BRUGGER: Listen for the bells of The Salvation Army

Nov 30, 2012

It was cold that Saturday in December — and in my creative memory, there was snow on the ground. It was, after all, Christmas time.

The windows of Gilmore’s Department Store were frosty and sparkling with lights; magic suspended in air.

Snowflakes dropped silently on my nose as I tucked my chin inside a white Angora scarf. A rabbit-skin muff hung from a cord around my neck, my hands snuggled inside the flannel folds. My legs and ears itched from the heavy blue wool coat, leggings and hat.

I shuffled my feet through the new snow to make tracks all the way to the front door of Gilmore’s. Mother, my sisters and I were meeting my grandmother for lunch in the Tea Room on the top floor. We’d visit with Santa Claus afterward.

The chime of bells rang out and I looked up from my boots into the rosy-cheeked faces of a couple dressed in black uniforms. The wide brim of the woman’s bonnet protected her from the snow flakes, but her cape and skirt could not have kept her warm. The tops of the man’s ears were scarlet.

My mother pulled us aside, opened her pocketbook and placed a dime in the palm of each of our hands.

“We must help give Christmas to others,” she told us.

My sisters and I dropped the dimes into the red kettle and heard them clink against other coins.

“God bless you and Merry Christmas,” the couple said in unison.

The bells began to ring again. They smiled, but I worried that the man and woman wouldn’t be warm enough, even with our dimes.

The Salvation Army of Grand Haven is celebrating its 90th year from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, at the Grand Haven Community Center. I plan to be there.

For nearly a century, these quiet servants have followed the slogan “Do the most good” for our community. They work humbly and without fanfare. Rarely feted by the press, these silent warriors work around the clock — feeding and clothing the hungry; offering hope to children of the incarcerated; providing after-school assistance for kids who need extra help; care for the disabled, the elderly and ill; and disaster relief. Their mission is to honor each individual and to affirm without discrimination.

We are blessed to live in a generous community. There are some who respond thus through the glitz of fundraisers, the camaraderie of 100 women, 100 men or 100 students. Some respond to pleas for matching corporate dollars and generous tax breaks. Some are clearly visible and wish to be so.

It works. Social media-savvy organizations can bring in millions of dollars during one television concert.

When my mother slid her handful of coins into the red kettle that day so long ago, she could not imagine that one day her only son would depend upon the goodwill of The Salvation Army. For seven months, my brother was offered mercy from these committed servants living in their Addiction Recovery Center. They helped him find his footing after the debilitating scourge of alcoholism deprived him of every good thing in life. His faith was nurtured and dignity restored.

The Salvation Army is in essence a church. The founder, William Booth, went to the streets of London in 1856 to minister to the disenfranchised: drunkards, gamblers, prostitutes and the desperately poor. When these same people with changed hearts — filled with gratitude, longing to worship — tried to enter the traditional churches, they were not welcome. They had, after all, led scurrilous lives, and they looked dirty and unkempt.

Booth envisioned a place of worship accepting of his converts, no matter what their circumstances or past.

These quiet leaders live with humility. The Salvation Army provides its captains a weekly stipend, which allows them to live like those they serve, at poverty level. They ask no more for themselves. They are selfless servants, caring for the community through Christ.

The Salvation Army wishes to thank us for supporting them and to share their stories at next week's open house. It will be warm inside. I want to celebrate that first dime, and the others that followed. Please stop by and listen for the ring of the bells.

— By Ann Brugger, Tribune community columnist

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