Growing Up Army, Salvation Army

I’m one of the blessed ones. I had a fabulous father. A minister and a man’s man. An athlete and a musician. A genius and a humble man. I could go on, but the main thing about Daddy was that he loved me and I knew it for sure and for certain. I would more easily wonder about the sun coming up than whether or not my dad loved me. See what I mean by blessed?

And my mother wasn’t chopped liver! Also a minister, she determined not to let anybody go to hell without getting past her first.

Together, my parents persuaded us five kids that life is good, God is good and we could accomplish anything we set out to do. We had way more optimism than money, but that was incidental.

Add life in The Salvation Army and things really get interesting.

The Salvation Army is like no other church on the planet, so unique, in fact, that few people realize it’s a church. No other church covers their amazing breadth of action; no other organization performs without regard to public acclaim or reward; and no other church makes such a huge, no-strings-attached effort for non-members

A Salvationist’s faith is, above all, practical. It’s Christianity with skin and shoes on. Christianity with muscle. This is not a Kum Ba Yah kind of crowd we’re talking about.

How could this not affect us? Not make us as strong as oaks?

Here’s some background:

My mother and father both served as Salvation Army officers, as the Army calls their clergy. Thanks to who and what they were, On We March is full of love, full of laughter and full of implausible happenings. It not only describes how my family conquered obstacle after obstacle, but it introduces a cast of characters you’ll want to meet.

I didn’t grow up in a vanilla family. Vanilla is comfortable, fairly predictable and somewhat bland. That doesn’t describe us.

Some people believe the opposite of vanilla has to be dysfunctional, where anger, rage and lack of connection rule the roost. That doesn’t describe us, either. We had love to spare, with parents who gave us dreams to dream and a big leg-up on the future.

Our lack of vanilla predictability came from growing up in The Salvation Army, with constant moving, difficult circumstances and almost no money. But, here’s the key: None of us realized we had it hard; we each thought we were living a life of privilege.

At the hub of all this optimism was Daddy, a once-in-a-lifetime man, ably assisted by Mother, always ready to take whatever hill appeared on the horizon. This is their story.

To give you an idea, people who knew Daddy routinely refer to him as either Sir Charles or Saint Charles. That’s the kind of effect he had. To know him was to understand the meaning of awe. Brilliant, good looking, a gifted speaker, gifted musician, gifted athlete–heck, gifted pretty much everything–and yet with a firmly grounded ego that focused on others.

Together they raised us five children to wrestle life to the ground. A sister-in-law once said we were as “intimidating as” (I’m paraphrasing here) all get out.”

On We March: A memoir of growing up in The Salvation Army has the love and morality of Little House on the Prairie, but isn’t vanilla. And it has the energy of The Three Stooges, but isn’t wacky. It’s a great read.


“Bette Dowdell takes you into a world most of us know little about. Her big, roiling, laughing, God-fearing family, led by her charismatic father and game mother, warms you, amuses you and fills you with the awe that God’s promise of joy is possible in everyday life. Read On We March and share their extraordinary journey.” Lucianne Goldberg, Publisher & CEO, News Forum

“From the minute I opened On We March: A Memoir of Growing up in the Salvation Army I was caught by its energy. I was amazed by the way in which, led by Daddy, they met every challenge with strength, resourcefulness and humour. A fascinating look inside the Salvation Army, coupled with a fast-moving memoir kept me reading long past bedtime. A great read.” Jane Trotter, Edmonton, Alberta

“More than just a memoir, On We March: A memoir of growing in the Salvation Army is a glowing, spunky portrait of a man and a family unconditionally dedicated to the service of others–and a must read.” Frederick Ramsay, Author of Judas, the Gospel of Betrayal and the Ike Schwartz mysteries

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