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Synod approves a new mega-diocese of West Yorkshire

12 July 2013

SAM ATKINS

"A great day": Bishop Packer (centre) praised Monday's vote on diocesan reorganisation

"A great day": Bishop Packer (centre) praised Monday's vote on diocesan reorganisation

A NEW diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales (Leeds) was approved by the General Synod on Monday afternoon, despite opposition from Wakefield diocese, one of three that will be superseded.

The Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, said that it was "a great day for the mission of the Church of England in West Yorkshire and the Dales".

Although just six members of the Synod voted against the scheme in the final vote, speeches warned of the consequences for the wider Church. The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, said that it meant that a diocese "can find itself being closed down over its own head. . . This sort of process will not stop here. We are making this decision without having had a debate across the Church on what sort of dioceses and bishops we want."

Clive Scowen of London argued that it was "wrong in principle to abolish a diocese against its will". If Wakefield was "carried in kicking and screaming or even mildly resistant", it would be a "disastrous start".

Canon Cllr James Allison (Wakefield) said that he would abstain with an "incredibly heavy heart" because, although it was a good scheme, he had to consider the opposition of both his bishop and diocesan synod: "It is a basic principle in all marriages, and this is a marriage, that we seek the consent of those who are going to be married." 

The Draft Diocese of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield Reorganisation Scheme was brought to the Synod for approval after it had been rejected by the Wakefield diocesan synod by 76 votes to 40 ( News, 8 March).

The scheme, published last October ( News, 2 November), proposes that the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds, and Wakefield be abolished and replaced by a new diocese of Leeds, to be presided over by a diocesan Bishop of Leeds. It predicted that "significant financial savings" could be made, and reinvested in mission. It is proposed that the three existing cathedrals will retain their status, and that five areas (Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds, Ripon, and Wakefield) will each have their own area bishop.

On Monday, the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, warned the Synod: "We cannot and must not assume that the ways which served us well in the past are automatically appropriate now."

The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said that the scheme required a definite decision to "bring an end to more than three years of uncertainty". If the scheme were approved, he and the other diocesan bishops would lose their jobs: "This is not a comfortable place to be, but it is the right place to be."

After the vote, Bishop Platten said: "I am grateful for the generous and understanding debate today in General Synod, and thank all those who spoke. Wakefield diocese will work together with Ripon & Leeds and Bradford to make sure of a good outcome, despite our reservations before the vote."

A timeline will now be set out in order to begin the process of reorganisation. It is expected that this process will lead to an "Appointed Day" some time in January or February 2014, after which the new legal entity will exist and the three old entities cease.

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