THERE was a blue sky outside and "a blue-sky opportunity"
inside, the Ripon & Leeds diocesan synod heard, as it met on
Saturday at St Aidan's C of E School in Harrogate.
With the slogan "In shape for the future" projected on to the
screen behind them, the Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd
John Packer, and the Bishop of Knaresborough, the Rt Revd James
Bell, led the debate, with much emphasis on the "opportunity".
Professor Hilary Russell, of the Dioceses Commission, made the
case that the existing diocesan boundaries - created in the 19th
and early-20th centuries, and splitting Leeds between four dioceses
- were no longer sustainable.
Bishop Bell spoke of his love for the existing diocese. "I
cherish it," he said. But the bullet points projected on the screen
behind him reinforced, he said, his conclusion that the new diocese
would be "an opportunity to rethink, re-imagine, reconfigure, and
re-energise" the Church's mission in Yorkshire.
Bishop Bell was aware of risks associated with the creation of
the new diocese. "But there's also risk attached to not grasping
this remarkable opportunity," he said. "It's a once-in-a-generation
opportunity to reinvigorate the ministry."
A pre-recorded video contribution from the chairman of the
diocese's board of finance, Simon Baldwin - on holiday "somewhere
about 15 degrees warmer" - outlined the potential for savings,
variously predicted to be between £200,000 and £750,000 a year.
"The need for change is inevitable, whichever way we vote," he
said. "This may represent the best opportunity we have to ensure
that we are in shape for the future."
The Dean of Ripon, the Very Revd Keith Jukes, spoke in favour of
the motion, urging the Synod "to take a leap of faith and look
beyond the risk", paraphrasing Luke 5. "Let's put out into the
deep, summon the help of partners in other boats, and enhance the
Church's mission in partnership with the Lord, and with each
Senior figures in the diocese backed the proposal, and the
opponents spoke out only later on. The Revd Philip Smith, the Vicar
of Aldborough with Boroughbridge and Roecliffe, asked: "Do we need
to have a revolution, or can we evolve in a way that involves less
Others expressed concern that the proposed time-frame for the
implementation of the new plans would be hurried, and asked for
more time. Others were worried about job losses; that figures had
been "plucked out of the air"; that the money promised to create
the new diocese would not be delivered; and that there would be no
savings at all.
At least two synod members were concerned about "elephants in
the room". Another revealed that she had found "little enthusiasm"
for the new super-diocese in her parishes.
One delegate's digression into the joys of using the intranet to
communicate with colleagues in Bolivia sparked laughter, when
Bishop Packer appeared to rule out "bringing Bolivia into the
diocese". One synod member urged the consideration of a Plan B
scenario, "in which Ripon & Leeds could initially unite with
Bradford, with maybe Wakefield joining up later".
After the ballot papers had been counted in the school canteen,
Bishop Packer, who voted in favour, said: "I welcome the clear
approval of the diocesan synod for the scheme. I am also grateful
for the open and honest debate we have had. . . I hope that this
will mean that the Archbishop of York can take the scheme to
General Synod in July: further delay and indecision would be
damaging to the mission of the Church in this region. The votes
here and in Bradford send a positive message."