Wakefield calls for a rethink

06 July 2012

THE Wakefield diocesan synod has called for a "theologically informed debate" about the "organisational structures of the Church of England", amid concern at the processes being followed by the Dioceses Commission (News, 29 June).

Opening a debate at last week's meeting of the synod in Halifax, the Bishop of Pontefract, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, emphasised that the motion was not intended to "try to scupper what is happening in the Dioceses Commission proposal". He said that the C of E needed to "rethink its purpose and structure".

Since its original creation in 1983, he said, the Dioceses Commission had "had no teeth", and its most significant achievement had been to add Leeds to the name of Ripon diocese, and Nottingham to the name of Southwell diocese. The new post-2008 Commission had a "duty to keep under review" the provincial and diocesan structure of the Church of England, the Bishop said, but very little thought had gone into how this should be done.

He said that the Bishop of Wakefield's senior staff team "felt there hadn't been a proper debate in the Church of England about what sort of structure we wanted in the C of E in the 21st century."

Bishop Robinson said that, as they talked to other bishops and deans in other dioceses, they had detected a "fear going around the Church of England: who was going to be next?" If there was a proper debate, "people wouldn't be fearful of what was coming their way next."

The Dean of Wakefield, the Very Revd Jonathan Greener, said that the Dioceses Commission's report had "thrown into absolute confusion" the theology of cathedrals: "The English understanding of cathedrals dates back to the Venerable Bede, who wrote in 734 to Egbert that 'a cathedral provides a seat for the bishop, and is a centre for ministry and worship throughout his diocese.' What does it mean, then, to recommend three cathedrals in one diocese?

"I know I'm on dodgy ground because we don't want to lose any of our cathedrals, because they are a focus for mission. But it certainly confuses. And it further confuses by proposing that we have a pro-cathedral. What on earth is a pro-cathedral? It doesn't tell us. It just tells us that we should have one.

A dissenting voice came from Tim Slater (Huddersfield), who said: "If we pass this motion today, we are in danger of ignoring a substantial body of work that has already been done on this matter.

"I believe that behind the motion is a plea for smaller, one-bishop dioceses.

"We may ask for another look at episcopal ministry, but I feel there would be little change following the debate and discussion that this motion requests."

The Synod voted overwhelmingly to endorse the motion, with one vote against, and four abstentions.

Correction. Our story last week did not make it sufficiently clear that the Dioceses Commission will not publish its final scheme until the autumn, and that it is still working through submissions to it.

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