Cancer claims beloved Delhi minister
Cheryl Fitch declined rapidly following Dec. 12 diagnosis
Congregants at Delhi United Church were looking forward to the day this year when their longserving minister was back in the pulpit sharing words of wisdom and inspiration.
They were also looking forward to a Christmas celebration in December where Pastor Cheryl Fitch presided over another community banquet celebrating the Yuletide season.
Instead – unexpectedly and suddenly – congregations at Delhi United Church and Lynnville United Church are preparing for Fitch’s visitations and burial.
Fitch died Jan. 4 at Norfolk General Hospital in Simcoe. She was 59.
Fitch was diagnosed with esophageal cancer Dec. 12 and was fitted with a feeding tube soon after. She wasn’t well enough to deliver the service in Delhi Christmas Eve but was on hand to provide communion.
Fitch by then was in a weakened state and unable to attend the Christmas banquet at Delhi United the next day. As it happened, her absence was a harbinger of things to come.
“The whole group of us find it rather sudden,” Les Stedman, secretary of Delhi United, said. “We weren’t expecting that. The funeral arrangements have come together, but it’s a shock to the whole church. It caught us all by surprise.”
Fitch’s death is a body blow. However, the growing congregation at Delhi United bid farewell this week confident in the knowledge that Fitch was proud of its members.
Fitch started the Christmas banquet at the church 12 years ago. Her unexpected diagnosis forced the minister to cancel this year’s banquet. However — a few days later — the community and congregation assumed the mantle and spontaneously organized one of the best feasts to date.
“My heart swells with pride right now,” Fitch said Dec. 15 in one of her last Facebook postings. “I have been contacted and there are a group of people who are willing to put on the Christmas dinner.
“I cannot express how great this makes me feel that there are people who will run with this. So spread the word – our Christmas dinner is back on. Wow – this lifted my spirits so much. Thank you. Thank you.”
Fitch’s passing represents her life coming full circle. She was born Cheryl Guthrie at NGH in 1957.
Fitch was raised in St. Williams. She worked in the former nursing home in St. Williams and was a meat cutter in Port Rowan before training as a designated lay minister in Montreal.
“She enjoyed her job very much,” said Andy Fitch, her husband since 1977. “She liked being with the public and she liked meeting people. And she loved her congregations.”
The board of directors at Delhi United Church will met Jan. 9 to discuss the way forward. It was a difficult meeting no doubt, for Fitch’s visitation was held the following day.
Fitch’s 14 years at the head of Delhi United is a long pastoral charge by church standards. Mariette Stefek of Delhi, chair of the Delhi board, said it worked out that way because there was a great chemistry between the congregation and its leader.
“She never made us feel she was different from the rest of us,” Stefek said. “That made us appreciate her all the more. She enjoyed Delhi and our congregation and was content to hang around.
“I’m going to miss her dearly. She was the rock of our church. We have a great bunch at our church. We’re going to pull together and we’re going to do it for her.”
The Jeffrey Glendinning Funeral Home in Port Rowan handled arrangements.
Visitations were held at the home on Jan. 10. A funeral service was held Jan. 11 at Delhi United Church. Burial followerd in Bayview Cemetery in Port Rowan.
Pastor Cheryl Fitch was the head of Delhi United Church and Lynnville United Church when she was diagnosed with cancer in December. Fitch declined rapidly and passed away Jan. 4 at age 59.