The following article was written by Major Joy Webb to mark the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the group and was published in the UK edition of Salvationist on 24th August 2003, it is reproduced here with the kind permission of the editor

The Big Four-O

WELL, here we are then! It’s 2003— the year the Joystrings reach the dreaded Big Four-O! Yes, I know ... you can’t believe it. Neither can I, really. And as nobody else seems to be going to mention it, I thought I would.

The truth is that in the year 1963 The Salvation Army was suddenly pitched into an exciting, stimulating, difficult but fulfilling spiritual adventure. My book Bridge Of Songs reveals the exciting and often difficult circumstances that surrounded this Holy Spirit-propelled venture into evangelism using the popular music culture of the 1960s. It had its first base at the then International Training College at Denmark Hill.

I suppose the distant past always appears rosy compared with the immediate present but I know that, for many Salvationists who came with us in spirit, the remembrance of those five and a half years of excitingly different ministry — when the Army was suddenly thrust into the spotlight of media attention as the group sought ways of connecting with youngsters — is very precious indeed.

It is for me, and also, I’m sure, for the various young people — older now of course — who made up the Joystrings during those never-to-be-forgotten years.

My use of the word ‘precious’ will rouse some people reading these words to say, ‘If it was precious, why was so much of the thrust of those amazing days lost in later years?’ I can’t answer that except to say I sincerely believe that nothing ventured for Christ in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit is ever lost! The people I still meet around the world who say to me, ‘I came to Christ in a Joystrings concert’ bear witness to that. It is their testimony — not mine!

It’s always amazing when God decides to turn a Movement through what I would call a right angle! People are scarcely ever ready for such dramatic change and there is always a mixture of support arid resistance. It was just like that with the Joystrings.

When you become ‘history’ — as, frankly, the Joystrings are now — it’s easy to forget the difficulties and remember only the wonder of what God decided to do at that time. Perhaps it’s right that this should be so, but let no one be in any doubt that it was not an easy path for the post Second World War Salvation Army to accept and for those of us involved to happily tread.

That we did tread it happily and in total acceptance is a tribute to the resilient faith of the members of the group, with its ever-changing face.

Until its final two years the group was always losing someone, sometimes several members at a time. That alone can make a standard of music-making rather difficult to maintain ... and maintain it you must if you are in front of television cameras and appearing in the major concert halls and theatres of the day.

Add to that the need to maintain spiritual equilibrium and day-to-day bonhomie with each other which takes even for Christians — immense strength of character and spirit. Again I pay tribute to all those who were part of this adventure — not only the Joystrings themselves but also the lovely people who were given to us as what would nowadays be called our managers.

They were wonderful officers who— whatever they thought of the whole set-up ... the music, the razzmatazz — always supported us wholeheartedly. and upon whom we came to rely increasingly as the years went on. We could never repay the debt we owed to them.

It is disquieting in today’s world to hear young people reply to the question, What is your ambition?’ with the answer, ‘I want to be famous.’ All I can say is that when the Joystrings became the most famous Salvationists the British public knew, there were times when we would have given anything to revert to anonymity.

Anything! But of course, you cannot, when you are head-to-toe in a uniform as well known as ours was then. Many people have asked the question. Why was this such a success in the eyes of ordinary people? Why did this type of evangelism make the breakthrough that the Army had been so needing?’

If I have any kind of answer, it lies in the fact that it was totally Holy Spirit prompted. We ran with him and not in front of him. Nobody sat down and discussed how or what could be done to make a breakthrough to young people. Nobody drew up a plan of any kind. Certainly nobody looked at what other churches were doing and thought, ‘Let’s try a bit of that!’ I hazard a guess that hardly anyone was thinking about it. Then God used a small chain of events and words to fulfill what he had in mind.

If there is anything that could validate all the Joystrings’ ministry sought to achieve, and bring joy to the hearts of all who had some part in it, it would be this: that our lovely Movement would pause and, seeking only the impetus of the Holy Spirit in our midst, be silent before him in order to let him decide what he wants to do with us next.

He may cut across our planning groups, our perceived projects, targets, goals — whatever you may like to call what we are busily engaged in at this moment of time, obviously with the best of all intentions — to point us to a new and different way that will spring inspirationally from what are the truly organic roots of William Booth’s soul-saving Army. Just as he did with the Joystrings.