Any time an organization shuts down in Thompson, whether it’s a smelter, a refinery, a long-established business like Don’s Jewellers or a more recent arrival like Staples or Rogers, not to mention a low-cost recreational facility like the shuttered Norplex Pool, it’s a loss. And, as the partial preceding list indicates, Thompson has had a lot of loss lately.
When workplaces or businesses close, the city loses jobs. It may lose residents and tax revenue. Landlords may lose lease payments. Other businesses lose customers. Non-profit organizations and sports associations lose volunteers. The ripples of such closures are felt far and wide.
The closure of the Salvation Army in Thompson, announced on May 25, doesn’t represent a big loss as far as jobs are concerned — there’s only the two pastors and the people at the thrift store — or in taxes, as churches are exempt from taxation, but it may still have a larger effect than some of the other previously mentioned closures.
It isn’t so much the worship services. All churches, not just the Salvation Army, have been suffering from shrinking congregations in recent years and there are already more than a few former churches around town now serving as daycares, or a Sikh temple, or the home of some other organization, or just sitting empty, used only for hall rentals for dances, craft shows and other events. Anyone who attended the Salvation Army services who needs another church to go to can probably find plenty of empty pews without looking too hard. No, the bigger impact will be the loss of the non-religious services the Salvation Army provides.
The Salvation Army is one of the main examples in Thompson of a church that adheres to social gospel principles: the idea that the role of Christians and their churches is not just to be a place for people to worship, but also to better the lives of those in need, regardless of whether they are congregants or not. Although it is usually possible to find something objectionable or at least questionable amongst any church’s, or any religion’s, core beliefs, it is difficult to argue that the Salvation Army didn’t improve the lives of many Thompson residents, particularly occasional or regular food bank users and Christmas hamper recipients who got all the ingredients needed for a holiday feast and toys for the children in the family as well. Similarly, the thrift store provided a valuable service to the city. Certainly, not everyone who shopped there was low-income but probably a significant proportion of the customers were. New clothes are not always cheap, even at discount chains, compared to the few dollars each the thrift store charges for a shirt or a pair of jeans. Regardless of your budget, it also provided a way to sometimes find clothes from stores that don’t have outlets in Thompson, or maybe even some local collectibles like a vintage Winterfest hat.
The bad news is that the Salvation Army won’t be around to provide these services any more. The good news is that there was nothing about them that is intrinsically linked to being a church. The food bank operated largely due to citizens’ donations to Salvation Army kettles at Christmas time, and the items sold in the thrift store were donated as well. There isn’t any reason why another church or a non-religious organization couldn’t provide the same or similar services. Thinking back to the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic, food hampers were being handed out by the Thompson Pentecostal Assembly, the Boys & Girls Club, and the Thompson Seniors Community Resource Council. It won’t necessarily be up to any of those organizations to fill the gap left by the departure of the Salvation Army, but they do show that where there’s a will, there’s a way, particularly if there’s some kind of funding available.It won’t necessarily be easy to fill the Salvation Army’s shoes after June 27, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.