From Canon Tony Macpherson
Sir, - I welcome Canon Ian Gaskell's letter (28 September)
as the start of an open and honest debate, in this region and
nationally, on the proposals from the Dioceses Commission; but I
have to disagree with much of his analysis.
With regard to finance, the diocese of
Wakefield has not in more than 20 years returned a deficit. It has,
in fact, met the challenges of pensions, etc., in a prudent
Canon Gaskell speaks about the
problems of medium-term sustainability; but we are constantly
reminded that this exercise is not finance-driven. If savings are
to be made by reducing the number of people in each diocese who
support parishes in their work, I wonder whether this will
ultimately contribute to the sustainability of the Church.
He also argues that this diocese
ignores political restructuring over the past 40 years and clings
to a "West Riding" mentality. It could be argued, however, that the
report seeks to create a West Riding diocese rather than reflect a
very varied county, as the present structure does - albeit
There seems to be little evidence that
big is beautiful in terms of the life and mission of the Church,
and a recent one-hour meeting within the boundaries of the new
diocese took me eight-and-a-half hours when travel from Wakefield
was added. It is difficult to imagine hard-pressed volunteers,
however committed, wanting to spend hours in their car to travel to
meetings. In these circumstances, how can the familial relationship
in a diocese be nurtured?
The report rightly makes mission a
first priority. There is, however, no evidence of which I am aware
to support the argument that a big-area-based diocese is more
effective missionally than a smaller one. In the 1990s, the diocese
of Wakefield "bucked the trend" of decline and established a
diocesan structure to support mission. We need to pursue this
vision with renewed energy. As Canon Missioner, I am presently
engaged, with many of my colleagues, in this process.
Canon Gaskell argues that the
Wakefield diocesan synod did not cover itself in glory. As I was in
the chair for both debates, I would contend that it has
discharged its duties admirably. After the publication of the
first report, both the Bishop's Council and the diocesan synod
clearly voted to engage in the discussions, but at no time did we
support the idea that the diocese should be centred on Wakefield.
After a year of further discussion and analysis, there has been a
clear reassessment, when we came to realise how the threats and
dangers to mission and financial stability thrown up by the Scheme
far outweigh the merits.
Both our Bishop's Council and diocesan
synod have called the national Church to engage in a proper debate
about appropriate diocesan structures and sizes. It may be that a
Church of 20 "super-dioceses" would better meet mission needs in
this century. It may also be argued, as previously in this
newspaper ("To find a new direction for the Church, use a map",
Features, 28 March 2003), that a Church of 100 dioceses would be
more effective for mission both locally and nationally.
A national debate of this kind would
set proper parameters for a commission to work effectively rather
than let it loose with its "West Riding Experiment".
Chairman of the House of Clergy,
Wakefield diocesan synod
14 Belgravia Road