Local volunteers make for a smooth Synod
They operate in plain view, their blue shirts serving as pastel beacons offering hope and promise, but mostly directions.
By the close of General Synod 2015 on Tuesday evening, which runs from June 26 through 30 at the Cleveland Convention Center, the 410 volunteers, most from the Ohio Conference, will have performed more than 1,000 assignments taking more than 3,000 hours.
Derry Wimer, who with his wife, Sue, co-chairs the local arrangements committee, believes even that number is a conservative estimate. From the convention center front door to the registration tables to the plenary ushers, the local volunteers provide assistance in most areas of Synod operation.
“Our volunteer leaders are so awesome,” said Sue Wimer. The primary role for the 25 people serving in various volunteer leadership roles, along with the hundreds of volunteers is to “support national programming.”
Beyond the frequent questions of where to purchase coffee and when will the busses come, Derry claims the local volunteers are “the background noise that makes things work.”
The Wimers, members of First Congregational Church, Hudson, Ohio, were recruited two years ago to lead the volunteer efforts for the Ohio Conference. They found a “playbook” in a “basic outline” from the national church on how to organize and operate a local arrangements committee. They supplemented that playbook with personal observations at General Synod 2013 in Long Beach, Calif. Most everything was given a distinctively Ohio feel.
For volunteers, spending time at Synod can be filled with valuable experiences in meeting many new people. Irene Webb, who divides her time between Florida, where she attends St. Andrews Church, Sarasota Fla., and Cleveland, where West Park Church is her Ohio church home, is volunteering at General Synod “just because it’s here in my home town.” After distributing what she calls “the designer bag,” Webb tries to make sure people know “how to read the book.”
Rev. James Ellison, pastor of United Church of Christ Congregational, Litchfield, Ohio, was greeting people in the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel on Thursday and welcoming people inside the convention center doors on Saturday. He describes his duties primarily as “smile at people, give directions and just be friendly.”
Volunteer recruiting began in earnest early this year. Each one is required to work at least 2 four-hour shifts during Synod. Other than satisfaction of providing the UCCs extravagant welcome, there is no other compensation. Still, Sue Wimer says they “had to turn people away.”
And just as the Wimers learned by observation in Long Beach, three members of the Local Arrangements Committee for General Synod 2017 in Baltimore are helping and observing in Cleveland. Derry Wimer is happy to pass it on. He expects them to make several improvements—like distributing a daily list of “frequently asked questions” dealing with schedules and room assignments (especially changes to the printed schedules).
Above all, the Wimers say future Synod organizers should not be surprised with the number of local volunteers who respond to the call to serve. Sue will always remember how “Everyone in the Ohio Conference stepped up to provide an extravagant welcome to our wider church family.”
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