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Problems of the Church in West Yorkshire

28 September 2012


From Canon Ian Gaskell

Sir, - Perhaps I might be able to assist Deidre Morris ( Letters, 21 September) in her quest to identify the problems of West Yorkshire to which the chairman of the Dioceses Commission has quite correctly alluded ( News, 14 September)?

Such problems have been extensively and copiously highlighted in the consultations and reports of the Dioceses Commission, and particularly in its Review Report No. 2. Wakefield diocesan synod has at least twice considered these reports.

Essentially, the problem for all the dioceses in West Yorkshire is one of medium- to long-term sustainability. The background of reform comes from a combination of the reluctance of the Church Commissioners simply to continue funding expensive structures, coupled with the ability of congregations to pay, given the economic landscape, both nationally and, more especially, locally.

In Wakefield, the comparatively low parish-share collection rate and ever increasing financial demands - for example, in respect of pension liabilities - are issues that should be reported to Wakefield diocesan synod annually. Indeed, Wakefield's contemporary fragile financial landscape has led the Commission to conclude: "We do not believe that such a level of deficit is sustainable."

Also, here in Yorkshire, the existence of five costly administrative centres within 35 miles of each other raises the question not only of sustainability, but also justifiability, given that communication and collaboration are much easier than they were in the 19th century, when these dioceses were created.

The creation of a metropolitan county and metropolitan districts more than 40 years ago seems to have passed us by, as we cling nostalgically to the wreckage of the Ridings, and an era when Wakefield was the titular capital of one such Riding.

I am embarrassed to say that Wakefield diocesan synod has not exactly covered itself in glory in these matters, after, first, its decisions in April 2011 to welcome the idea of Wakefield's being the epicentre of any new structure, and then, just a year later, to demand the status quo, when the prospect of the hub of Wakefield didn't appear to float anyone's muesli.

The chairman of the Dioceses Commission, with great integrity, merely reflects the long, sensitive, painstaking, and hard work so far undertaken in Yorkshire, along with the outstanding willingness and patience of partner dioceses and staff, to consider what the future could possibly be.

Finance is not the arbiter of policy here. The Commission faithfully works to a brief given to it by the House of Bishops, who, presciently, and, yes, prophetically, realise that reform of the Church of England will mean creating a sharper, leaner, and mission-focused Church. The Bishops, with many of us committed to mission, realise that, if that process of reform does not work here in Yorkshire, it is unlikely to work anywhere.

St James's Vicarage, 21 Stoney Lane, Chapelthorpe
Wakefield WF4 3JN


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