IN A rebuff to the plans for a West Yorkshire "super-diocese",
the Wakefield diocesan synod voted by almost two to one against the
A spirited meeting on Saturday produced a general consensus
that, while some form of change was required, the suggested merger
with the neighbouring dioceses of Bradford and Ripon & Leeds
was not the right move.
After a debate that had to be extended beyond its intended
two-hour timetable, so that all those who wished to speak could be
heard, the meeting voted not to approve the idea of joining a new,
larger diocese of Leeds.
The House of Clergy split 38 against and 21 for, while the House
of Laity voted 37 against and 18 for. The Bishop of Wakefield, the
Rt Revd Stephen Platten, who had already voiced his doubts, voted
against. The Bishop of Pontefract, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson,
supported the plans.
Professor Michael Clarke, the chairman of the Dioceses
Commission, which had spent the past three years drawing up the
proposals, said that its involvement was now over. "We could return
to it after, say, three years or so, to allow passions to cool, but
I suspect the Church would want us to look elsewhere instead."
Professor Clarke had opened the debate earlier by telling the
Synod that he believed the proposals were designed to "to ensure
the diocese was best-placed for the 21st century". It would provide
a "clean slate", and would "do away with those things that have got
in the way of its main task, which is mission, mission, mission".
The plans would provide the new diocese with a basic framework,
within which it could create a new structure for its own
But John Bullimore, from Kirkburton deanery, described the
framework as "speculative", and said that establishing the new
diocese would be time-consuming and energy-draining. "We do not
know how it will turn out in practice." The new diocese would be a
"monster creation" - one of the largest in the country, covering
2500 square miles, with a population of 2.5 million. A single
diocesan bishop would lose touch with his people, and his
commitments at national level would leave him with no time for his
The Rural Dean of Almondbury, the Revd Richard Steel, said:
"Small is beautiful. We need strong local mission and local
leadership." But, he said: "We must learn the lessons of HMV,
Jessops, and Comet, who failed because they didn't change the way
The chairman of the diocesan board of finance, the Revd Martin
Macdonald, said that the financial aspects of the merger were not a
"deal-stopper". It had already been estimated that the merger would
save the Church about £800,000 a year in revenue costs. "Most of
the risks we face we face already, and those at the coalface will
get on with it, whatever we decide."
Bishop Robinson told the synod that the Church had to change.
Parishes were being amalgamated: the number of clergy in Wakefield
had dropped from 200 to 130 in a very short time, and Bradford
diocese had only 80. "We cannot go on as before; something has to
be done, or the decline will continue."
Canon Joyce Jones, the Rural Dean of Kirkburton, and a member of
the General Synod, said that she would vote for the deal, as the
proposal for five area bishops would bring them closer to the
The Archdeacon of Pontefract, the Ven. Peter Townley, said that
the merger was a move in the right direction, but that he would ab-
stain. The merger "was putting the cart before the horse". "There
is a need to change, but we need a national debate about the fu-
ture, and what the changes should be."
Closing the debate, Bishop Platten said: "I am in no doubt of
the need for change, but not this change. We know that the Church
needs development; that we need new ideas, new vision. . . We must
work for a new vision, and we will do that across the diocese and
across Yorkshire. We shall look for porous boundaries, and a new
sharing of resources.
"Fewer, larger, dioceses are certainly not likely to convince
many. If diocesan bishops are to be effective, then smaller compact
dioceses are the answer, probably sharing facilities, each with one
cathedral as its bishop's seat.
"Our debate should be about our vision for God's Church in this
land and in this locality. It should be about local mission - but
that's just what's missing in this scheme," said Bishop