By Mason W. Canales
Killeen Daily Herald
Beyond the familiar bell ringers soliciting Christmas donations, the Salvation Army is a common church with a huge mission: to give to those in need.
"What the Salvation Army is all about is helping those that can't help themselves," said Maj. Roy Tolcher, of the Salvation Army in Killeen.
Most people only know of the Salvation Army from seeing the collection kettles outside of businesses around the holidays or perhaps the Angel Tree events the charitable organization runs, but the Salvation Army is a congregation of Christians who worship just like any other Christians.
"I am an ordained minister, and the branch of the Christian Church I am in is the Salvation Army," Tolcher said.
Every Sunday, Tolcher and his wife, Mary Dell Tolcher, another Salvation Army major, provide a worship service for those gathered in the small hall at 502 N. Second St. in Killeen
"On Sunday morning, it probably isn't vastly different from mainstream churches," Tolcher said. "We believe the Bible is infallible, and that is what I preach from, the word of God."
On Sunday, about 30 people gathered and participated in readings, prayers, and song led by Mary Dell Tolcher.
"We are going to God to pray this day," Mary Dell said. "Don't forget to pray for one another; this is important to lift each other up."
Before the prayers, the church members – or soldiers, as they refer to themselves –
lit the wicks of the Advent candles as several hymns, from "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" to "O Come All Ye Faithful" were either played or sung.
Roy Tolcher then gave the sermon.
Tolcher told the congregation of Jesus and how important Christmas is.
"Jesus was sent to bring this kind of peace and completeness to the world," Tolcher said after telling the congregation that the word "peace" should mean harmony, love and completeness. "It is impossible to have peace of God without peace with God," he added.
Tolcher also spoke about the importance of not sinning.
Preaching the sermon and the Sunday service is Tolcher's favorite part of his long work week for the Salvation Army, he said.
"It is really the highlight of my week," Tolcher said.
But there is so much more to his and his wife's jobs as majors.
The Salvation Army in Killeen runs a food pantry, a thrift store and many social programs.
The purpose of the thrift store is to make clothing and furniture more affordable for those who have less, Tolcher said.
Their social programs vary,
from helping the military with assistance, music lessons for the young, and even providing emergency financial assistance on bills such as rent and electric when funds allow, Mary Dell Tolcher said.
"About 85 percent of the social service are to help soldiers," Roy Tolcher said.
For those in the Salvation Army, there is no difference between preaching and providing social services for those in need, Mary Dell Tolcher said.
"The Salvation Army refuses to think the social work and the spiritual work are different," she said. "If you are not doing both, what are you doing? You are just scratching the surface."
Another part of the Salvation Army is providing disaster relief.
Disaster relief is something that both the Tolchers have done numerous times, Roy Tolcher said. He personally has spent five days at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing.
Recently, they fed officers during the long scouring of Stillhouse Hollow Lake for a Killeen Police officer, Jason Wright, and provided meals for
Hurricane Ike evacuees at three different Killeen-area shelters, Tolcher said.
Often that type of work is hard, Tolcher said. But "it really is the history of the Salvation Army."
During Christmastime the Salvation Army does a surge of benefit activities, such as the Angel Tree and Bell Ringers. The Angel Tree provides families in need with toys and clothing, Mary Dell Tolcher said.
"It provides them with just an easement of the budget," she said.
Those who attend the congregation service at the Salvation Army are considered soldiers, Tolcher said. When they go to school they are called cadets and when they are commissioned they are lieutenants.
"As I got older, I believed that this is what God wanted me to do," Mary Dell Tolcher said. "I wanted to be able to help people."
Everyone in the Salvation Army is different, Roy Tolcher said. Some people do the grunt work and some people lead, but they all have something in common.
"It is a calling," Tolcher said, "and we feel this calling comes from God."
Contact Mason W. Canales at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7554.