Dioceses Commission begins review of structures
29 January 2009
Further provisions of the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure 2007 come into force on 1 February. The Measure makes it a duty of the Dioceses Commission to review the provincial and diocesan structure of the Church of England, including the size, boundaries and number of provinces and dioceses, and arrangements for episcopal ministry. It will also have the power to draw up reorganization schemes.
The Commission, chaired by Dr Priscilla Chadwick, consulted diocesan bishops as to what its priorities should be and drew up an initial work programme in the light of comments and suggestions.
The Commission will begin by examining the apparent anomaly whereby seven parishes wholly or partly within the area of the City of Peterborough unitary authority, with more than one third of the City’s population, are in the Diocese of Ely rather than that of Peterborough.
In the autumn of 2009, the Commission will commence a review of the boundaries of the five Yorkshire dioceses (Bradford, Ripon and Leeds, Sheffield, Wakefield and York). The aim will be to establish whether the shape and boundaries of the existing dioceses tend to facilitate the Church’s mission to the people and communities of Yorkshire or whether different boundaries would enable the Church to relate to them more effectively. The Commission has no agenda to reduce or increase the number of dioceses, but rather to ensure the best configuration to the communities that the dioceses serve, which could involve merging existing dioceses and/or creating new ones.
“The Commission is embarking on its review work with an open mind and a willingness to think radically, as well as an awareness of the need to be realistic,” said Dr Chadwick. “We have every confidence that the bishops and dioceses concerned will engage with the process in the same spirit.”
The Commission has a responsibility to consult widely. Its first step will be to seek the insights of the diocesan bishops, archdeacons and diocesan secretaries of the dioceses under review. It will then consult other leading clergy and laypeople of the dioceses, and representatives of any deaneries and parishes that might be affected by changes. Proposals for change will normally need the agreement of the diocesan synods concerned before going to the General Synod for decision. The Commission sees its role as one of helping the bishops, clergy and people of the Church of England in the areas concerned to come to a view as to how the Church can best be structured for mission in the 21st century.
In identifying the local communities to which the Church needs to relate, the Commission will look at how diocesan boundaries correlate with the boundaries of counties and unitary/metropolitan authorities and which configurations might best further the Church’s mission. It will also have in mind other factors. Among these are:
- the sense of local identity resulting from history and shared culture,
- contemporary communities reflecting the places between which people travel for work, shopping, leisure, education and health services,
- road and rail communication routes, and
- the accessibility and distance of cathedral cities by car and public transport from all parts of the diocese.
Two sections of Part II of the Measure remain to be brought into force at a later date: section 12 (which will place diocesan bishops under a duty to keep provision of episcopal ministry under review) and the related section 17 (which will enable the Commission, when a suffragan see falls vacant, to require that the approval of the General Synod would be needed before the see could be filled). The Commission’s present expectation is that these provisions will be brought into force towards the end of 2009.
One consequence of the start of the Commission’s work is that the General Synod’s business committee has decided to park* this diocesan synod motion from Bradford “for the moment while the new Dioceses Commission, recently established at the initiative of the Synod, is having its initial meetings to consider the first phase of its programme of work”.
That this Synod request the Archbishops’ Council to formulate proposals for reductions in the numbers of episcopal and senior clergy posts, taking into account reductions for the number of stipendiary clergy since 1979; and submit a report with recommendations to the General Synod within three years.
* Note: Diocesan Synod motions are normally taken in order of receipt, but can be “parked” by the Business Committee if it makes sense to delay their consideration until some other related business has been completed.