Bishop Charles Robert (Bob) Townshend, retired suffragan bishop of the diocese of Huron, died on March 13 at the age of 77, after a lifetime of service in parish, diocesan and national church ministries, as well as on the boards of many educational institutions.
The son of Bishop William Townshend (also a suffragan bishop in the diocese), Townshend grew up in London, Ont., and was ordained as a deacon in 1962 in Sarnia, Ont., and priested in 1963 after completing a BA at the University of Western Ontario and a bachelor of theology degree at Huron College in 1963.
He began parish ministry as deacon-in-charge at Christ Church in Sarnia, Ont., and then became curate of St. George’s, in London. He went on to be rector of the parish of Florence, Bothwell and Aughrim from 1964 to 1967; of St. James the Apostle in Sarnia from 1967 to 1971; of Holy Trinity Church in Chatham, Ont., from 1971 to 1974; and at St. George’s in Owen Sound, Ont., from 1974 to 1984. During those years, he also served as archdeacon of the Saugeens.
In 1984, Townshend was elected as suffragan bishop of St. Clair, an assistant to Bishop Derwyn Jones. From 1987 until his retirement in 2001, he was bishop of Georgian Bay, which included 94 parishes.
He also served on the executive and planning committee of provincial synod and as chair of the social outreach program commission. He contributed to the work of the national church as a member of the Council of General Synod and as chair of the General Synod administration and finance committee and the pension committee.
Education was an important focus for Townshend. He was a member of the executive board and corporation of Huron University College and a member of the executive boards of Renison University College and Canterbury College. In a memorial, his family also wrote of his significant contributions in areas related to serving children, including work for 12 years as a trustee of the boards of education in Sarnia, Chatham and Owen Sound, as well as a past director of the Ontario Public School Trustees Association and chair of Community and Family Services in Chatham.
The importance he placed on ministering to children and families was evident in an interview with him that was published in the Huron Church News after he retired in 2000. He spoke about the costs and damage caused by cases of abuse in the church. “There are boundaries all the time and that may be all right for the safeguard of people, which is really important, but it really devastates that pastoral relationship between people when a little child runs up and the priest now doesn’t pick them up,” said Townshend.
His family wrote in their memorial that, “above all, Bob was a witness for, and a source of, God’s love in his family. He was ‘Dad,’ ‘Grandpa,’ ‘Poppa,’ to people who are very grateful to have been shaped by his life.”
Townshend is survived by his wife of 52 years, Pat, his daughter Mary, son Todd and his wife, Stacey, and their children Tyne, Seth and Samuel; his daughter Andra and her husband, Patrick O’Neill, and their children, Grace and Lily.