Confessions of a General Synod junkie

Published May 27, 2010

Margaret Shawyer, co-ordinator for General Synod planning and consultations

General Synod 2010 will be her 10th and last as staff, but Margaret Shawyer is already setting her sights on coming back as a volunteer, or better yet, as a delegate. 
A self-confessed “General Synod junkie,” Shawyer, 64, knows the ins and outs of the triennial meeting of the Anglican Church of Canada’s governing body like nobody else. She began by staffing the information desk at her first General Synod in 1983. Since then she has coordinated the last four meetings, including General Synod 2010 in Halifax. 
”I love General Synod,” says Shawyer, who will be retiring this December after working for the national church office since 1965. “It’s a great place to work and meet people. I will miss it.” 
Still, it’s time to pass the baton, she admits with a laugh. “I don’t want to be, ‘Oh, that old lady over there. Why doesn’t she go?’ “

Shawyer finds two General Synods particularly memorable. The 1989 synod in St. John’s, Nfld. was exciting, recalls Shawyer, because it brought the church “into a communications age.” Anglican Video producer Lisa Barry created daily evening shows about General Synod for Vision TV. Prior to 1989, communications had consisted of people sitting at tables talking into microphones. “The venue was great and the people were fabulous,” says Shawyer.
The 34th General Synod is also memorable but for very different reasons. Held in 1995 at Carleton University in Ottawa, Shawyer remembers how exhausted she felt after working into the wee hours of the morning on the strategic plan. As she and three weary team-mates walked back to their residences via Carlton’s underground tunnel, they “just started singing “Follow The Yellow Brick Road” from the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz.
The plan, hammered out with the help of Barry Jenks, the former bishop of the diocese of British Columbia, Suzanne Lawson, currently a member of the Council of General Synod, and Amy Newell of the diocese of Ottawa, was adopted. “It served the church well for nine years,” recalls Shawyer. 
In 2001, Shawyer took on the management of General Synod for the first time. A massive undertaking, she insists, “I wasn’t scared.” As coordinator, it was Shawyer’s responsibility to make sure that everything flows smoothly, from meals to supporting documents for delegates to headache medication.

Since General Synod can be as long as 11 days and have as many as 500 attendees, the odds of a misstep are pretty high. Shawyer has developed a Zen-like approach to what she calls “a blip. If there’s a mistake, there’s a mistake, she says. You have to go forward.” Working with assistant co-ordinator Diane Izzard since that first General Synod has been “fantastic,” says Shawyer. “She has such a logical, organized mind…” 
Shawyer has also learned how to cope with the stress of long days on her feet. She tries to get at least five hours of sleep each night and “for sure” brings running shoes and foot balm.

What won’t she miss? The months of painstaking preparation leading up to General Synod, she says, with a grin. This includes delegate registration, answering questions, listening to concerns…and meeting multiple deadlines. Most recently, this synod’s commitment to go paperless has given Shawyer reason to pause. “If I have to make a confession, I’m very nervous about that,” she admits. “The preparation for that has been huge.” 
Before her appointment as General Synod co-ordinator, Shawyer worked at the national church office in various capacities, often in departments that no longer exist: the General Board of Religious Education; the Africa desk of the World Mission office, the aboriginal desk, the public social responsibility committee, the Canadian Churchman (precursor to the Anglican Journal), and the communications and information resources department. “I had a fairly broad experience,” she says.
Even though the last 46 years have been a slice, Shawyer makes no bones about looking forward to what comes next: nurturing herself and her family. She wants to focus on her own health and exercise. She wants to enjoy her lovely garden, something she’s never had enough time to do. She wants to volunteer in the church sector. She wants to create a cookbook containing all her family’s favourite recipes. And she wants to enjoy her grandchildren, Kathleen, two, and Andrew, two months.


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