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Nov4FriToronto's Warehouse Mission Band isn't just preaching to the choir. November 4, 2016 by Ken Ramstead
"We have a song on one of our CDs entitled I Didn't Save You From the Shipwreck Just to Watch You Drown,” says Captain Ron Farr of the Warehouse Mission Band. “It's really what we're about.
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“As Christians,” he explains, “we often talk about rescuing someone from the sea of sin, addiction or vice. But what we have to keep in mind is that we need to continue along with that person in their spiritual life. We didn't pull that person out of that shipwreck just to watch him or her drown. We're going to help. We're going along for the ride. That's what The Salvation Army is all about and that's what the Warehouse Mission Band is all about, too.”
“Can You Play?”
The Warehouse Mission Band, a trio consisting of retired Captain Ron Farr, Gregory Huber and Krys Val, was formed in 2003 in the Cabbagetown area of Toronto. The band took its name from the Warehouse Mission, a Salvation Army ministry to Toronto's marginalized and forgotten, where Captain Farr served as corps officer.
When the band got together, Captain Farr was the chaplain of the Gateway, a Salvation Army men's shelter in Toronto.
“Music was an important part of that outreach,” he explains. “Part of the philosophy I used in chaplaincy there was if anyone wanted to come and play on a Sunday, they could do so, and play anything from Hank Williams to Twisted Sister. Some people were great musicians while others could barely play the radio, but that didn't matter.”
One night during the chapel service, Captain Farr asked, “Would anyone like to come up and play?”
Krys Val, an English musician on tour with Skarecrow, a Maritime band, happened to be at the Gateway that evening and responded, “Well, could I play a song?”
Captain Farr turned to Val and asked, “Can you play?”
“Well, a little bit,” he replied.
“Krys then proceeded with a brilliant rendition of Walk Hand in Hand with Me that blew everybody away,” Captain Farr smiles, “and we've been playing together ever since.”
As for Gregory Huber, a Cabbagetown resident, he wandered into the Warehouse Mission for a free breakfast one Saturday morning and never left.
“I wasn't in the best of shape at that time, physically, emotionally and spiritually,” Huber explains. “But everyone in Cabbagetown knows of The Salvation Army and the good work they do, so word of mouth led me to Ron's free meals, and I stayed to listen to Ron's free sermons. I was hooked. But he and Krys also had a vibrant music ministry, and I hoped that I could be part of that.”
A guitarist since he was 14—“Music's been the only constant in my life”—Huber participated in one of the weekly jazz sessions and soon became part of the band.
“We just sort of clicked and everything fell together.”
While the band has played at territorial headquarters, the Jackson's Point Conference Centre and Salvation Army corps all around the Greater Toronto Area, the band's focus is very much on the residents of Cabbagetown, an inner-city neighbourhood. They've never left their roots.
“For people who have lived on the margins all their lives,” Captain Farr says, “the music that we play speaks to them and tells their story about the inner pain in their lives, and how God has brought them to victory.”
Val often uses sermons as starting points, and builds songs and music around them. For example, Christophobe, which talks about how so many people seem to desire social justice yet do not want judgment or justice in their lives, was based on a sermon Captain Farr had preached.
“We've tried to build songs that express and reflect the transformation of the Cabbagetown community, but also speak to the fact that there are bigger global issues beyond our local community that they're also concerned about, such as human trafficking,” says Captain Farr. “People who are struggling on the margins with local issues also understand there are global social justice issues that they need to be equally concerned about.”
As well, the band uses portions of the Bible in their songs, such as the Psalms or the Book of Revelation, to extend the reach of the printed page.
Besides the gospel, the band references Salvation Army history in their songs to inform and educate.
“We have people who struggle with problems every day of their lives,” says Val, “who might not remember who the prime minister of Canada is, but if you ask them, they know all about the Blind Beggar Pub, when and where The Salvation Army was founded, and by who!”
“There's a constant purpose to our music,” adds Captain Farr. “We want to share our faith but we don't want to necessarily share it with church folk. The music that we're writing can be heard by anyone in the world, but we don't want them to feel like they were listening to hymns or Hillsong. They can listen to our songs and enjoy them, yet still get the gospel message. That's always been what we've tried to do, even in the songs that we sing on Sunday. They'll be quite contemporary for the local community—toe-tapping kind of music that people will sing along to and remember—but will have a Christian message: not only that Jesus died for us, but also that he calls us to live holy lives and to make a difference in the world. And I think we've been successful in sharing that common vision.
“We want to involve people, not only who are in the church already but those who are searching, and hopefully we'll help show them the direction they need to go in to find Christ.”
A Helping Hand
One man who attended a Warehouse Mission Band concert was so taken with the music he heard that he purchased the group's CDs, took them home and gave them to his son, who was struggling with addiction.
After listening to the CDs, the son decided to go into rehab the following day. He entered The Salvation Army's Hope Acres program and is still in recovery.
“We don't preach to the choir,” says Captain Farr. “People already in churches have a plethora of music they can listen to, incredible gospel groups out there such as Hillsong, not to mention Salvation Army brass bands—simply marvelous, inspiring music.
“But there are people on the periphery who want to change their lives. Maybe they're living in a house where people are shooting up. If you leave some kind of a gospel CD lying around, it'll get junked pretty quickly.”
“However, if you have a bunch of hooligans like us on the CD's cover,” Val smiles, “the CD blends in to the surroundings and there's more of a chance that they'll give a listen. Perhaps it'll give a person the strength to make the decision to get to a place he or she needs to be.
“So we're trying to reach those people who are on the edge and give them a helping hand so they can get over to the other side. For us, that part of our song has always remained the same. That's where our music is and that's what we will continue to do.”
The Warehouse Band Trilogy
The three CDs chronicle the struggle, emergence and acceptance of The Salvation Army in Cabbagetown:
Backstreet Showdown highlights The Salvation Army's emergence from the back street to become part of the main street of the community.
Exit Road speaks to the fact that we all need to be prepared for eternity.
Laneway Echoes addresses the changing face of Cabbagetown, yet shows how the echoes of love and truth have created a ripple effect in the community that still lives on.