THE General Synod agreed on Tuesday afternoon to diocesan
reorganisation in the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds, and
Wakefield - even though Wakefield diocesan synod had voted against
It was with a sense of "excitement and anticipation" that
Professor Michael Clarke (Worcester), who chairs
the Dioceses Commission, moved the commission's draft
reorganisation scheme. The three dioceses had been created between
1836 and 1919 to "meet the radical social, demographic, economic,
and cultural changes which transformed the face of West Yorkshire
as a result of industrialisation and massive urban growth". He said
that the proposed scheme was driven by "another round of equally
profound change". The proposed scheme was not a template for the
whole of the C of E, but a solution that came from the bottom
He said that the Dioceses Commission believed that the concerns
that had led the Wakefield diocesan synod to reject the proposals
were "misplaced", and "largely about matters which the other two
dioceses have resolved to their satisfaction.
The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen
Platten, said that the diocese of Wakefield could see the benefits
of sharing significant functions, and the sense in tidying up
boundaries. But, by a two-thirds majority and a higher majority in
the Bishop's Council, they were "clear that this is not the way
forward for Wakefield".
First, there would still be five bishops, but just one diocesan
bishop, saving money for the Church Commissioners, but not for the
dioceses. Second, the diocesan bishop would be more remote. The
proposal would also reduce by two-thirds their representation in
the national Church, and potentially in the House of Lords. It
would "significantly weaken" the Northern province.
Third, the distances for diocesan meetings would be greatly
extended. Fourth, the demography in the current diocese of
Wakefield was "quite different" from the other two dioceses. Fifth,
there were still three cathedrals and "too much uncertainty" about
their long-term funding.
Perhaps the issue that most worried them was the model of
governance set out in the scheme. The scheme meant that a diocese
"can find itself being closed down over its own head". He warned:
"We are making this decision without having had a debate across the
Church on what sort of diocese and bishops we want."
The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nicholas
Baines, strongly urged the Synod to vote for the scheme, and show
the "realism and vision that has been mostly evident up north". If
the scheme was approved, he and other diocesan bishops would lose
their jobs: "This is not a comfortable place to be, but it is the
right place to be."
The scheme offered the benefit of scale with the intimacies of
locality, and allowed for area bishops to be close to the ground.
It would mean that structure followed vision. It was not, he said,
a merger, but an answer to the question regarding "coherent
ministry and mission in West Yorkshire and the Dales". This
question would not go away. It would lead to a "bright and engaging
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, revealed
that the Dioceses Commission was now consulting the diocese of York
on its delivery of mission, and "is considering whether the
structures we have enable that mission to be delivered".
The Commission's scheme was "the best possible solution for
these three dioceses in this particular part of God's own county. .
. Regionally, the three dioceses cohere."
He defended his decision to refer the scheme to the General
Synod despite its rejection by Wakefield diocesan synod. "If it is
to have an impact in such a fast-moving world, our Church needs
flexibility, mobility, and agility. It needs a readiness to take
risks, guided by the Holy Spirit. . . We do not change our message,
because that is our faith. But we must explore different ways of
delivering that message. . . We cannot and must not assume that the
ways which served us well in the past are automatically appropriate
The Revd Ruth Hind (Ripon & Leeds), in a
maiden speech, explained that she supported the scheme, but had not
always done so. She had changed when she heard clergy colleagues in
Leeds talk enthusiastically about the mission possibilities that
would arise from the city's coming together under one diocese
rather than its present four. She had also been "captivated by the
vision of a rural archdeaconry with an area bishop who is
passionate about rural ministry and with policies and practice
specific to the rural context".
Mary Judkins (Wakefield) welcomed the scheme.
It provided "opportunities and a challenge", she said. "Wakefield
diocese has a lot to share. Yes, we could do it informally, but we
don't." Various people in the diocese, from the education
department to the "gifted clergy and laity" did brilliant work:
"Why keep them to ourselves?" she asked.
Ian Fletcher (Bradford) said that there was
always a range of possibilities available in any organisational
restructure, and no scheme put forward by the Dioceses Commission
would obtain unanimous support. He recalled the voting figures in
the Bradford diocesan synod, and said: "We can't get a response
like that when we ask what coffee we want."
There were areas of concern in the proposals for West Yorkshire;
but there were bigger concerns about the existing structures. A
"Yes" vote was needed to provide certainty to the dioceses, going
Nigel Greenwood (Ripon & Leeds) spoke in
support of the proposals, and sought to provide "tangible and
evidence-based examples of co-operation". These included the
appointment across two dioceses (Bradford, and Leeds & Ripon)
of one director of education, and the creation of one education
team. This was driven by the philosophy that "we only do separately
what we can't do more effectively as one."
Canon Maggie McLean (Wakefield) sought to
address concerns in Wakefield. There was "real concern" about how
training would be affected within such a large diocese. Second, the
scheme would mean the loss of two episcopal voices on the national
stage and specifically in the Synod. The Synod's provincial voice
was "often lost in this chamber and elsewhere in the Church, and I
wonder if this is something that needs to be addressed".
The creation of five local episcopal areas had also raised
concerns that one episcopal area might become "the exclusive
preserve of a single tradition". But, she joked, "I am sure that
when the new Bishop of Leeds is appointed, she will make sure that
that won't happen." She commended the scheme as a "creative
response and freeing of resources . . . and reflects the church
structures needed in our Church in the 21st century".
The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd John Goddard
(Northern Suffragans), reported that his synod was "overwhelmingly
supportive" of the reorganisation (144 for and one against).
