Shield Canteen run by the Salvation Army. Through this she went out of curiosity to the Army’s Swansea Evangelical Centre. Her conversion came a few months later.

“I didn’t see any light in the sky. I didn't have a sudden revelation. Without wishing to disparage the Anglican Church 1 found the simple approach of the Army more acceptable.

“1 realized it was necessary to have a sense of sin. repentance and the forgiveness of God. I had never had a sense of sin before. At high school I had always been morally what they call a good girl. In fact, until I joined the Army. I thought I was pretty good. But afterward I realized I was as big a sinner as any woman on the street.

“1 sinned because I wanted pretty clothes. That was pride. I sinned because I was jealous of somebody. That was selfish. I sinned because I had a terrible temper when my brothers were untidy about the house. Anger is not a good advertisement for the Lord. When I was an Anglican 1 met God in church. In the Army I live with Him.

“1 have discovered that no man or woman is so had that he or she is irredeemable. 1 know that every trouble in the world is due to misfortunes over which people have little control. ’Filings like rent, food, heat, clothes, taxes, children. Those who cannot carry these millstones sometimes crack up and lose their souls. The belief grew in me that to save souls

is to save the world. It was a deep belief that enveloped me in great satisfaction and tranquility of mind. I surrendered to the Lord. I have been completely happy ever since. I have the peace that passeth all understanding.”

Three years ago, after serving for five years as a “soldier,” which corresponds to the ordinary member of a church, Edith Frances decided to apply for a commission, which meant devoting herself full time to the Army.

She was between the ages of 18 and 28, the group from which the Army draws its officer cadets. She was up to the specified medical standards laid down by compulsion of the rigors of the service. She agreed to resign if she chose to marry anyone outside the Army, since in the case of married officers both partners must serve full time. She convinced the command of her sincerity.

Long Hours, Low Pay

And for nine months she was cloistered in the solid, airy, spotless, Spartan building on Davisville Ave., North Toronto, which is the training school for officers intended for service anywhere in Canada, Newfoundland or Bermuda, all of which are under one command from Albert Street, Toronto.

The course involved a solid eight hours of study five and a half days a week, broken by corps duty—streetcorner meetings—on two afternoons. Sunday was given over entirely to meetings and devotions. Only on Friday afternoon did cadets have any time to themselves. There were about 60 other cadets, half of them men, half women; among them were a dozen married couples. One or two cadets gave up. But the great majority graduated.

Lieut. McLean receives $16 a week. Before she can become a major she will have to serve 20 years. She will then receive $21 a week. Beyond major, promotion is according to merit rather than seniority. But the pay advances little. For example, the matron of Grace Hospital, the famous Salvation Army maternity hospital on Bloor Street, Toronto, is a university graduate and the holder of the highest qualifications in her medical sphere. She ranks as a brigadier. Her pay is $24 a week. The pay of men is a little higher rank for rank and there are certain small allowances.

Laughter Wins Souls

Every officer has two functions vocational and evangelical.

All through the week Lieut. McLean works among the city’s destitute women, but on Sundays she goes out into the streets with a few followers, forms a ring, raises her face to the sky and in thin tones begins to say something like this:

“Good morning! We have come to your street to bring you once again the message of the gospel and we trust that you will be pleased and inspired by our words and by our music.”

Then she “lines out” the opening song. The Army does not use the word hymns. In order to catch attention she always chooses something well-known. Often she begins with “Tell Me the Old, Old Story,” which sometimes raises a laugh from the bystanders. But she doesn’t mind that. A laugh is as good as anything for drawing a crowd. Half the Salvation Army came to their first .service to laugh but stayed to pray.

After the song she calls on one in the circle to give personal witness. And without any shame a man or woman

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will begin: “I was a drunkard . .

Or. “I was a fallen woman ...”

Sometimes the kids start chanting: “Salvation Army, save my soul! Take us all to heaven in the sugar bowl!”

