WHEN the Dioceses Commission was considering the future of Wakefield, Bradford, and Ripon & Leeds dioceses — subsequently dissolved to create a new diocese — the Wakefield diocesan synod carried a motion calling for a "theologically informed national debate" about the organisational shape of the C of E.
The motion came to the Synod on Sunday afternoon, but was not put to the vote because a procedural motion was used to close the debate.
Introducing the debate, Mary Judkins (West Yorkshire & the Dales) explained that the motion arose out of concern that "the processes being followed by the Dioceses Commission were more pragmatic than based on clear and transparent issues."
She said that the matter was urgent — "not because our churches are emptying, although many are; not because we have so few children, young people, families, or men in our congregations, although that’s the case in many churches", but instead, to "best equip the parishes to serve the gospel for the people of our land".
Canon Joyce Jones (West Yorkshire & the Dales) said that forming the diocese had been a very positive step. She drew attention to the Dioceses Commission’s call for more debate on how diocesan structures could serve mission.
Tim Hind (Bath & Wells), the vice-chairman of the House of Laity, said the Church needed to decide if it was a single organisation or multiple organisations. Relationship-building needed to precede organisational change.
The Revd Dr Patrick Richmond (Norwich) supported the motion. "The Church needs to recognise who it is and plot its future in the light of that." It should face up to increasing secularisation and its ageing demographic. "The future Church will have fewer clergy and laity. We need to be looking not just for five years, but beyond."
Gavin Oldham (Oxford) welcomed the motion — it "echoes a charge I have led for many years". Some years ago, he had published a report calling for an increase in regionally led administration and support to tackle the "administrative duplication throughout the Church".
Such a move could have realised a sum "in excess of £15 million", as well as many hours of "episcopal, clerical, and lay time", which could be made available to focus on mission and ministry. "Like many reports for the C of E, my report was filed in the ‘Too difficult’ box by the House of Bishops."
Prebendary David Houlding (London) welcomed the question "Is the diocese the bishop?" and said that another relevant question was "Is the Synod the Church of England? . . . We put ourselves into whatever corner it is, and we go to battle, whatever the issue is, and the majority wins. The time has come to examine again how we go about our business."
He said that there needed to be a "much deeper examination about how Synod works, how its functions, its committee structures, and how it all comes together in order to move the Church of England forward. We are very much caught up in a Parliamentary model, and I think it is time for us to break away from that."
The questions about what a diocese is, the Revd Dr Hannah Cleugh (Durham and Newcastle Universities) said, were "theological questions, not just organisational ones". Theological considerations "cannot be incidental or background to what we do. It is foundational."
Sam Margrave (Coventry) said that the "model we have now is one that was designed some time ago". In order to get a more diverse group of bishops, there needed to be a more diverse Crown Nominations Commission: "We need to take some practical steps to increase our diversity," he said.
The Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs (Northern Suffragans), said that there was a danger of duplication and confusion if the motion was passed, as it covered similar issues to the existing programme of Reform and Renewal.
Andrea Minichiello Williams (Chichester) asked how the Church was manifesting the Kingdom of God, and what relationship there was between faith and "public morality". She warned that Britain was gripped by a "hard secularist ideology", which she described as a "calamity of our time".
Canon Robert Cotton (Guildford) proposed that the Synod move to next business. He said that the debate had been good, but nothing would happen if the motion was passed which wouldn’t already be taken up elsewhere.
Mrs Judkins said that she was only asking for the House of Bishops to facilitate a debate, to enrich the discussions already going on around reform and renewal, and senior leadership. But it needed to happen in the parishes, too, not just in the hierarchy of the Church.
Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) spoke against the procedural motion. He wanted the debate to go on so that a senior figure in the Church could reassure them that the issues debated would be included in the existing work in the Reform and Renewal programme.
But the motion to pass to next business was put and carried.