Tuesday, August 10, 2021

William Booth and Major Jean

Major Jean. That's how she's known in the Smoky mountains of western North Carolina. For sixty years plus she traveled from home to home and church to church spreading the Good News as an officer of the Salvation Army. To me, however, she's Lorraine, my kin folk, and at ninety-five years of age, the last of her generation. She was a cousin to my mother, their mothers were sisters. That makes me her first cousin once removed. Since she was raised by my grandparents alongside my mother and her brothers and sister, that makes her my unofficial aunt. She's living with my husband and me for now, and is as much as blessing to us as we are to her.

Last Sunday, I became more deeply acquainted with the Major Jean side of her when my husband and I attended the annual (since 1936 except for covid last year) Singing on the Mountain at the Salvation Army Waynesville Corps. 

While the singing originally was held on top of a mountain at Maple Springs, it has moved to an open field behind the Salvation Army Corps in the nearby town of Waynesville, North Carolina. We were specially invited because Major Jean was to be awarded the highest honor given by the Salvation Army, the William Booth Award, named for its founder. This award is to the Salvation Army what the Oscar is to the film industry, except with only a few individuals being honored ever. My cousin/aunt was one, and she earned it. Many times over, I'm sure.

We came into the singing by golf carts, and just by coincidence, or by Divine God-incidence, we entered the tent while they were singing my all time favorite hymn, Precious Lord, Take my Hand. Several uniformed majors and captains rushed to hold her frail hand and escort her to our reserved seats up front. I actually gasped as the congregated Army sang the words together: 

Precious Lord, take my hand 
Lead me on, let me stand. 
I am tired. I am weak. I am worn. 
Through the storm, through the night 
Lead me on to the light. 
Take my hand precious Lord, 
Lead me home. 

Look at her precious hands fixing her hair the morning of the singing. Her friend Karen came to help her dress in her uniform, and couldn't resist taking this picture. The second verse hit me just as we stepped under the tent:

When my way grows drear 
Precious Lord linger near. 
When my life is almost gone. 
Hear my cry, hear my call, 
Hold my hand lest I fall. 
Take my hand precious Lord, 
Lead me home.

 After many more of the old, old songs, Commissioner Barbara Howell took the mic and asked Major Jean to join her at the foot of the stage, just a few steps from where we sat. Once again, uniformed soldiers of Christ stepped up and held her hand as she walked.

When the darkness appears 
And the night draws near 
And the day is past and gone. 
At the river I stand, 
Guide my feet, hold my hand. 
Take my hand precious Lord, 
Lead me home. 


The Commissioner spoke about the years Lorraine/Jean devoted herself to the Kingdom of God, about how she rode horseback to deliver the message, about the care she gave the people so far back in the mountains that no one else dared to venture. And then she gave the mic to Major Jean, and probably, being a high ranking officer from "up north" was not prepared for what she got.

In her humble thank you for the award, she slid in a few stories, like the one about coming upon a bootlegger and his still. Good old stories about the good old days! The crowd chuckled. They knew her, and they probably had heard plenty more stories from her.

After more songs and a dynamic speaker, we stood and sang the closing hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers. I know I've sung that particular song hundreds of times, but when surrounded by an Army of uniformed souls, it took on a whole new meaning.

Now she is here in our home. Feeble, though still full of stories. Tired and drained after several hospitalizations including a covid positive test. (Thank you God, for the vaccine that helped her survive with little side effects.) My prayer is that she be able to continue on with her life mission by testifying even in her illnesses. And when that time comes and she is, in Salvation Army language, Promoted to Glory, that her Precious Lord meets her and takes her precious hand.

Catch of the day,

PS When I taught fourth grade, my students read a book called The Hundred Penny Box by Sharon Beth Mathis. It was framed around Precious Lord, Take My Hand, the hymn by Tommy Dorsey. I studied that hymn and its origin in order to teach the students. The words came from his heart as he grieved the loss of his wife. Look it up. Sing it out. It is my faith.


  1. You know, Gretchen, some would think this is a tribute to Aunt Lorraine. But, to me, this is a testament of you and your faith. I now see a deeper side of you than I have witnessed before. Funny what one sees if she takes the time to listen to what one soul says about another. Precious indeed.

    1. Thank you Stefanie. That means a lot to me.

  2. Such a beautiful tribute to your aunt and her wonderful life. I loved reading this. Sara Heath