THE sun was drenching the Dales on Saturday, and the reading
from Jeremiah advised: "Listen, it is coming - a great commotion
from the north."
There was not much of a commotion at the diocesan-synod meeting
in Skipton: more a palpable sense of relief at reaching the point
of decision. The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines,
spelled out in his presidential address that the status quo was not
an option. "Look at the numbers for the three dioceses, and,
whatever the rhetoric from some quarters, they are, broadly
speaking, heading south.
"If the proposals for a single diocese with an area system do
not offer better mission and growth potential, then it should be
obvious that current arrangements do not offer an alternative. So,
if you vote for this scheme, you commit yourself to taking
responsibility for making change work. If, however, you vote
against, you need to ask yourself what you are, in fact, now voting
There was to be silence on social media, and a secret ballot.
The Revd Dr John Hartley took issue with the latter, declaring it
"superfluous and contrary to the spirit of Anglicanism" and "a
thoroughly disgraceful way of dealing".
The Revd Paul Benfield, for the Dioceses Commission, rehearsed
the rationale for the scheme, emphasising that it was not something
being imposed on Yorkshire; nor was it a blueprint for the national
The Archdeacon of Craven, the Ven. Paul Slater, moved the
motion. He said that the diocesan boards of finance had gone over
the scheme "with a fine-tooth comb", and had concluded that there
was no reason to reject it on financial grounds. He spoke of the
greater opportunity in a larger diocese to match individual gifts
and parish posts. It would have "economies of scale, with intimate
working relationships where they really matter".
Clergy predominated in the debate. An ex-officio lay member, Ian
Fletcher, was in favour, but criticised the Dioceses Commission for
not having listened to everything that had been asked, particularly
the appeal from Bradford for the diocesan bishop not to be also an
area bishop. He made reference to the "planning blight" resulting
from the uncertainty of the past three years: "I hope there will be
a little more urgency about what has to be done."
The Archdeacon of Bradford, the Ven. Paul Ayres, said: "The
Church of England is set up for the past, the way it is. If you
want to be convinced, read the comments made against [the scheme]
by senior leaders in other dioceses. . . They are very poor
Those such as the Revd Steve Davie, the Priest-in-Charge of
Tong, in Bradford, who has had experience of working in an area
system, expressed enthusiasm about the level of training and local
care that could be provided.
But the Revd John Brocklehurst, the Priest-in-Charge of
Waddington, near Clitheroe, whose parish would end up outside the
new diocese, was critical of the process. "I don't want my vote to
be counted as an endorsement of the process. Do it, but don't let
anyone do it like this again." There had been too much time
discussing inadequate documents, he said, and "a lack of depth and
scope to deal adequately with the range of issues that arose as the
Robert Whittaker was the only opposing speaker. He described the
scheme as "a pig in a poke. . . We don't know what we are getting,
or what it's going to cost." The intangible cost was the reputation
of the Church. It was "wanton malevolence. How many steps does it
take to kill an institution? The Ground Zero model is not one a
Church should adopt."
Shirley Walker said that she was unlikely to be around when the
new high-speed rail link arrived in Leeds. "But I am here now.
Imagine an Anglican scheme that will beat something high-speed,"
she said, to loud applause.
Café-style discussion and a period of silence preceded the vote.
When the result from Wakefield was announced, there was a concerted
groan - but one of resignation, not surprise. Some considered that
the debate had gone on too long. "If you've got a tug-of-war, and
ten men are pulling two men, you don't have to keep pulling," one
said. Bishop Baines described the vote as a "courageous
Now the wait begins.