Monday, 29 October 2012

Towards a new diocese for West Yorkshire and the Dales

We reported last month that the Dioceses Commission was to proceed with its plans to amalgamate the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield.

The Dioceses Commission has today released details of its draft scheme and these are summarised in the press release which is copied below. The full dream scheme and supporting documents are available here.

Towards a new diocese for West Yorkshire and the Dales
29 October 2012

Dioceses Commission announces details of draft scheme

The Dioceses Commission has today released details of its draft scheme to reorganise Church of England structures in West Yorkshire and the Dales. The overall proposal, approved last month, is to replace the existing three dioceses and create a new single one. Today’s report explains in more detail how, if approved, that would work.

The draft scheme was drawn up after consultation across the three dioceses; Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield. The Commission concluded from this that a new single diocese would be the best way to meet the challenges and opportunities of the region.

The scheme, to be voted on by each diocesan synod in March, provides a legal framework which would enable the following to happen:

Creating one new diocese of Leeds, also to be known as the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales.

Appointing the Bishop of Leeds in overall charge of the new diocese (the bishop will also be area bishop for Leeds)

Having bishops in each of the five areas (Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds, Ripon and Wakefield), dedicated to the parishes in their area and therefore more closely in touch.
Retaining the cathedrals on a co-equal basis. Any possible future changes in staffing at the discretion of the diocesan bishop.

Ensuring that the new Bishop of Leeds has permission if needed, to designate Leeds Parish Church (now known as Leeds Minster) as a pro-cathedral

Providing a framework for the new diocese to decide its own organisational structure and ways of working. The Commission anticipates that this will allow the new diocese to make savings that it can reinvest in mission

If approved the Commission recognises the importance of having a Bishop of Leeds in place as soon as possible (which is a matter for the Crown Nominations Commission chaired by the Archbishop of York), to provide the necessary leadership for the new diocese. Once overall timings are approved by Archbishop of York, detailed matters will be for the new diocese itself to resolve

A few parishes will come under neighbouring dioceses and therefore be outside the new diocese: but the day to day life and worship of those churches will not be affected (see Annex C of report).

Professor Michael Clarke chair of the Commission, said “The main concern of the Commission has always been about how to best resource mission in the area and our consultation has shown that a single scheme is the best way forward. We hope that the Diocesan Synods will approve the scheme and take up the challenge of developing their vision for the new diocese. This is a once in a generation opportunity which we believe must not be lost.”

Read the pastoral letter for parishes

The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said: “I welcome this scheme for a new diocese for West Yorkshire and the Dales. A single, larger diocese would help the Church of England thrive and meet the challenges of the 21st century in this part of Yorkshire. The smaller episcopal areas would bring a greater sense of belonging and local identity, and the day-to-day life of the parishes would be strengthened by increased strategic resourcing; for example, we’d all have access to a greater range of expertise and experience. I am convinced we would be more than the sum of our parts.
“This is an unprecedented and imaginative move on the part of the Church of England and we have the opportunity locally to create and shape the detail in order that the church can serve the region in the best way possible.”

The Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, said: “”I very much welcome the way the Commission has emphasised the mission opportunities which the new diocese will present. I am particularly pleased that the parishes of the city of Leeds will come together in a single episcopal area as this will enhance our ministry to the whole city. I also believe that the new northern archdeaconry will have a great opportunity to concentrate on the opportunities and challenges with which the rural church now engages. I look forward to the discussions leading up to the Synod vote in March and to a wide debate on the mission opportunities with which we are presented.”

The Bishop of Wakefield the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, said: “The publication of this report ends the uncertainty about the precise recommendations of the Commission and we are very grateful for that. We now look forward to a lively and informed debate within all three dioceses as we prepare for the final vote on these proposals.”

There are notes to the press release below the fold.


