Eric (Louie) Hibbert smiled as he greeted people arriving for the last service at New Waterford Salvation Army on Sunday.
The smile never wavered as he shook hands with the congregation and community members arriving for the last worship service at the church, a staple in the community for more than 35 years.
“(I feel) sad that it’s closing, but what can you do?” said the 66-year-old, who’s been a member of the church since 1998.
“This is the church I got saved in. The first church I went to since I was eight.”
Hibbert was forced to attend a service at the New Waterford Salvation Army by his wife Barbara (Rizzo) Hibbert. Before that day in 1998, Eric, a former bouncer, was struggling with alcoholism.
Barbara, a Jehovah’s Witness, wanted her husband to go to church and to stop drinking. He told her the only church he’d go to was the Salvation Army. Two weeks later, she held him to that promise.
“I only told her that to get her off my back,” he said. “She died after I became a soldier of the Salvation Army. The Lord put her in my way to help me find the church.”
Hibbert said he admired the Salvation Army's community outreach work and dedication to helping others. This is one of the reasons members of other Christian churches also attended the final service on Sunday.
“We’re here to support these guys because they were always there for the community,” said Sam Abrahams, a member of Calvin United Church.
“If there was a fire in town, the Salvation Army were there first to help with food, clothing, a place to go."
In April, Capt. Jamie Locke with the Salvation Army’s divisional office in Halifax confirmed the New Waterford location would be closing and merging with the Glace Bay congregation.
As reported in the Cape Breton Post, Locke confirmed the Salvation Army building in New Waterford would be sold but the congregation would continue to do outreach work in the area.
During the final morning worship service at the King Street location, Maj. Janice Bishop said many people there, like Hibbert, were saddened by the closing of the location.
“We acknowledge this is a very emotional day for our core family here and your feelings are validated because there is a sadness in your heart,” Bishop said during her opening remarks.
“But we want to take time this morning to rejoice and praise the Lord for all the wonderful thing that happened in the 111 years we have been in (Cape Breton).”
Later that afternoon, a merger and celebration service was held at the Glace Bay Salvation Army.
Capt. George Maltby opened the first Salvation Army Church in North Sydney in 1908. At one point there were more than 300 Salvation Army members in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and at least nine churches.
With the closing of the New Waterford location, only two Salvation Army churches are left — Glace Bay and Sydney.