For over fifty years the Welch family name has been synonymous with the role of diocesan chancellor and on Sunday, June 19, clergy and lay leaders gathered at Christ’s Church Cathedral in Hamilton to celebrate the extraordinary service of Canon Robert (Rob) W.P. Welch.
Canon Rob serves as chancellor of the diocese and has done so with great distinction for 27 years, ever since the retirement of his father, also an honorary lay canon of the diocese, Robert (Bob) S. K. Welch.
In his homily, Bishop Michael Bird gave thanks for the Welches’ contribution to the life of the church, saying he gives “thanks to God for this incredible gift that we have been given in the wise counsel and abiding support and presence that we have so richly benefited from in the distinguished work of these two men, both within and beyond the life of our diocese.”
As an officer of the diocese, the primary role of chancellor is to offer wisdom and advice to the bishop on legal and canonical matters. “Number one on the speed dial is the chancellor,” reflected Archbishop Colin Johnson, metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario, who attended the service. Chancellors serve at the pleasure of the bishop – the Welches have together served five Bishops of Niagara – and beyond that the only canonical stipulations are that they shall be communicants of the Church and barristers-at-law for at least ten years. Chancellors are also members by office of provincial and diocesan synod, as well as synod council. Noting the significant amount of time, wisdom and prayer offered by those who serve in this role, Archbishop Johnson observed that “the generosity of chancellors is one of the best kept secrets of the church.”
Speaking specifically of Canon Rob, Bishop Michael paid tribute to the way his everyday life is “so visibly and wonderfully aligned” with his faith. A member of Grace Church, St. Catharines, Canon Rob is a partner at the firm Lancaster Brooks & Welch, an engaged citizen through his service on the boards of a number of non-profit community organizations, and a former regional politician. He has also served the wider Church, including being elected to serve as a member of four General Synods.
Canon Rob’s active engagement in all parts of society was modeled for him by his father and predecessor as diocesan chancellor. In a memorial address at Queen’s Park, Jim Bradley, a long-time MPP for St. Catharines, observed that Canon Bob had “reached the state of virtual sainthood in terms of how people feel about him and the role he played in our community and indeed in the province of Ontario.” He was the first Deputy Premier of Ontario, a provincial cabinet minister, an officer of the Order of Canada, in addition the many roles he played within the Church.
Together father and son have made an incredible contribution to the diocese such that Bishop Michael surmised that “our ministries would have been and would now be unfathomable” without the Welches’ support and guidance.
The special service also included the collation and commissioning of three priests into their new archdiaconal roles: Valerie Kerr, Archdeacon for Truth, Reconciliation and Indigenous Ministry; Steve Hopkins, Archdeacon for Ministry Leadership Development; and Suzanne Craven, Archdeacon of Trafalgar.