"Speed! Camera! Action!” With those three words, the premier episode of The Living Word came to life. First airing on January 1, 1957, The Living Word was a 15-minute Salvation Army program that used what was then a new medium to bring the gospel to millions in North America. And now, through digitization and the Salvationist YouTube channel, this rich resource is available to a new generation of viewers.
The Living Word had its genesis in 1949 as the result of a commission appointed by Commissioner Charles Baugh, then territorial commander, and led by then Major Arnold Brown, who would later become General of The Salvation Army. The commission's purpose was to examine the matter of Salvation Army broadcasting. It was obvious that radio was still a strong medium and that television was on the rise as more households acquired television sets.
Writing in the November 17, 1956, edition of The War Cry, Major Brown notes: “The leading officers of The Salvation Army saw in television the 'end' as a means of mass communication. Here now were sound and sight together. There will be improvements. Colour already has been added. Dimensional realism perhaps will follow, as will the ability to capture distant images with new clarity. The challenge to reach the people with the helpful, healing message of the gospel via television will be with the Army as long as The Salvation Army itself exists.”
Major Brown, the program's first producer, noted that the films were designed to lift a “living word” from the Living Word—the Bible—and, through its presentation, would try to lead viewers to think of Jesus who is himself the Living Word.
The program's format was simple. The producer's mandate was to create a quality broadcast, with the Army's best music and song, and with some reference to the work of the Army, both redemptive and rehabilitative. Music was often provided by a guest Salvation Army band, such as the New York Staff Band and local bands from the Earlscourt and Danforth corps. Songster brigades and soloists were also key ingredients in each program. Many corps musicians were involved and a viewing of the films shows a young Art Dean, Douglas Court, David Moulton and Marion Watt, as well as other Salvationist musicians. The program always included a chat that conveyed an inspirational thought. As the host officer spoke, his words came to life with motion-picture scenes, gathered from all parts of the globe to illustrate his points.
The first host of the series was then Major Leslie Pindred, who played the part of “Mr. Salvationist.” Later, Major Ernest Miller, an officer from the U.S.A. Eastern Territory, became the program host and helmed the series for 12 years. He and Mrs. Miller were often the featured soloists.
Leslie Thatcher was enlisted as technical director of The Living Word. He was controller of his own film company, which had produced many commercial and documentary films, and was well qualified to head up the team. Other team members included Major Ken Evenden and George Cuthbert. Cuthbert built the sets, often assisted by his son, Norman, and did the film splicing. Some of the program's pre-recorded music was provided by the International Staff Band, as well as other international and well-known bands.
The Living Word was produced in a subterranean television studio at the old territorial headquarters on Albert Street in Toronto. The program filmed after 8 p.m. so that the heat and elevators could be turned off to make the studio quiet and to provide power for the extra lighting. Another reason for the late start was to avoid the loud rumbling sounds produced by streetcars, which stopped running at 8 p.m.
Each of the films closes with these words: “The Living Word TV series is, above all else, dedicated to the glory of God and the salvation of men.” To date, 69 films have been digitized and are available on YouTube. An additional 70 videos will be available on YouTube in late spring.
Colonel John E. Carew is the director of the Canada and Bermuda territorial archives.