Diocesan Chancellor Retires at the End of June

Posted June 27, 2018

Having served at the pleasure of six diocesan bishops, June 30 marks the end of an era as Canon Robert W. P. Welch retires from his ministry as the diocesan chancellor.

“There is no finer example of lay ministry than in the person of Rob Welch, who has wholeheartedly served our diocese with great devotion and distinction,” remarked Bishop Susan Bell. “Niagara has been truly blessed by his counsel and immeasurable service to the Church.”

For 34 years he has provided advice to the bishops of Niagara on legal and canonical matters. "Bishop John Bothwell asked me to assist my father in his role as Chancellor for the Diocesan Synod of 1984,” said Canon Welch. He continued to provide this assistance until he was appointed to serve as chancellor in 1992; assuming the responsibility from his father.

“I think the most fulfilling part was dealing with the various number of bishops. They all had different skill sets, they all had different personalities,” said Canon Welch.

During his tenure, there have been many changes to the diocesan canons and regulations but the most interesting, in Canon Welch’s estimation, relate to the synod’s desire in the eighties and nineties to ensure women had a greater opportunity to serve in the councils of the church and as bishop. “For the time, these changes were very important,” observed Canon Welch.

These canonical changes were recently amended again as the synod recognized more and more women were serving in leadership roles. “The fact was that we didn’t really need that anymore,” said Canon Welch, as the synod sought to ensure other forms of diversity – not simply gender – were intentionally encouraged in its nomination processes.

When asked about the most challenging part of the role, Canon Welch said that it “is helping people to get to where they want to be while at the same time dealing with what may be a fixed set of canonical or legislative rules.”

That's a theme that has permeated the chancellor’s faith life as well. “The longer I’ve been at this, the more I’ve wanted to travel light,” reflected Canon Welch. “Let’s try new stuff. Let’s be new-thinking, let’s be forward-thinking.”

Reminiscing about his ministry, Canon Welch said that the decision by Bishop Walter Asbil to move the synod office to the Cathedral property was his “moment of moments.” He said it was a controversial one as the area at the time was in a less desirable part of the City of Hamilton for an office. “It was making a real statement to that area, that neighbourhood, and the church in and of itself, that you know, we’re coming into here.” Canon Welch remembers Archbishop Michael Peers, then-primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, lauding this inspired decision when he came to dedicate the renovated and reimagined Cathedral Place property in 1996.

A member of an ecumenical bible study group for nearly thirty-five years, the concept of vocation has come up in the group time and again. He believes that “calling can be different depending upon the time in your life.” Canon Welch says he is very much looking forward to serving the Church in a new way. “I’ve lived the meetings; I’ve lived the committees; I’ve lived all of that over the course of my time.”

Canon Welch says that while he will certainly miss “the day-to-day or week-to-week interaction with bishops and members of synod and members of synod staff”, he is also “excited about focusing my attention on some other things, including lay-reading, including other volunteer opportunities that might arise within the church.” He will also continue to work as a partner at his law firm, Lancaster, Brooks & Welch.

At June’s synod council, members unanimously passed a motion in recognition of his 26 years of faithful service as diocesan chancellor. The motion expressed gratitude on behalf of the diocese and wider Church “for Rob’s unfailing graciousness, wisdom and patience as he has cared for all, and for his deep affection for the Church which he loves.”

In honour of his extraordinary ministry to the diocese, Canon Welch was presented with a Coat of Arms, the motto of which epitomizes the retiring chancellor’s legacy: “law faithfully applied.”