Comments: progress on Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales

If Ripon, Bradford and Wakefield are now doomed, what is to prevent the abolition of, say, Bristol, Guildford (or Southwark), Portsmouth, Rochester (or Canterbury!), Sodor and Man or one of the Lancastrian sees? Since, in Yorkshire, it has just come down to money, how can the continuation of these other pocket dioceses be justified on financial grounds?

There is precedent for this sort of bleak territorial utilitarianism. Remember that in the nineteenth century Bristol was merged with Gloucester, Bangor and St Asaph came close to merger, Sodor and Man was very nearly abolished, and Rochester lost all but a toehold in Kent in exchange for Essex and most of Hertfordshire. None of these actual or proposed arrangements proved satisfactory.

Posted by J Drever at Tuesday, 13 August 2013 at 1:39am BST

I still feel that there should be an area bishop of Halifax/Huddersfield or Huddersfield/Halifax. I realise it's not as if Halifax is losing its status as a diocesan bishopric but given the extraordinary lengths that the planners have seemingly gone to to accommodate local pride in the new scheme, Halifax seems to have been the major town to miss out. I realise that it shouldn't matter but this is Yorkshire and we know it does.

Posted by peter Ellis at Tuesday, 13 August 2013 at 6:02am BST

The plan is to have an Area Bishop for the Western part of the current Wakefield diocese, that is to say broadly the areas of Calderdale and Kirklees in civil government terms. He would be titled Bishop of Huddersfield. The existing Archdeaconry of Halifax will be adjusted to cover the identical area, and retain its current name.

So Halifax loses nothing but Huddersfield gains a bishop's title.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Tuesday, 13 August 2013 at 9:03am BST

J Drever - I am curious what you mean by "pocket dioceses". The only definition I have come across is "one contained for the most part within the limits of a single city" (in Gordon Crosse's biographical sketch of Charles Gore), which hardly fits as a description of Rochester Diocese, being the one named above that I know.

So, I'm interested to hear what you mean by it!

Posted by Chris Routledge at Tuesday, 13 August 2013 at 9:07am BST

I think that come The Appointed Day (Easter MMXIV) the Northern Province will then be reduced to just 12 dioceses - how Apostolic is that! As so many parishes are now being amalgamated under "Pastoral Reorganisation" (i.e. Cuts) why should dioceses be exempt? Although the Diocese of Chelmsford seems to be heading in another direction. In his Presidential Address to his Synod the Diocesan Bishop floated the idea that "in time" the now seven Archdeacons should perhaps become seven Area Bishops. So it's not a case in our beloved Established Church of one size fits all.

Posted by Father David at Tuesday, 13 August 2013 at 9:56am BST

@Chris Routledge: Sorry, I only meant "pocket diocese" in the sense of it being geographically small. Of course, we have nothing in England akin to the tiny dioceses of central/southern Italy or the pre-revolutionary Midi. A diocese like Rochester is as close as we get to that.

All I was suggesting is that it seems strange, and somewhat arbitrary, to terminate the existence of dioceses in Yorkshire that are as small, or somewhat larger, than a diocese like Bristol, Portsmouth or Rochester. Presumably, the rationalization that is occurring in Yorkshire is a function of the accelerated decline of the Church, especially in the West Riding. It is quite possible that, where Bradford, Ripon and Wakefield go Bristol, Guildford, Portsmouth and Rochester (say) may follow.

As to Rochester (and I am also resident in that diocese) - my understanding is that it encompassed the sub-kingdom of West Kent, which was generally held by the heir to the kingdom of Kent proper (i.e., most of Kent east of the Medway). This is because of the pre-conquest notion of having one bishop per kingdom (thus, Lichfield for Mercia, London for Essex, Selsey for Sussex, etc.). However, the confinement of the diocese to West Kent is misleading - because the sub-kingdom might once have taken in much of Surrey. There is an interesting, albeit brief, discussion of this in Barbara Yorke's important article "Joint Kingship in Kent c 560-795" in the 1983 volume of Archaeologia Cantiana. Saving the removal of Cowden to Chichester, Rainham and Bredhurst to Rochester, Allington to Canterbury (with Linton oscillating between Canterbury and Rochester), and those parishes formerly within Kent that were transferred to the LCC in 1889 (now in Southwark), the boundaries of Rochester are exactly what they were in the Middle Ages. It had a mere 132 parishes before the church extensions of the early nineteenth century. Moreover, the bishops were not masters in much of their own house: the archbishops enjoyed a peculiar jurisdiction over the large and sprawling deanery of Shoreham, comprising some 33 parishes, and a slightly different jurisdiction in Cliffe at Hoo (which was also in the same deanery). This left the bishops with only 97 parishes in three deaneries, plus Haddenham in Buckinghamshire, Isleham in the Isle of Ely and Freckenham in West Suffolk.

Actually, I am not against small dioceses - Portsmouth, for instance, has struck me as being a relatively happy diocese. I also think it most unfortunate that old dioceses are in the firing line (and I think that, after 177 years, Ripon and Leeds has some claim to being old); certainly, it would be a scandal to abolish an ancient diocese like Rochester or a Henrician one like Bristol. What I do find invidious is that some dioceses remain whilst others are suppressed - it suggests that they can be picked off, almost at random.

Posted by J Drever at Wednesday, 14 August 2013 at 12:57am BST

Thanks for the clarification, J Drever :)

Posted by Chris Routledge at Wednesday, 14 August 2013 at 8:51am BST

I feel sorry that Wakefield's hand was forced as the diocese clearly didn't want be absorbed into the new super diocese. Also I think the choice of name for the new diocese is unfortunate as it's disrespectful to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds. It would have been better if Ripon or Bradford had been chosen as the lead name.

Posted by Adrian FSunman at Wednesday, 14 August 2013 at 9:51pm BST

Adrian FSunman, I really can't see that any disrespect to the RC bishop of should be read into this scheme. There are already both Anglican and RC bishops/archbishops of Southwark, Birmingham, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and countless other examples around the world. In some cases we were "first", in others they were. Where is the problem?

Posted by Edward Prebble at Wednesday, 14 August 2013 at 10:13pm BST

Edward, I believe it's an accepted courtesy that where possible Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops choose different names for their Sees. Apart from anything else, it helps to avoid confusion.

Posted by Adrian F Sunman at Thursday, 15 August 2013 at 1:37pm BST

It is, or at least at one time it was, forbidden for a Roman Catholic diocese to take the name of a Church of England diocese.

Posted by Richard at Thursday, 15 August 2013 at 11:11pm BST

Describing the Dioceses involved as 'terminated' and 'doomed', is both emotive and inaccurate. Certainly they are to be amalgamated and restructured. The motivation behind the changes is not primarily cost cutting, but missional effectiveness. So while I appreciate my diocese very much, including its particularly excellent diocesan bishop, and will be sad to lose some of its particular character, I'm also excited about the potential of its new configuration. To expect change to be fruitful without realising it will also be costly and challenging and potentially risky is unrealistic.

Posted by Lindsay Southern at Friday, 16 August 2013 at 9:22pm BST

There is not, I think, any problem with a diocese of another denomination calling itself whatever it wants -- but territorial titles of bishops may only legally be borne in the English Church, since the right to grant or assign territorial titles belongs to the Crown.

However, the state no longer imposes any penalties on clergy of other denominations who break the law.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Friday, 16 August 2013 at 9:41pm BST
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