Chesterfield’s Christian “soldiers” mark 150 years

Ray Baynes who runs the Chesterfield branch of the Salvation Army with his wife Joyce
Ray Baynes who runs the Chesterfield branch of the Salvation Army with his wife Joyce

A meeting took place on March 27, 1881 at the Old Malt House on Brewery Yard in Brampton at which a very interesting set of characters were present.

They included the Converted Boozer, Smiling Jack, Teetotal Tom, the Boy Preacher, four Hallelujah lassies, the Singing Pilgrim and the Left-handed Fiddler.

They were assembled for the first meeting of the Chesterfield branch of the Salvation Army, an organisation which last weekend celebrated its 150th anniversary with tea parties up and down the country.

And in Chesterfield, where the army has had a presence for 133 years, Christian “soldiers” Joyce and Ray Baynes, of Gower Crescent, Loundsley Green joined in the festivities by hosting a tea party of their own at Chesterfield Market on Saturday August 22.

Lieutenant, Joyce Baynes, said: “We really enjoyed meeting the people of Chesterfield who have so generously supported us for many years and to have the opportunity to say a personal thank you.

“Without their support we could not do the work we do supporting people, some of whom are the most vulnerable in our society.

“It is a tremendous privilege to serve God in this way, to share people’s journeys and see lives transformed.

Thank you Chesterfield.”

Today, there may be less “fire and brimstone” and more tea and cake but the sense of mission felt by the men and women who volunteer for the army in the town is just as strong.

The couple take over the Spire Cafe on St Mary’s Gate every Wednesday where they open their doors to all, irrespective of creed or background.

Joyce said: “We want people to come along and feel welcomed, warts and all.

“We see it as a sanctuary where we can walk alongside people for a little bit.”

Husband Ray, who says that he meets up to eight people sleeping rough on the streets of Chesterfield some nights, continued: “I try to speak to them and point them towards Pathways.

“It is a case of the long term building up of a relationship.”

Joyce added: “Most people have complex needs, drugs and alcohol is a big problem, early childhood experiences are often a factor, as are mental health issues.”

“Also loneliness is something we come across a lot but we have made differences to people’s lives.

“We have seen people get married and have children.”

The couple say they can point to dozens of people whose lives have been turned around as a direct result of their work.

One man originally accessed their services for a food parcel but now regularly attends the church and community café and works as a volunteer.

As a result he drinks much less than he used to and has a real sense of ‘belonging’ – regarding the church as his family.

They also supported a family of six with food for five weeks after the mother became ill and the father was unable to work as he looked after four children alone.

Joyce and Ray kept in touch with the family’s social-worker throughout, making sure that everything possible was being done to help the family get the benefits they so desperately needed.

When things had returned to normal the mother phoned them to say a personal thank you.

Despite the difficult nature of their work at times, Joyce says she has never had any doubts about answering the call and believes the church begun by William Booth in 1865 is just as necessary in 2015.

“I truly believe it would be a tragedy for Chesterfield if we didn’t have a Salvation Army.

“I live it, I breathe it and I eat it - and I wouldn’t do anything else.”