Can­cer claims beloved Delhi min­is­ter

Ch­eryl Fitch de­clined rapidly fol­low­ing Dec. 12 di­ag­no­sis

The Delhi News-Record - - NEWS - MONTE SONNENBERG MSon­nen­berg@post­media.com

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.

FILE PHOTO

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.

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