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Dioceses Commission’s ‘West Riding Experiment’

12 October 2012


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 way.

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 imperfectly.

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

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