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New Salvation Army pastor appointed to North Bay

'The ministry unit that I am going into is completely different. I will be going back to church work and being a pastor and working with the community and re-establishing it. There will be a lot of starting from the ground floor up and building it'

After four years leading the way at the Salvation Army Barrie Bayside Mission Centre, Major Stephanie Watkinson is moving on to help a different community.

Watkinson is headed to North Bay, telling BarrieToday she has been reappointed to that community.

“It’s just a thing in the army. It’s natural,” she said of the move.

Watkinson joined the Barrie Salvation Army five years ago — and spent the past four with the Bayside Mission — and said she’s proud of what she and the team were able to accomplish, especially given they spent half of that time working through a pandemic.

“I think the thing I am most proud of is I had the most amazing team that was able to just go with the flow and just do what needed to be done and focus on what was the most important, which was helping our most vulnerable population,” she said. “During COVID, a lot of them made big personal sacrifices like staying away from loved ones … just so they could stay healthy and could continue to serve our community. It’s a really proud moment to be able to lead such an amazing team.”

She is also proud of the various community connections that have been made during her tenure.

“Some were re-established and some were new, but we’ve got some solid community partnerships that just make us stronger as a community,” she said. “Instead of looking internally, we looked externally. As the community of Barrie, we have really strengthened our social services and our efforts, and we did it together, not organization by organization.”

The pandemic, she added, made it a necessity to reach outside of the walls and find a way to work in partnership with other local organizations.

“I personally believe that one organization cannot meet all the needs of the community, so from my very first day I was constantly reaching out to others and trying to form different partnerships and even just open up conversations so we could all solve together,” she said.

Watkinson admits there are a couple of more goals she wishes she could have accomplished before leaving the city.

“The biggest thing I wish was, further along, was our family short-term housing project with Redwood. I wish we were on site but I don’t have control over everything,” she said.

Although she is sad to leave the colleagues and the friends she has made over the past five years, Watkinson said part of her is excited to move on to a new adventure and a new setting.

“The ministry unit that I am going into is completely different. I will be going back to church work and being a pastor and working with the community and re-establishing it. There will be a lot of starting from the ground floor up and building it,” she said. “It’s a smaller community than Barrie, so I am looking forward to some quiet time. It’s a bit of a slower pace than what I’ve been doing here.”

Watkinson has spent the past three months working side by side with her replacement, Major Bruce Shirran, and said he will be more than able to continue on and see the work she started continue.

“The army blessed me with transferring him to Barrie in March, so we’ve been working together. He’s already met a lot of our community partners and is on the ground running. There’s no gap, like normal,” she said, adding Shirran has been an officer for many years and has experience in various shelters throughout the province. “He brings a lot to the table and he’s just a really good guy.”

Before she goes, Watkinson wanted to extend thanks to the community for all of its support.

“We can’t do what we do without the community support, and I really hope, as a community, we stay focused on the most vulnerable and really try to find solutions to the issues,” she said. “We’ve got some serious issues that we’ve got to deal with.”