Dawn Butt and her husband Geoff Butt put their faith first that by moving to the sight-unseen North Coast they would be able to call Prince Rupert ‘home’.
The couple, who are both ordained pastors, slipped quietly into Prince Rupert during COVID-19 to take up the church leadership at the Salvation Army. Accompanying them in the August move from Williams Lake, came their two children and their two dogs.
Dedication to the Salvation Army and helping others runs through their bloodlines with both Dawn and Geoff growing up with parents who were Salvation Army officers. Dawn can go one further as a third-generation Army officer, her grandparents were travelling missionaries with the S.A. spending some time in Northern B.C.
Many people know the Salvation Army for its work running the food bank, the soup kitchen, or for emergency situations, but there is much more to the organization.
“As Salvation Army officers you wear different hats,” said Geoff. “There are times when you are being an executive director of social services. There are times when you are the manager of a store, and there are times when you are ministering. There are times when you are just a jack-of-all-trades, like soup maker, janitor. We fill in where there are gaps and that’s what always makes it interesting.”
“There is never a day that is like another day,” Dawn said. “You can go in with a plan, but that plan is not going to stay the same.”
“Things happen. There are things that we can help with, people that have concerns or troubles in life — we want to help,” Geoff said while acknowledging that there are sometimes limitations in that as well with people needing to do some work themselves, like with addiction issues.
“I can hold the door open for you, but you have to walk through the door yourself. I can’t change your life for you. Everyone has to do the work. It’s the same thing with the food bank. We can help with groceries, but we are not a grocery store … We have things to help because we know it is hard sometimes. We look to help but not do it for you,” Geoff said.
“We like to walk alongside,” Dawn said.”We journey with people.”
“We take you as you are in this church. We are not a church about people who are put together. We are a church of people who know they are not. We all have our own personal struggles and that is what a church should be about — a place where you lift each other up and recharge for the week to come. That’s what we aim for,” Geoff said.
Dawn said that even their own journey to becoming pastors was not an easy journey. She said it took them a long time with a lot of ups and downs.
“We are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I know some people like to hold their pastors on a higher pedestal, but we are just human,” she said.
Geoff joked that Dawn has a favourite shirt which says “World’s OKest Pastor”. Dawn said she wore it in a sermon once to illustrate what brings people joy.
“What brings me joy is knowing that I’m OK. I don’t have to be perfect in God’s eyes. I am the OKest. I am the world’s OKest pastor and that brings me joy. It brought me joy that the shirt made people laugh. It makes people realize that I am just average, like everyone else. Pastors are just like everybody else. Our family is just normal people.”
As pastors with the Salvation Army, they can say when they want to move but are not often given a choice where to go. They let the church know they were good to move, but they wanted to stay in B.C. In April, they were offered the Prince Rupert opportunity.
“The kids were really excited. They were up for a new adventure. Our daughter likes to say ‘as long as the four of us are together, it doesn’t matter.’ It’s a good feeling,” Dawn said.
The family has done some exploring since being here and has hiked some trails with their New Foundland dog and their lab mix, which was an SPCA rescue.
Geoff is originally from New Foundland and loves being on the coast near the water. Dawn hails from Ontario, the Prairies, and Alberta.
“Being down on the waterfront and smelling the saltwater and the kelp takes me back to my childhood,” said Geoff.
Both Geoff and Dawn hope to progress the Salvation Army church and want to streamline the community programs in Prince Rupert. COVID-19 has thrown a few challenges their way, like virtual church services and the planned renovations to the interior of the church which have been put on hold due to the pandemic
“Sometimes adversity forces change,” Geoff said. “We are going to get through it.”
“We want to get to know people and journey with them. If that means just sitting and listening, then that’s what I’ll do,” Dawn said.
“We are not here for our own glory. We want to serve people. We want to love on this community and just make some positive change. We are not here to transform Prince Rupert through the Salvation Army,” Geoff said. “We understand that maybe the way we do things, and as we build on what the Sylvie’s and previous officers did, then maybe we can make things a little bit better. We want realistic goals. We will do the best we can to nurture and build people. Emotionally and spiritually we can help them.”
“When we see dignity restored in people, we are inspired by a message of love,” Dawn said. “Just like with anywhere the S.A sends us. We want to make connections out in the community. We want to make Prince Rupert home.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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