1. Read all the documents

2. The Dioceses Commission published a draft scheme to dissolve the West Yorkshire dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield on 1 November 2010. This followed extensive consultation within the dioceses involved prior to that stage. The statutory six month consultation period on the draft scheme ended on 30 April 2012. Full details of the proposals can be found at

3. In June 2012 the Commission decided to proceed with a scheme on the basis that the details would be worked out over the summer. Having decided that there would be a scheme, the Commission formally decided at the end of September 2012 that it would embrace all three dioceses. The documentation now issued fleshes out that decision.

4. The Commission’s scheme and its report on it will be submitted to members of the Diocesan Synods of the dioceses affected, so that the Synods can then decide whether or not to support the Commission’s proposals. That decision needs to be made by the end of March next year, with the intention that the General Synod would be invited to debate the scheme in July. The earliest any of the proposals could be implemented would be in the autumn of 2013.

Posted by Peter Owen on Monday, 29 October 2012 at 10:11am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

Peter, did you mean to write "dream scheme"? Brilliant!

Posted by: Dan Barnes-Davies on Monday, 29 October 2012 at 5:19pm GMT

A scheme like this is rather like the setting up of a Team Ministry on the grand scale. Most Team Ministries are pretty dysfunctional with a few glowing exceptions. The recipe here, if you look closely enough, is to end up with what are effectively five dioceses instead of three not to mention competing cathedrals ... so far so bad.

Onwards ... what of the bishops' responses. The most enthusiastic John Packer of Ripon and Leeds will have retired by the time this scheme is set up. The next most enthusiastic Nick Baines of Bradford may be playing to the gallery, after all he was somewhere on the shortlist for Canterbury and he is most likely to be the first super bishop. The least enthusiastic Stephen Platten could also retire soon or he could have a dread prescience in predicting a 'lively and informed debate'.

In short this scheme reminds me of the ill-fated Covenant which had lots of support as a kind of 'knee-jerk' reaction to a problem before the realism of a vote (at least in the C of E) materialised.

Posted by: Concerned Anglican on Monday, 29 October 2012 at 9:30pm GMT

"Creating one new diocese of Leeds, also to be known as the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales"

ALSO to be known as? Confusion and fudgery from the get-go.

These people couldn't decide their way out of a burning building.

Posted by: Laurence C. on Tuesday, 30 October 2012 at 10:50am GMT

I don't understand the comments here.
This seems like a sound proposal to me. You have one diocesan bishop with several suffragans. And I doubt people are so dim that they will find the name "West Yorkshire and Dales" terribly confusing.

That 2 of the current bishops are nearing retirement age is neither here nor there, nor that the other one might end up as Diocesan. Or are we saying that those facts disqualify them from having opinions about an issue they've spent a long time working on?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 at 9:49am GMT

I do wonder whether the Dioceses Commission is putting the cart before the horse. There is a theological discussion to be had here -- or at least, an ecclesiological discussion.

What is the purpose of a diocese and what is the purpose of the diocesan bishop?

The ecclesiological principle has been 'one bishop, one church' (where a 'church' is a diocese). The waters have been muddied with suffragan and assistant bishops (and the Roman communion similarly has auxiliary bishops) -- but the principle has been reasonably clear, I think.

This proposal from the Diocese Commission starts from an entirely different place though. Bishops are just senior clergy or team leads in this scheme, and they are not given authority or jurisdiction and are not the pastors of their flocks. Instead we seem to have some sort of 'team bishops' scheme.

Now, maybe that's a good idea, maybe it isn't. Maybe it's only a development of what we see working or not working in, say, London and Chichester.

But I do wonder whether it would be better to settle the principle first, rather than let the Dioceses Commission come up with an ad hoc scheme. 'Settling the principle' might mean discussion at General Synod and reference to the dioceses on the future shape of governance of the CofE, all without discussing a particular concrete example.

