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Synod approves new West Yorkshire diocese

08 July 2013

SAM ATKINS

Decision time: the University of York's Central Hall, where the General Synod is conducting its business

Decision time: the University of York's Central Hall, where the General Synod is conducting its business

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

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".

The Draft Diocese of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield Reorganisation Scheme was brought to Synod for approval after it was 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 predicts that "significant financial savings" could be made, and re-invested in mission. It is proposed that the three existing cathedrals would retain their status, and that each of the five archdeaconries would have their own area bishop.

On Monday, Professor Michael Clarke, who chairs the Dioceses Commission, said that the scheme would give the new diocese "tremendous opportunity", leading to "the re-imagining of the Church and its ministry and mission". The existing dioceses faced the "major challenges" of declining congregations, reduced numbers of clergy, weakened finances, and pension costs that could best be addressed together.

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 was 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." The scheme offered "the freedom to do something new, risky and visionary", and would lead to a "bright and engaging future for both the Church and our communities".

The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, said that the diocese was committed to growth, but was "clear that this is not the way forward for Wakefield". He warned that the scheme would reduce the representation of the Northern Province in the national Church and potentially in the House of Lords. 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 diocese and bishops we want."

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."

The new diocese will come into existence on a day to be set by the Archbishop of York after the scheme has been confirmed by the Queen through an Order in Council. The Synod also approved a resolution establishing a vacancy-in-see committee for the new diocese, so that the process for appointing the first Bishop of Leeds could begin.

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