Twenty years ago at the Salvation Army’s first church service in Campbell River, Pastor Les Burrows easily counted the number of people in the congregation.
There were 13 people, four of whom were members of his own family.
“It seems like yesterday, but my grey hair is telling me otherwise,” says Burrows, the first Sally Ann captain assigned to the River City.
It was 1992, and Burrows had arrived in Campbell River with his wife Cathy and their three children; the last two children would be born here.
Up until then, Campbell River was an outpost for the Comox Valley’s Salvation Army, but there was a need for something more. Burrows arrived with the mission to build a church community and it quickly grew.
“We remember the days when we got to 25 people – what an exciting time! – then 50 people,” he says.
The first services were held in the Elks Hall, but with a growing congregation, the Ocean Crest Community Church moved to its first real home, in the strip mall on Homewood Road which is now part of the Salvation Army’s Thrift Store.
“Then we got to 120 people and so we looked at the old Baptist Church. It was a big step,” he says. “Then along came the thrift store and the drop-in centre. It unfolded really quickly in the nine years we were there.”
These days, the Burrows live in Burnaby and are now majors in the Salvation Army.
They’ve also been given a new mission: to oversee Sally Ann’s operations in Surrey as well as all the churches on Vancouver Island.
And this weekend they’ll get to see first-hand the “fruits” of the “seeds” they planted two decades ago.
The Burrows will be here this weekend for the 20th anniversary celebrations, including Saturday night’s fun and the Sunday morning church service.
“We get to come home, but in a different way,” says Burrows. “It’s nice to re-visit – we would live here again in a minute. It’s a great place.”
From humble beginnings, the Salvation Army operates the Ocean Crest Community Church and offers these many other services:
- The Family Thrift Store on Homewood Road and the New Beginnings Thrift Store in Willow Point. Funds raised through sales goes towards their community programs.
- The downtown Lighthouse Centre which serves approximately 20,000 hot meals a year, offers showers, personal hygiene supplies, laundry, and referrals to treatment for drug and alcohol abuse on a daily basis.
- Family Services Emergency Assistance – Helping more than 400 households with vouchers for clothing, linens, household supplies through the thrift stores and other emergency assistance on a case-by-cases basis such as emergency food hampers.
- Emergency Shelter providing up to 22 warm beds per night, showers, laundry facilities, clothing and approximately 5,000 home-cooked meals per year for individuals and families at the Evergreen House facility in partnership with B.C. Housing.
- Crisis Stabilization Services – Four beds available for women in crisis in partnership with Vancouver Island Health Authority and Campbell River Hospital Crisis Nurses.
- Emergency Disaster Services – The Salvation Army provides emotional/spiritual support and meet and greet services in the event of a disaster.
- Extreme Weather Shelter – Providing 15 low-barrier mats during the coldest and wettest months of the year through the Lighthouse centre.
“Our success is really a reflection of the community,” says Kevin Mack, the community ministries director who arrived here 10 months ago.
Mack understands Campbell River is going through some tough economic times, but he sees people coming through, again and again, for people in need.
“It’s a very generous community. That’s something I picked up on right away,” he says.
Much of the success is the result of the volunteer assistance the Salvation Army receives. Betty Tiede has worked for the Salvation Army for seven years and performs a variety of tasks, including co-ordinating the volunteers.
“We have about 180 Kettle Campaign volunteers, and 50 to 60 who volunteer at the two stores, the Lighthouse Centre and the shelter,” she says. “You can’t function without (volunteers).”
The new captains who oversee the congregation are Gordon and Karen Taylor who arrived here last July from Grand Prairie, Alberta. Both grew up in Salvation Army churches and have been captains for the past nine years.
“We spent the last eight years in Grand Prairie shoveling snow,” Gordon says with a chuckle. “We’re quite happy to be here…we’re closer to our family which is a great bonus. This is a great church and a great community.”
And Les Burrows knows what makes the Salvation Army a great community.
“It’s the people,” he says. “They’re awesome and we truly believe that’s how God works. He always seems to send you the right people.”
The fun starts tonight at the Oceanside Community Church, 291 McLean St. From 5-7 p.m., there will be family fellowship, fun and games for the kids, a ventriloquist and food.
On Saturday, the Thrift Store on Homewood Road is offering 20 per cent off specials and staff will be cutting a cake there at 11 a.m.
If you have the need for more cake, head up to the church for the open house from 2-4 p.m. Also on Saturday, starting at 7 p.m., there will be an anniversary celebration at the church with entertainment and dessert.
Then on Sunday, 10:30 a.m., Major Les Burrows will officiate the church service to be followed by a barbecue lunch.
Everyone is welcome to attend.