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Wakefield concerned about West Yorkshire reorganisation

29 June 2012

THE Dioceses Commission has announced that it will continue with a scheme to reorganise three Yorkshire dioceses, producing a detailed proposal in the autumn. One of the three, the diocese of Wakefield, argued that the three dioceses should remain independent.

An earlier draft of the Commission's scheme proposed the dissolution of the dioceses of Wakefield, Ripon & Leeds, and Bradford, and their replacement with a new diocese of Leeds, to be known as the diocese for West Yorkshire and the Dales (News, 4 November 2011).

The Commission's statement read: "The Commission has decided to proceed with a scheme which will be published later this year, as planned. The details of that scheme will be worked out over the next few months.

"Following the end of the consultation period on the draft Reorganisation Scheme for the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield, the Dioceses Commission has met to consider over 100 submissions made to it. It also heard oral evidence from representatives of the diocesan synods of the three dioceses. It is grateful to all those who took the trouble to write in, and to meet with it.

"The Commission has had an initial discussion about these submissions and will be giving further consideration to them over the summer."

The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, has expressed concern about the Commission's procedures. He was due to use a diocesan synod debate on Wednesday evening, after the Church Times went to press, to call for a national "theologically informed debate about the organisational shape of the Church we are called to be, in order to best equip the parishes to serve the people of our land".

In a briefing note to diocesan-synod members, Bishop Platten says: "The establishment of the Dioceses Commission, and its ability to make changes, is a sensible development in the life of the Church of England. However, we have growing concerns about the impact of the Commission's work on the Church locally and nationally.

"At present the initiative seems to be entirely in the hands of the Commission itself. We believe that there really does need to be a full debate within the Church of England about the sort of Church we envisage for the foreseeable future. This should include a proper consideration of the theological, ecclesiological, and sociological principles which relate to the nature of episcopacy and dioceses."

The Bishop continued: "In West Yorkshire, the draft scheme focuses on just three dioceses, leaving Sheffield and York to a later date, and failing to propose any strategy for the county as a whole. Neither does it present a vision for the Church of England more widely. The result of this will be a fragmented approach across the country."

In its submission to the Commission, the diocese of Wakefield said that if the three dioceses could not remain independent, it should "keep Wakefield independent and allow Bradford and Ripon & Leeds to create a new single diocese".

Elsewhere, concern has been raised about the future of the staff employed by the three dioceses. A submission from Ripon & Leeds Diocesan Synod calls for the Commission to ensure that no redundancies take place within two years of the Scheme coming into effect. The diocesan secretary for Ripon & Leeds, Dr Sue Proctor, said that "the level of anxiety is very real" among diocesan staff.

A spokesman for the diocese of Ripon & Leeds, the Revd John Carter, said: "People are being very professional and business-like. You don't want to get into a situation where you stop doing things because of what might happen." He said that the diocese was continuing to pursue a number of mission initiatives, and was "getting on with doing what we're doing, and doing it well while planning for a scheme, should it happen".

The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said: "We've lived for 18 months with uncertainty, and I'm dead impressed with the professionalism of people who don't know where they'll be in 18 months' time. It's remarkable how people have gone with this despite not knowing what the future is going to be. Isn't this what discipleship is like?"

A Preparation Group has been established, comprising a Bishop, the diocesan secretary, the Dean, and chairs of the Houses of Clergy and Laity from each of the three existing dioceses. The group is meeting bi-monthly to plan for the change; while the various diocesan groups, such as boards of education and diocesan advisory committees, are meeting together.

But the three dioceses say that detailed planning for their dissolution and the creation of the new diocese cannot be finalised until the scheme is published. It is "business as usual" until then, they say. The group has proposed that a formal consultation takes place before any of the three boards of finance appoint senior staff. The proposal has to be ratified by each Bishops' Senior Staff and Council before it comes into effect.

Informal consultations took place before the diocese of Ripon & Leeds decided to replace its Director of Clergy Development, after the appointment of Canon Paul Hooper as Archdeacon of Leeds.

The Dioceses Commission will meet the Preparation Group in September before the final scheme is published in October. It will be debated by the three existing diocesan synods in March 2013. They will be asked to approve the scheme before it goes to the General Synod for its approval in July next year.

If any of the dioceses reject the scheme, it can still go to the General Synod if the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, decides that "there are wider considerations affecting the province or the Church of England as a whole which require the draft scheme to be submitted to the General Synod."

A project manager, John Tuckett, has been appointed by the three dioceses to oversee the planning process locally. Mr Tuckett began work this week, and is based at Bishopthorpe Palace, Dr Sentamu's residence, to ensure that he is not seen as closely linked to any one of the dioceses.

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