The Salvation Army’s Grace Manor is a long-term care facility located on Wellington Street in Ottawa. On an monthly basis, right around Sunday’s dinner time, the brass band members from The Salvation Army’s Barrhaven Church visit Grace Manor and go floor-to-floor playing songs and hymns for the residents. The band has been doing this for as long as I can remember, visiting retirement residences and nursing homes throughout the city.
This month, the band was a little thin. Eight of us arrived, got our instruments out in the small chapel on the main floor, and then split up into two groups, ready to move throughout the building’s common areas and play for the residents. Later, we would meet up on the 3rd floor and finish off with a few songs as a full group.
Our quartet begins its afternoon on the second floor, and six or seven residents come in close to listen, sing and enjoy the music. One of the residents, a curious and confident woman, asks us about our instruments, and what our names are. The young men in our small brass quartet turn their heads towards her and happily entertain the questions with answers and conversation that satisfies her curiosity.
A middle-aged man is sitting by the window with his father, an elderly resident, focused intently on the music and smiling over and over again as we play. Both of them are enjoying their time together as the sun streams through the glass behind them on this warm Sunday afternoon.
As we finish and start to make our way towards the next common area, waves and goodbyes from our small audience fill the room. Our young men wave back and offer a “Have a great evening!” and “Enjoy your dinner!” to the residents, seated at their tables waiting for their roast beef dinner to be served.
We continue into the next common area and, shortly after the music starts, an elderly woman in a floral-printed blouse wheels herself excitedly out from her room. She begins leading the band and clapping along to the hymns, obviously reminiscing of times long past. My heart smiles in the moment.
Another familiar face joins us, with harmonica in hand, and plays along with the music. This is his monthly opportunity to play with the band, and the young men in our group always look for him when we visit. Our visits to Grace Manor just wouldn’t be the same without him.
As we make our way back to the elevator, he stops us and begins playing a solo, a song that he said he wrote years before. As he puts his harmonica back on his lap, he starts to sing through a gentle whisper the words of his song, repeating the chorus over and over again — “Jesus saved me. Yes, He saved me”. I look to my left and see our young men frozen in the moment; their instruments by their sides, listening intently to all three verses. My heart smiles again.
The two groups have now joined together on the third floor to play a final few hymns, and it isn’t long before our hour-long visit comes to an end. All of us are feeling the effects of a long afternoon of playing and it’s time to call it a day.
The band members shuffle into the elevator, the main floor button is pressed and the doors begin to close on our monthly visit. I pause for a moment and look around the elevator.
The faces of these young men are smiling as they talk about the people and the music: the curious woman with all of the questions, the elderly woman leading the band, and our friend with the harmonica and original composition. Memories are being formed in their teenage minds and they don’t even realize it. They’re the same memories that had been etched 25 years earlier into my own mind, when I was a teenager and part of The Salvation Army Band with my father, visiting retirement and nursing homes and bringing joy into the lives of those who listened.
This Salvation Army is as real and relevant today as it has ever been.
I can only hope and pray that the young men and women that participate in these meaningful, life-changing and comfort-giving ministries today will one day be the ones who pick up the torch and lead other young men and women to do the same. The Salvation Army is in good hands.
Written by Glenn van Gulik.
The Salvation Army Barrhaven Brass Band practices weekly, participates in Sunday morning worship services, and provides community outreach ministry year-round.