THE diocese of Manchester is to reorganise its 20 deaneries into seven super-deaneries. The decision, announced by the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, at the beginning of the month, came after a diocesan poll in which 94 per cent agreed that a change was needed.
As part of the new plan, the diocese will appoint seven full-time area deans, who will function without their own parish. The new arrangements are part of the diocesan response to falling attendance and weakening finances. Last year, only one third of the diocese’s 256 parishes could cover their own clergy costs, and the diocese had an operating deficit of £1 million.
The poll, carried out earlier this year, indicated ambivalence about the proposed amalgamation: 47 per cent agreed, but 38 per cent disagreed. Respondents were, however, keener on the idea of the dedicated area deans: 55 per cent in favour, 33 per cent against.
In his briefing paper, Dr Walker suggests that the discrepancy stemmed from concerns about the boundaries of the proposed deaneries, given that it was not possible to have the deans without the deaneries.
Dr Walker accepts that further work is needed during the implementation period, such as whether unpaid lay chairs for the new deaneries can be found, and how the new area deans relate to their archdeacons. One of the factors in deciding on the number and shape of the seven deaneries was to stay within existing archdiaconal boundaries, though one archdeacon’s post will be lost.
The area deans will enable the diocese to cope with an influx of younger clergy, it is believed. One projection suggests that, by 2025, two-thirds of the incumbents in the diocese could be in their first incumbency. An increase of 50 per cent in stipendiary curates is also planned.
Dr Walker writes: “It will be important that area deans’ role descriptions are shaped so that they are not seen as a tier of diocesan-level management, but as enablers of ministry and mission in the local Church.”
An earlier consultation paper stated: “We believe that having a smaller number of larger deaneries is central to transforming the diocese and achieving our vision for the future. This change will also make it easier for us to develop clergy and lay leaders at local level.
“Providing excellent support for clergy and lay people in their leadership roles is key to our future success — we are committed to having support in place which is meaningful and robust and enables our leaders to be effective and enthused.”