Then maybe a husky veteran who remembers all the cups of tea, packs of cigarettes, clean socks, warm scarves and good nights’ rests he got out of the Salvation Army during the recent war will give those kids a smart clip over the ear.

First-Aid Station

Sunday is no day of rest for Lieut. McLean. She often gets home after ten o’clock exhausted by long tramps through the streets and meetings morning, afternoon and night. But at eight-thirty Monday morning she is in her little office, the door of which is never closed, and from then on, all through the day, she waits for the women to come—the women who are drunk, broke, deserted, dying or heavy with child.

Lieut. McLean sees perhaps a dozen women every day. Every day two or three, and sometimes up to six, new faces appear.

The pregnant girls stand there, sometimes red-eyed with crying, sometimes defiant, sometimes giggling sheepishly. Often they are poor and shabbily dressed. Occasionally they are smart and able to conceal their condition under a raglan coat. The majority of them are in their teens. The frightening thing is, says Lieut. McLean, they seem to get younger and younger. Girls of 14 and 15 with babies are common nowadays.

A girl stands at the open door. Lieut. McLean looks up from her desk.

“Hello!” she says, smiling brightly.

“Hi!” murmurs the shabby bobbysoxer.

“Can I help you?”

“I guess so,” says the girl, sullenly. “I’m gonna have a baby.”

“Well, that’s wonderful,” beams Lieut. McLean. “Do come in.”

She has a form all ready. She fills in name, address, by whom recommended, and other necessary details. Then she comes to the all-important heading: “Reason for visit.” And

finally, delicately, she asks for the information under the heading “Putative father.”

Generally the girls are willing to tell everything. But sometimes they resist and have to be coaxed to disclose all the details necessary before the arrangements can be made for the clinic, the confinement and the ultimate future of the child. In cases where a girl under the age of 16 is involved the police may have to be informed.

When a girl is homeless, or wishes to leave home on account of her pregnancy, Lieut. McLean provides for her in a variety of ways. First she will be sheltered while continuing to work at the Women’s Receiving Home on Pape Avenue, in Toronto’s East End.

When she can no longer work she is moved to a comfortable home on Jarvis Street, downtown. Here all the unmarried mothers-to-be wait their time. The atmosphere is that of a private nursing home. It is jolly and friendly. The girls sit around knitting and sewing and listening to swing on the radio.

The child is generally delivered at Grace Hospital, around the corner on Bloor St., where there is a special wing for unmarried mothers. This is one of the most up-to-date maternity hospitals in the city.

When the baby is born, arrangements are made by the Salvation Army for its adoption. Ninety per cent of unmarried mothers choose to let their

children go for adoption. The Army only urges the girl to keep her baby when all circumstances seem desirable. Sometimes the Army goes to work on the fathers. Often there is a wedding at the Jarvis Street home a few days before a baby is born.

During last winter an English girl arrived at Union Station, Toronto, with a baby in her arms. She had a bundle of letters from the veteran father urging her to come out, marry and set up home with him. For some reason, he changed his mind while she was at sea. There was nobody to meet her in Toronto. Nobody except Lieut. McLean.

The girl hadn’t a penny in her pocket owing to the English exchange control regulations. Lieut. McLean got busy on the telephone. She discovered the father was a “no-good.” She arranged for the English girl to have shelter with a family. Within three weeks the woman was on her way home via New York. Arrangements were made for her to pay off the passage money by easy installments on the other side.

The procedure involved long and complicated negotiations with immigration officials, the shipping companies and the British Consul, formalities which the bewildered, friendless woman would never have known how to tackle.

Wherever possible the Army asks for a small payment for services. This is done to enable the recipient to retain a measure of self-esteem.

Lieut. McLean has had one alcoholic on her books for three years. The woman, in her 30’s, is decent, intelligent, and hard-working when she keeps away from the bottle. But every six months she seems to want a drink. One drink leads to another. She goes on a long jag and is picked up by the police from the paving stones, sick, wasted, and on the point of suicide.

