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  • Dec12Wed

    We Wish You a Merry Christmas

    In Goderich and across Canada and Bermuda, The Salvation Army brings joy during the holidays. December 12, 2018 by Ken Ramstead
    Filed Under:
    Faith & Friends
    Cpts David and Laura Hickman, with their children, greet a nursing home resident (Photos: Joe Vella)
    Cpts David and Laura Hickman, with their children, greet a nursing home resident (Photos: Joe Vella)
    Every Christmas, retirement residences and hospitals in Goderich, on the shore of Lake Huron in Ontario, and the surrounding towns of Clinton, Seaforth and Kincardine, are treated to a wondrous event. Over the course of the weekends before Christmas, they are visited by Salvation Army members spreading the joy of the season.

    The congregation, the band and the choir of The Salvation Army’s Suncoast Citadel in Goderich all take part, passing out gift bags, playing Christmas songs, singing carols and spreading cheer to those who are alone or confined to hospital during the holidays.

    “It’s called Christmas serenading,” explains Captain Laura Hickman, the co-pastor at Suncoast, “but it encompasses all the church, not just the band and choir. Everyone comes along. It’s a total church effort.”

    The Greatest Gift
    Preparations start in November, when a request for volunteers to prepare the gift bags, known as Sunshine Bags, goes out.

    A group of Salvation Army members play musicPart of the church band performs at Harbour Hill Retirement Suites in Goderich
    “It’s another way for us to come together as a church,” says Captain Laura. “We treat the process like an assembly line. Copies of Faith & Friends are put in the gift bags, as well as tissues, socks and a Christmas bookmark or devotional. Other items might include combs, note pads, pens and lip balm. We distributed more than 700 Sunshine Bags last year.”

    Once that’s done, the visitations start. One community is tackled each Sunday or Monday, with some larger towns having more than one stop.

    If the venue is a hospital, the band will move through the hallways so that those who are bedridden can enjoy the music.

    “Our members go to each room and introduce themselves, telling them they’re part of The Salvation Army,” says Captain Laura. “They also ask if they have a favourite carol. Our band is very good at taking requests!”

    “This is a big day for everyone,” says Sharron Diann Beckwith at one facility where more than half the patients turned out. “Many people don’t have anyone and they can’t get out for the holidays. This is really Christmas Day for them.”

    At another hospital, appreciative nurses watched as Captain Laura and her husband, Captain David Hickman, went from room to room.

    “The patients are being acknowledged as people,” said one of the nurses. “For many, that’s the greatest gift of all.”

    Trusting God
    If the locale is a nursing home or residence, the band will set up at a central concert location, such as a foyer or dining room. While the band performs, volunteers move throughout the building and from room to room so no one is forgotten.

    Community care ministries members and volunteers pose with Sunshine BagsCommunity care ministries members and volunteers pose with just some of the more than 700 Sunshine Bags distributed by The Salvation Army’s Suncoast Citadel in Goderich
    If they’re given permission, either Captain Laura or Captain David will give a short sermon between carols.

    “By the end of the day, we’re all exhausted, but we love it!” says Captain Laura.

    Captains Laura and David are the first to admit that they get back as much as they give.

    “It’s humbling, because you’ve got no idea who you’re going to touch with the gift of music or even time,” Captain Laura says.

    “In one room you’ve got a family preparing to say goodbye to their mother, and a couple of floors down, you’ve got a mother who has just welcomed a newborn baby into the world,” she continues. “As Salvation Army pastors, it’s a privilege to be able to share these experiences and walk with them for a time, to be able to be there for someone’s last Christmas and someone’s first.

    “And in doing so, we can bring a little bit of cheer and encouragement and the fact that someone does care. We trust God to guide us to the people who need us.”

    Music and Smiles
    As the Salvation Army contingent packed up their instruments at Harbour Hill Retirement Suites recently, Joyce Herring lingered to take it all in.

    A Salvation Army choir singsThe Army choir in full voice at Harbour Hill
    Her mother-in-law is a resident there. And while it is a beautiful, well-run facility, it can get lonely at Christmastime. That’s why she is so appreciative of The Salvation Army.

    “My late father was a member,” she said, “so I know many Salvationists. They’re wonderful people. They help the community in so many ways: the social welfare program, the thrift store, the kettles, disaster relief.

    “But over and above that, coming in here and brightening the lives of people who are in their 80s and 90s with beautiful music and warm smiles is a blessing.

    “For me, these visits every Christmas are the most important thing that The Salvation Army does. They show God’s love.”


    On Thursday, December 13, 2018, Denyse Allin said:

    I've had the pleasure and been blessed for many years to be able join this wonderful group. What a joy to reach others with excellent music and wonderful words, telling of God's love. The ones who volunteer their time for such a cause as this are truly appreciated by many. A big thank you to all who help! Keep up the great work and God Bless You!


    On Wednesday, December 12, 2018, Shirley Ronan said:

    So happy to see that S.A. Is still visiting the nursing and care homes for the elderly. I was League of Mercy secretary for my corps for many years, and this was such a wonderful service with great, dedicated volunteers. May God continue to bless this ministry and those who give of their time to serve others in this way.


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