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‘Courageous’ to unite

08 March 2013

Pat Ashworth reports from the Bradford diocesan synod


Yorkshire in bloom: Valley Gardens in Harrogate on Saturday

Yorkshire in bloom: Valley Gardens in Harrogate on Saturday

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 for."

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 Church.

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 reasons."

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 debate proceeded".

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 vision".

Now the wait begins.

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