Lieut. McLean never loses hope. As soon as the woman comes out of hospital she finds her another job in domestic service. She visits her once a week.

Dancing Is Sensual

“She is really trying to help herself,” says Lieut. McLean. “She has wonderful courage and she fights the bottle all the time. Now she has taken to telling me when she thinks she is going to break down. It was much better last time. Instead of getting to the point where she falls unconscious, she comes into my office, singing. ’That was a big improvement.”

The only form of relaxation in which Lieut. McLean indulges is reading. Recently she has read “Psychology in the Service of the Soul,” by Leslie Weatherhead; “A Guide to Confident Living,” by Dr. Norman Peel; ‘“The Robe,” by Lloyd Douglas; “Peace of Mind,” by Joshua Liebman.and “Three Men in a Boat,” by Jerome K. Jerome. This last made her laugh until she cried.

Her sense of humor is intact, has probably been even sharpened by her service in the Army. She is by no means a slave to the Army doctrine. She finds incongruities and contradictions in some of its teachings. For instance, the Salvation Army is opposed to the movies. Yet it uses films for publicity purposes and itself shows religious pictures. During the war the Salvation Army showed Hollywood films to the troops.

“I admit,” she said, “that there can be good movies. For instance I would like to see ‘Hamlet.’ But I will not go to the movies because (a) I should be setting a bad example and (b) for every good picture made there are a hundred which are harmful to the human mind. Until all commercial pictures are good

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we, as an Army, must shun them. We must align ourselves with the simple people. The simple people are damaged by the movies. Therefore, we don’t go.”

Dancing, she thinks, is sensual. She is not so much distressed by people who like dancing for this reason as she is by the “hypocrites” and “apologists” who excuse it on the grounds that it is good exercise.

“I can think of a dozen better forms of exercises,” she says.

She attributes the increase of pregnancy among teen-aged girls to dancing, emphasis on sex in contemporary high-school society, and to advertisements designed to make young people think that their personal popularity is the most important thing in life.

Sometimes when she is talking there is a twinkle in Lieut. McLean’s eye and it may be she finds some of the Army ideas a bit stuffy. But her loyalty is intense and she will not discuss these things with outsiders. “We are human,” she says. “We are sinners. We make as many mistakes as anybody.”

Whenever she talks about the way she beats the tambourine she grins. She knows it’s funny. “But gracious,” she says, “when you feel as full of joy and happiness as I do you’ve just got to beat that old tambourine. It’s wonderful!”

For every one genuine conversion she sees a dozen artificial ones. The

tears roll easily down the tippler’s ; cheeks. And if there’s nothing in the * world between a starving man and a

l piece of bread but a prayer, he’ll

; genuflect.

“Many of the destitute pretend to ; be converted for the sake of a night’s

> shelter and a cup of cocoa,” says Lieut, r McLean. “But these are the ones we

> give to gladly. Aren’t these the ones ; who need it most? Who is more dreadfully benighted than the man or woman

? who’ll deal falsely with God for the sake of material gain? It is not the bribe of the bread. It is not the bribe of heaven. It is succor for the neediest.” Her five brothers, two of whom are now married, and all their friends still rag her good - naturedly about the Salvation Army. Her mother wept once but drying her tears said, “You are serving God in your own way, dear, and that is all that matters.” Her father is interested in the Army in so far as it concerns his daughter’s welfare. He is proud of her now and wonders why they don’t make her a colonel.

Lieut. McLean will marry if she can find the right man within the Army’s ranks. She will not leave the Army, she says, to marry an outsider, even if she falls in love.

When she tells you she is happy, honesty shines radiantly from her brimming eyes. Her frail frame blazes with evangelical fire. “I tell you it is God’s business we are here to do, not our own.” ic