Sister Betty Harrison 

Betty was commissioned as a Church Army sister on 29 July 1955.

Church Army sister with babiesBetty spent many years working in the Moral Welfare Department of Church Army, working in a children’s home, in a refuge shelter, in a mother and baby home and as an outdoor worker.

The refuge shelter helped people who needed emergency accommodation, often where there had been a fall out in the family and a person needed somewhere temporarily to stay until the situation had calmed down.

The homes were simply there as a place where these women could come and be cared for and looked after. It was a Christian environment with a service in the morning which all the women were invited to attend, with a chapel and a chaplain in each home. In the mother and baby home Betty was the nursery sister, in charge of 15 babies under the age of 2. The mothers would drop their babies off each work day from 7am to 7pm whilst they went to work. Where possible the mother’s would financially contributed to their babies’ care but this ministry was heavily subsidised by Church Army.

These homes were often supported by those outside of Church Army. Betty remembers on one occasion where they had a pregnant girl in their care and this girl had none of the necessary equipment needed for when the baby arrived. They prayed about the situation and a few days later there was a knock at the door and it was a couple asking if Church Army could take all their baby equipment as they had tragically lost a baby and it was too painful for them to have the things in their home. Mothers Union were also very supportive donating clothes and Betty would regularly give talks to them about the work of Church Army.

Babies in a Church Army mother and baby homeThe Church Army sisters involved in this work would be heavily involved in supporting these women as they made the difficult decisions about whether to keep their baby or not. They would help many through the adoption process but also make sure they understood the choices they had and the consequences of the different decisions they had available to them. In cases where an adoption had taken place they would regularly be kept updated about the progress of the child from the adopted parents.

The outdoor work would entail meeting with women to see whether they may benefit from staying in one of the mother and baby homes or helping them to make decisions about the adoption process or alternatively whether to keep their baby. Betty recalls that this work came with lots of challenges, including language difficulties with ladies of different nationalities, babies which were a different colour from the mother’s husband and the involvement of the Courts. Into all these situations the Church Army sisters poured much prayer and Christ’s love.

The job of an outdoor worker also meant helping these ladies with housing issues, occasionally helping them to find housing but usually helping them to furnish their houses. Every girl was given an outdoor worker, usually through a moral welfare officer, a mental welfare office or a prison governor. They might also have been referred through clinics, doctors, children’s officers, probation officers and occasionally through the church.

By the time Betty finished working in moral welfare there were 50 homes and shelters involved in rescuing children from brothels and rescuing mother and children from condemned housing and she had seen a radical change in the attitude of the nation in respect of unmarried mothers during the time that she had worked for Church Army.

Betty reflects that it was always challenging and interesting work, that she had to be very prayerful and accountable but that it was never dull. It always kept her on her toes but with God’s help they got through.