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Laura Anderson,
North Shore News

“YOU can hear the hum,” says Madelyne MacKenzie.

She’s talking about the conversation at the fellowship lunch, held on the last Wednesday of every month at West Vancouver United Church. “The lunch was started to provide time off for family caregivers,” says Madelyne, who coordinates the church’s caring ministry program. “When we saw couples arriving together, we realized it was serving another need. Caregivers and their partners need time together, to enjoy themselves and socialize with others.”

The fellowship lunch is not entirely restricted to caregivers and their partners. It’s open to all and many friendships have been born around the lunch table.

“Up to 100 people attend every month,” says Madelyne. “It’s on their calendars. If people can’t make it on their own, we’ll organize a driver.”

Madelyne MacKenzie

Madelyne MacKenzie (centre) chats with church members Eileen Gibson and Rosemary Oxley at a recent fellowship luncheon held at West Vancouver United Church. Photograph by: Mike Wakefield

Madelyne’s path to her work in the community began in Montreal, Quebec, her hometown.

She had other plans back then. “I don’t think I can go out with you,” she told Peter MacKenzie on the day he entered her life. “I’m going to Vancouver.”

“You can’t go to Vancouver, you’re going to marry me,” was his response.

Three years later, the MacKenzie family, now including daughter Heather and son Craig, made the move to Vancouver.

They arrived in spring, cherry blossom and magnolia season. Madelyne may not have known that tulips grew on trees but when she awoke to the “thunk of tennis balls” in West Vancouver’s Glenmore area, she was sure this place would be home – a shortlived home, as it turned out. Within two years, Peter was transferred back to Montreal.

“We made a pact,” Madelyne recalls, “to make our way back to Vancouver.”

Two years later, in 1976, thanks to another transfer, the family returned, for good. Again, they chose West Vancouver’s Glenmore area for its family and recreation orientation.

In 1984, the next door opened along Madelyne’s path to her vocation. This time it took the form of a blessed event: the birth of their third child, Matthew. “I knew how quickly children grow up and I wanted to spend that time with Matthew. I looked for volunteer work where he could come with me,” she says.

Madelyne found it through West Vancouver’s seniors programs and at the Kiwanis Hospital, formerly on 22nd Street. It was through her volunteer work with seniors that John Gouws, now Reverend Emeritus of West Vancouver United Church, and a family friend, invited Madelyne to join the church’s caring ministry team.

Even after 18 years on the job, every day is different.

Madelyne could be arranging for a volunteer driver one day and linking a senior with the West Vancouver health team the next. Her gift is to recognize a need in the community and to find a way to meet it.

“It just would not be possible to do this job alone,” she says. “I’m one part of the caring ministry team. And, people from the community, not only members of the congregation, bring situations to our attention.

“During the fellowship lunches, for instance, so many people talked about milestone birthdays, we thought we’d do a blanket celebration for people 90 years old and up,” says Madelyne. “We started with 40 people, one turning 90, another turning 100 and others representing every year in between. We call it the 90 Plus lunch and we hold it in May in place of the regular lunch.”

Madelyne’s involvement with her community extends beyond her work with the caring ministry. An annual book exchange, started by her book group, raises funds to support the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

In addition, she’s involved in The Cinderella Project, which helps encourage students to stay in school and graduate. Started by Madelyne’s daughter, Heather, the program is active in most Lower Mainland high schools and has inspired similar programs around the world.

In the time that’s her own, Madelyne learns something new every year while every day she enjoys life with her children and grandchildren, her rescue dog, Bella, and her garden. It’s a gift, she says.

For more information about the monthly fellowship lunch, or to recommend someone you know for the 90 Plus annual birthday celebration, call Madelyne MacKenzie at 604-922-9171.

First published in the North Shore News March 18, 2012