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Synod: Diocesan names

by
21 November 2014

THE Synod went on to discuss the naming of dioceses, but voting was close.

Moving the report and revision stage of the Draft Naming of Dioceses Measure, Dr Edmund Marshall (St Albans), who chairs the steering committee, reminded Synod members that the Draft Measure had arisen after diocesan-synod motions from the former dioceses of Bradford and Ripon & Leeds, "following their experience of finding that the name of the newly proposed diocese of Leeds had, under existing law, to be the same name as the name of the see of the diocesan bishop".

The Draft Measure would "enable dioceses of the Church of England to be named by reference either to a city or substantial town, or to a geographical area". Dr Marshall said that current practice in the new diocese of Leeds was "to use 'West Yorkshire & the Dales' as the name of the diocese, including on official communications and on the diocesan website. We were advised that this is legally sound, as the Reorganisation Scheme which created the new diocese specifically provided that it could be 'known as the diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales'."

He said that the revision committee had, therefore, considered whether the Draft Measure should continue; but decided that it would be discourteous to the General Synod and the two diocesan synods who had put forward the original motion if they decided not to take it forward.

He said that the revision committee had made a "substantial amendment" in allowing "a future name of a diocese to differ from the style and title of its diocesan bishop, if that was what the diocese wishes".

Dr John Beal (West Yorkshire & the Dales) warned that it would "go down badly if, having achieved an Anglican Bishop of Leeds, it was suddenly felt that it no longer warranted such a post". Leeds was the third largest city in the country, and it was "important for mission" that it continue to have a Bishop of Leeds. He asked Synod to support the Measure as amended, "so that each diocese can decide not only what is appropriate for that diocese in terms of name, but what is appropriate for that community and mission for the title of the bishop".

Emma Forward (Exeter) was on the revision committee and spoke of "very serious reservations" about the proposed changes. Much of the discussion had been about whether it was wise to continue with the whole thing: "Four out of ten of us would have withdrawn the whole Measure at that stage." She suggested that these strong reservations "may be representative of the Church at large".

The link between bishop, cathedra, and area was "integral to our whole identity", and "to change the names of some but not others is about more than just words."

Timothy Allen (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) warned that "hard cases make bad law," and that the diocese of Leeds was one such case. He suggested that there was "rivalry" and "competing claims" among its component parts. The same had been true at the naming of his own diocese, 100 years ago. Clause 1 of the Measure was "mangled and counter-productive" in an attempt to "ease a hard case". He concluded: "Any diocesan bishop is charged with the overall shepherding of a whole diocese, even though she may delegate some responsibility to her area bishops. She needs a title that makes this clear, and distinguishes her from her area bishops."

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Peter Broadbent (Southern Suffragans), argued that "we have a habit of putting into primary legislation that which then takes ages to disentangle." He commended the Measure because "it says 'You are allowed to do this,' and that's the way to do it without encapsulating legislation."

Adrian Vincent (Guildford) argued: "I don't think we need new legislation trying to fix something that is already working, and if we make this change and break entirely the link between the title of diocesan bishop and diocese, that might damage the theological link."

The Synod voted to take note of the revision committee's report by 105 to 94, with ten recorded abstentions.

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