Volunteers help out at General Synod

Eunice (left) and Naomi Der, two of the 64 volunteers from the diocese who worked at General Synod.
 on September 1, 2016
Michael Hudson

Friendships made as parishioners take on multitude of tasks

Eunice Der admits that she was reluctant about volunteering at General Synod. The 13-year-old from St. Christopher, Richmond Hill, didn’t know if she would have anyone to talk to.

As it turned out, she needn’t have worried. “It was really fun because I got to meet a new friend,” she says. “I got to be really open with her and the other people that I met, which was cool.” The two girls are staying in touch through email.

Ms. Der’s sister, Naomi, 15, had a similar experience. A volunteer at the registration desk and a messenger, she met a lot of people – youth delegates, bishops, clergy and the Primate. “It was good because I could work on my social and people skills,” she says.

She helped out to build up volunteer hours for high school, but also to learn more about the church. “At the beginning, I had no idea what General Synod was or what it did, so it was exciting to see how it all worked. It was pretty fun and I’d definitely do it again.”

The sisters were among 64 volunteers from the diocese who helped out at General Synod, the national decision-making body that met at Richmond Hill from July 7-12. They came from more than 20 parishes and ranged in age from 13 to 80.

In many ways, they were the unsung heroes of General Synod – people who worked quietly behind the scenes on everything from greeting delegates as they arrived at the hotel to making sure that dietary meals were given to the right person.

“Everywhere I go and everyone I’ve spoken to has said how wonderful the hospitality has been and how great the volunteers have been – welcoming them, making them feel comfortable, helping them out in difficulties,” said Archbishop Colin Johnson during General Synod. “They have been just super. They are ambassadors of the diocese and I’m really proud of the commitment they’ve made and the quality of their ministry of hospitality.”

Helping to coordinate all the volunteers was Cynthia Majewski, a member of St. Clement, Eglington. She said the volunteers’ commitment was inspiring. Some worked for half a day while others worked several days. Some even showed up after working at their day job.

“If anything, I’ve had trouble sending them home,” she said near the end of General Synod. “People who didn’t know each other have struck up friendships and given each other rides home. It’s been great to see it happening. I think a community has formed, which is very neat to see.”

In the weeks leading up to General Synod, Ms. Majewski met with clergy in the local deaneries to recruit volunteers. Just before the event started, the diocese held an orientation night for volunteers and about 50 people showed up. After General Synod, the diocese held a volunteer appreciation night at St. Christopher, Richmond Hill.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” said Ms. Majewski. “I’ve worked with amazing and very competent people.”

In addition to providing volunteers to General Synod, the diocese hosted the opening night reception and closing banquet. The festivities began in fine style on July 7, with a reception that highlighted the diocese’s rich cultural diversity.

After the opening worship service, General Synod members spilled out into the hotel’s entranceway and were greeted to the warm sounds of a steel pan, played by Joy Lapps-Lewis. Following the music, they entered a large room that offered plenty of hot and delicious food from the Caribbean, China and other parts of the globe.

“It’s a nice way to relax and visit with people – and the food is excellent,” said Jim White, a farmer from Saskatchewan and a member of the delegation from the Diocese of Qu’Appelle.

Mr. White was one of about 250 people who attended the reception, many of whom gathered around a large round table in the middle of the room filled with tasty treats such as cocktail Jamaican patties, mini marinated beef kabobs, spiced beef with raita, and mini vegetable spring rolls.

In addition to the food, flags, artwork, brochures and carrying bags from several countries in the West Indies adorned tables around the room. There was also a display of First Nations items.

“It was exciting putting this all together,” said Andrea Delvaille, a member of Christ Church, Deer Park in Toronto and one of the organizers of the reception.

She was glad the diocese had the chance to do something special at General Synod. “I think it’s a very nice opportunity for people to mix and mingle after maybe a long day – people who have travelled from a long way. It ends the evening on a really pleasant note and sets the tone for the next few days.”

After six days of passionate conversation, prayer and fellowship, General Synod members, staff, volunteers, observers and guests gathered once more on the evening of July 12 to celebrate together. The banquet, hosted by the diocese, marked the end of General Synod. The menu featured a 100-kilometre feast. Every dish – including mushroom soup, Ontario chicken stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese, apple tart and more – was found within a 100-kilometre range of the venue in Richmond Hill.

Before the meal was served, Archbishop Johnson welcomed in particular several guests of General Synod, including the Most Rev. Francisco de Assis da Silva, primate of Brazil; the Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado del Carpio, bishop of Cuba; and the Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell, moderator of the United Church of Canada.

Archbishop Johnson also took the opportunity to acknowledge a personal celebration. “My wife Ellen and I are so glad to invite you to our anniversary party,” he joked with guests. Archbishop Johnson and Ellen celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on July 10.

Dinner was accompanied by a mix of jazz and Dixieland music led by Bob DeAngelis, a Juno Award-winning clarinetist. Mr. DeAngelis often plays at jazz vespers services held in several parishes in the diocese.

After the meal, Archbishop Johnson offered his heartfelt thanks to the many volunteers and diocesan staff who gave of their time during General Synod. He also thanked General Synod staff for their tireless efforts, and Primate Fred Hiltz received a long standing ovation for his leadership.

Bishop Melissa Skelton of the Diocese of New Westminster, along with Archbishop John Privett, metropolitan of British Columbia and Yukon, then invited everyone to join them in Vancouver for the next session of General Synod in 2019.

To close the evening, Bishop Susan Johnson, the national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, led guests in singing the Doxology, a short hymn of praise to God. Then, in contrast, Bob DeAngelis led the room in a lively rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” accompanied by clapping and dancing throughout the room.


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