Clive Scowen (London) suggested that he, like
most members of the Synod, lacked the tools to make a judgement
about the proposal. He had come to the conclusion that he could not
support it, however. First, it was "wrong in principle to abolish a
diocese against its will". Second, it was wrong in practice. The
successful formation of a new diocese required a "clear vision for
the future, shared and embraced across the whole of the new
If Wakefield was "carried in kicking and screaming, or even
mildly resistant", it would be a "disastrous start". Third, it
appeared that the Church had "embarked on this exercise without
first asking as a Church where we want to go. What sort of model of
episcopacy do we want in the future?"
The Dean of St Paul's, the Very Revd Dr David
Ison, acknowledged that there was "precious little theology about
having three cathedrals in one diocese"; but this was because
"there is very little theology that I can find about cathedrals at
His view was that there were "real Trinitarian resonances in
having three cathedrals in one diocese in a way which will enhance
the mission of the Church through the different specialisms in
those different cathedrals". The scheme provided "real
opportunities to experiment with what it would mean to have one
college of canons in three cathedrals knitting together the fabric
of the diocese".
He spoke of his concern for cathedral funding, and described
cathedrals as a "brand that has been very successful", with a
35-per-cent increase in cathedral worshippers in the past ten
He was worried about the risk that cathedral funding would be
cut. "It would be disastrous for our mission to reduce our support
to poor areas while continuing to support great medieval cathedrals
in large villages elsewhere in the country."
The Dean of Portsmouth, the Very Revd David
Brindley, said that there was "an assumption that big is
beautiful". Portsmouth shared a range of functions with Winchester
and Guildford dioceses. "We do together what we can do together. It
doesn't save money, but it does create more robust systems," he
He challenged the proposal for having three or four cathedrals
in one diocese. "It is not the Anglican way," and he was concerned
that the scheme "looks like we are demoting Bradford". He said that
the inevitable headline would be "Church withdraws from Muslim
Canon Joyce Jones (Wakefield) said that she had
initially been in favour of the scheme, and had spoken in its
favour in the diocesan synod. "A reduction in the number of bishops
makes sense . . . and area bishops living amongst their people
would better placed to take a lead in mission in their area. The
scheme is of necessity only an outline. A lot of work needs to be
done on the ground."
She was concerned about the risks involved in a scheme that had
to be implemented by people who were so against it. While she
remained supportive, she would abstain in the vote because of the
feeling in the diocese.
Canon John Sinclair (Newcastle) said that
locking people in a darkened room until they agreed might be a
useful way of progressing; but only if people agreed to go into the
room together. The scheme appeared to be a shotgun wedding, but he
was hearing alarm bells rather than wedding bells. "Consent needs
to be a foundation for partnership if it is to stand the test of
time," he said.
Dr John Beal (Ripon & Leeds) spoke as a
resident of Leeds. The fact that the city was in four different
dioceses was "a complete nonsense", and to bring those parishes
into a single archdeaconry under a single bishop was "very
It was important to look at evidence-based policy, and he hoped
that the Commission would evaluate to what extent mission
objectives had been achieved after a period of three or five years:
"We need to learn from this change."
Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury
& Ipswich) spoke as a member of the Dioceses Commission, and
suggested that a national debate about dioceses had taken place, in
2005. He said: "All we are doing is retaining our historic
insights, but reimagining dioceses for the age we live in now . . .
If we know the answer already, we do not need further debate."
He gave the illustration of taking children to the seaside. Some
would jump right in, and others would be nervous, on the edge,
before realising that they were having as much fun as everyone
else. He concluded: "Go for it, enjoy it, have fun with it, and
let's see what you can do."
The Revd Paul Ayers (Bradford) suggested that a
vote against the scheme would be "saying all the work and prayer
that has gone in has been waste of time, and everything is fine as
it is". He spoke of the saying "Feel the fear and do it anyway,"
and warned that, otherwise, "the Church would never do anything
courageous and creative." God would "honour our risk-taking faith,
and open up new possibilities".
Canon James Allison (Wakefield) said that the
issue was "emotional" for him, because between him, his father, and
his son, the family had clergy in each of the three dioceses
concerned. Although he would love to say "Go for it," because it
was a good scheme and would be good for the area, he had a "huge
problem", because "I am also an Anglican, and have been brought up
to consider ourselves both episcopal and synodical." Both his
bishop and synod were saying no to the scheme: "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." With an
"incredibly heavy heart", he would "probably abstain".
The Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd
John Packer, said that there was an "urgency" about this matter. He
had been an incumbent in West Yorkshire for 36 years, and since
then, people had been talking about "the way in which the dioceses
actually fail to cohere with the natural elements of the society in
which we live". This scheme was "a real chance to break through
It would increase the means available to tackle societal needs.
All the other great northern conurbations had a diocese and
diocesan bishop at their heart, while West Yorkshire had three
diocesan bishops living within 50 miles of each other. Leeds
deserved a "united mission", and, although he loved Ripon
Cathedral, Wakefield had "more opportunities".
Bishop Packer told the Synod that the Church's ecumenical
partners had already moved a long way: "They are looking to us to
contribute through our vote today to the work of the Christian
Church as a whole across West Yorkshire."
The Draft Dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds and Wakefield
Reorganisation Scheme was clearly carried by a show of hands.
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said that
he was "very pleased" that the Synod had approved the scheme. He
said that a great deal of preparatory work needed to be done,
without pre-judging the Order in Council.
A new bishop needed to be found for Leeds, and he proposed the
creation of a transitional vacancy-in-see committee for the diocese
of Leeds, to ensure that the gap between the coming into force of
the scheme and the appointment of a new bishop was not unduly
"The formal procedures can only begin when the scheme is in
force . . . but this resolution allows us to get on with the less
formal processes," he said, and "get on with the task of finding a
new bishop right away".
The resolution was carried unanimously.