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 at 10:20am GMT

"And I doubt people are so dim that they will find the name "West Yorkshire and Dales" terribly confusing." Erika Baker

Perhaps I misread the statement but it appeared to me to say that the new Diocese would have two names at the same time - 'Diocese of Leeds' AND 'Diocese of West Yorkshire and Dales'.

Posted by: Laurence C. on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 at 1:57pm GMT

There are legal and theological reasons why an English bishopric must be named after the see of a bishop which must be a city or town of significance (whether size, historic importance, or importance to a civic community). So it would be the Bishop of Leeds and the Diocese of Leeds. It might then informally - almost as a strapline - be known as "The Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales." I don't know why this needs to be put into legislation, but the principle is clear - a formal, legal name and an informal strapline. Some diocese do something similar - for instance, the Diocese of Chelmsford has as part of its logo "The Church of England in Essex and East London", to indicate its geographical scope.

Posted by: Philip Hobday on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 at 4:14pm GMT

I think in general the proposal is sensible. There is a peculiarity in the case of West Yorkshire - the dioceses are of relatively recent creation; their see cities are geographically very close; there are three dioceses covering a single local authority area (so for instance more than one board of education dealing with one local education authority); and the current arrangements leave a single and signficant city - Leeds - without a clear and single episcopal figure to speak to and for it.

What does seem odd to me (and I'm not in the area so I may well be wrong) is basing the diocesan in Leeds. This means three cathedrals plus a pro-Cathedral (so quite a bit of duplication there), and that as well as diocesan and national responsibilities plus setting up the new diocese the bishop will be plunged into the complex business of relating to a large and growing urban area. I think it made more sense to have the diocesan in Wakefield and a new area bishop focussing just on Leeds.

I think there does not need to be a single model but a range of models - such as formal division into areas (e.g. London, Oxford); suffragans with specific geographical areas and a 'roving' diocesan (e.g. Norwich, Salisbury); a diocesan and suffragan(s) covering the whole geographical area (e.g Ely, Coventry). The point is that there are different models to suit different needs, and I don't think we need a "one-size-fits-all" approach but something which respects the organic and varied growth, terrain, and character of the different dioceses.

Posted by: Philip Hobday on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 at 4:22pm GMT

Philip Hobday suggests that there can be a variety of models of episcopal government. I don't necessarily disagree. However, in all the cases enumerated the particular local form has been determined locally. The diocesan bishop, presumably with the advice and consent of his council and his synod have determined a form they believe to be locally appropriate. And they have generally been about increasing the closeness of diocesan bishops to their people, or making good use of suffragan bishops to cover a moderately large area.

In this case we see an external commission coming in and deciding what suits the local situation, and without any real ground rules about how we think episcopal government ought to work (e.g. the ideal of mon-episcopacy, and whether we think this is good or not).

Are we in practice setting a precedent for further wholesale but piecemeal reorganization of the diocesan structure of the CofE? As I said before, maybe that's a good thing and maybe not. But I do think it healthy to discuss the principle first. Which I don't think we have done so far.

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 at 5:03pm GMT

This seems a fairly pointless plan, smacking a little of rearranging the deckchairs... There will be very nearly the same number of dignitaries as before, so why bother? Would it not have been better to have suppressed two or three of the Yorkshire dioceses? Ripon, the oldest of the three (1836) could have been retained in preference to the others (it is already Ripon and Leeds). And if Bradford and Wakefield are to go, then why not Sheffield? Or any other diocese (Portsmouth, Bristol, Blackburn, Guildford, etc.)? It would have been far better to have left all alone or else to have effected a more radical reform.

Posted by: Froghole on Thursday, 1 November 2012 at 1:10am GMT

Gosh. That wouldn't be the sound of change hitting the CoE would it? I grew up around Leeds, occasionally visiting LPC; to think of it as `Leeds Minster' is quite a mental leap.

Still. Home rule for Yorkshire! ;)

Posted by: Tim on Thursday, 1 November 2012 at 4:37pm GMT
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