In June 1975, I stood on the platform of Toronto’s Massey Hall, facing then Commissioner Arnold Brown. The moment had arrived to receive my first appointment. In those days, we didn’t know where we would be posted ahead of time.

“Lieutenant Champ,” boomed the deep baritone voice of the commissioner, “you look like you know how to ride a horse. So I am appointing you to ... Melfort, Sask.” The prospect of horses didn’t interest me as much as how far Melfort was from Nipawin, Sask., where my fiancée, Barbara, was already posted. We were to be married in six months, and Melfort would be our first appointment as a married couple.

Among the lessons we learned in the early years of officership was the importance of volunteers and community engagement in the mission of the Army. Not only did it impact our lives, but it exponentially increased the capacity of the corps to make a difference.

Lt-Col Champ with 109-year-old Rita FennellLt-Col Champ with 109-year-old Rita Fennell, who was part of the corps in Melfort, Sask., when he was appointed there 42 years ago
This past June, Barbara and I participated in the 100th anniversary of the corps in Melfort, which is now part of a circuit ministry with Nipawin and Tisdale, Sask. We strolled down Main Street, reminiscing about the people and places that were once part of our lives. Wes Phillips, the publisher and owner of the weekly Melfort Journal, had sponsored my membership at the local Rotary Club. On Tuesdays, we often walked the four blocks from downtown to the United Church for the noon luncheon meeting. On Friday evenings in the summer, I played baseball on a community team with Wes’ adult sons, Larry, Ron and Kevin. It wasn’t unusual to meet my teammates in the local pub afterward, me in my Army uniform, with the latest issue of The War Cry.

At Christmas, the Melfort Journal donated the centre page of the newspaper, inviting readers to contribute to the Army’s assistance program by having their names placed on a “Tree of Hope” in return for a financial gift. It was a remarkable gesture, as it spared the lieutenant the deep freeze of standing next to a kettle outside the local Stedman’s store. Rotarians and volunteers from other churches assisted in packing and distributing hampers to those in need. It was a wonderful community effort.

One of our greatest strengths is the army behind the Army. Last year, more than 140,000 volunteers across the territory partnered with The Salvation Army, giving freely of their time, talent and money to bring hope to others. For every Salvation Army employee, there are 14 volunteers. This number represents 1.14 million hours, or an estimated annual value of $22.8 million.

Forty-two years after my commissioning, I stood on a platform thousands of kilometres from Massey Hall as the master of ceremonies for the Melfort Corps anniversary gala dinner and welcomed MLA Kevin Phillips. Baseball stories, Rotary relationships and Christmas trees of hope are wonderful reminders of my association with the Phillips family, and how a community can make a difference for good in the lives of its most vulnerable citizens. In his greetings to the gathered dinner guests, Kevin spoke of his captivation with The Salvation Army’s mission to “save souls, grow saints and serve suffering humanity, in order to be a transforming influence in the community.” I couldn’t help but offer a silent word of thanks to God and prayed that we might always be true to our calling.

Lt-Colonel Jim Champ is the secretary for communications in the Canada and Bermuda Territory.

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