Diocesan unification proposed for Yorkshire

09 December 2010

by Ed Thornton

THREE dioceses in Yorkshire — Brad­ford, Ripon & Leeds, and Wakefield — should be abolished and replaced by a single, larger diocese, a report from the Dioceses Commission sug­gests.

The Commission began a review of the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds, Sheffield, and Wakefield, and their boundaries with the diocese of York, last year. Its report, published yesterday, concludes “that the exist­ing configuration of the dioceses in West Yorkshire is no longer appro­priate for the Church’s mission and not sustainable into the future”.

It recommends, however, that the “distinct community” of South York­shire continue to have its own dio­cese of Sheffield.

The report addresses problems with the current configuration in West Yorkshire, which includes the the City of Leeds’ being “divided be­tween all four dioceses”, and Brad­ford Cathedral’s being closer to the diocesan office of Ripon & Leeds than that of its own diocese.

The report recommends that the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds, and Wakefield are dissolved, the dio­cesan bishoprics abolished, and the diocesan bishops compensated “for loss of office”.

It then proposes creating a single new diocese called “the diocese of Wakefield”, but divided into five “episcopal areas” — Bradford, Hud­dersfield, Leeds, Ripon, and Wake­field — each with an area bishop and council. It says that the Bishop of Wakefield should also be the dio­cesan bishop.

There would, therefore, no longer be diocesan bishops of Bradford and Ripon & Leeds, or suffragan bishops of Pontefract and Knaresborough. “The area bishops would be, as many have requested, closer in every sense to their clergy and people than it has been possible for diocesan bishops to be,” the report says. The new diocese would have the same number of bishops overall as the three existing dioceses, but one archdeacon fewer.

The report recommends that Wakefield Cathedral — which “is seen as a significant ecclesiastical building beyond the City of Wake­field” — be the diocese’s principal cathedral. But Bradford and Ripon Cathedrals should be retained as “secondary” cathedrals.

It recommends that the Bishop of Bradford focus on “relating to civil society at a City-wide level and across the City as a whole”, and the Dean of Bradford focus “on the ministry of the Cathedral and on the immediate inner-city area”.

Ripon Cathedral, the report says, “should continue to serve as the focus for the church life in the Yorkshire Dales and should be the focal point of the new Ripon Area”.

The report says that there should be one diocesan office, located in Leeds, “the public-transport hub for West Yorkshire” and “a centre of legal, financial, and other profes­sional services”.

Dr Priscilla Chadwick, who chaired the review, said that it was “mission-led and not finance-driven (though mission needs to be financed, so financial considerations cannot be ignored)”. But the proposals would probably save money: for example, by reducing the number of diocesan bishops, with their associated housing, stipend, and staff support; and oper­ating one diocesan office instead of three.

“We have asked which structures will best enable the Church of Eng­land to relate to the communities of Yorkshire (not just in the parishes but also at city, borough, district, and county levels), which will be most intel­ligible to non-churchgoers, which would eliminate wasteful duplica­tion, and which are likely to prove resilient and sustainable into the medium term,” Dr Chadwick said.

The Commission spoke to about 250 people in Yorkshire, including bishops, clergy, laity, and local coun­cillors. “Our report plays back much that was said to us — sometimes, per­haps, things that many have been thinking but which may not always have been articulated in local discus­sions,” Dr Chadwick said.

“We look forward to considered responses in the light of prayer, re­flec­tion, and debate — continuing a two-way conversation between the Commission and the people of the dioceses concerned.”

Those who wish to comment on the report have until 9 May 2011 to do so. “It is anticipated that the Com­mission will decide at its June 2011 meeting, in the light of comments re­ceived, whether to prepare a draft re­organisation scheme, and if so, what the content should be,” a statement from Church House, Westminster, said.

The Commission expects that in October 2011 the draft scheme would be sent out to “interested parties” for comment. Before it could be submitted to General Synod, the scheme would need to be voted through by diocesan synods in Yorkshire. If any of the diocesan synods refused to give their consent, the Archbishop of York could, under certain conditions, the report says, “authorise the Commission to lay the scheme before the General Synod for approval”.

The earliest the scheme could be submitted to General Synod is July 2013.

The full report is available at www.diocom.org/Yorkshire.

Question of the week: Has the Dioceses Commission got it right?

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