I have not long got home from a tour of the cathedrals in Wakefield, Bradford and Ripon following the announcement this morning in Leeds of my nomination to be the first (Anglican) Bishop of Leeds for the Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales – which will come into being on Easter Day. It has been a long day, and tomorrow will be similar as I go to visit the current diocesan offices in Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford.

I cannot count the number of text messages, tweets and emails that have poured in during the course of the day. When I was appointed to Bradford three years ago I replied to every individual message. I simply can't do it this time as the are hundreds of them and I don't know where to start. So, may I use this post to offer my deepest thanks to all who have been so generous and kind in their messages. I have felt encouraged and supported throughout the day and it makes the enormity of the task seem less daunting.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing is a point I made to several journalists: we have walked a tough path during the last three years in these three dioceses, but, the decision to create the new diocese made, people have shown great vision, maturity and grace in getting stuck in to shaping what is to come. It is hugely impressive. We met great enthusiasm and welcome in all three dioceses today and I cannot express deeply enough my gratitude.

Yes, the hard work lies ahead. The transition process is complex and demanding. Some direction needs to be set soon and, a priority once I take up office in June, will be to appoint two new area bishops for Bradford and Huddersfield. Several journalists asked me today if I would wait until a woman can be appointed – an obvious question just before the General Synod meets next week to take the matter forward. However, the need for us to get our episcopal team in place quickly means that we cannot wait as long as we would have to in order to be able to appoint a woman (should a woman be the best candidate for the post). Next time round, though…

Anyway, impressions of today can be seen here, here, here, here and here.

And now to start on the emails before tomorrow and, later in the afternoon, the resumption of my sabbatical.

 

Whenever there is an atrocity committed against Christians elsewhere in the world I get asked what we are doing about it here. The insinuation is that we appease Muslims, but ignore the plight of Christians being persecuted or victimised in Muslim-majority countries.

The quick answer is that loads of stuff goes on under the radar at national, international and diplomatic level. Anglican Communion partnership links mean that dioceses and bishops here are intimately connected to those places where Christians suffer. Relationships are often strong and communication good. However, such situations often mean that 'we' are wise enough not to salve our own consciences by making proclamations that make us feel better but do nothing to help the sufferers. Public silence does not equate to inactivity or inertia.

The latest atrocity was in Pakistan and the Archbishop of Canterbury was strong in his observations on events there. I also raised questions in a post the other day. But, what do we do on the ground, as it were?

In Bradford the President of the Council for Mosques called a meeting the day after the suicide bombing in Peshawar and a common statement by Muslim and Christian leaders was agreed. A joint appeal was launched at the same time in order to provide both symbolic and practical support to the Christian community that was attacked. The statement reads as follows:

Unfortunately attacks on places of worship of both Muslims and Christians alike are becoming more frequent. In recognition of this, Christian and Muslim leaders are encouraging all to join in prayer and supporting a joint appeal through mosques and churches across the city to raise funds to support the victims of this most recent atrocity.

We invite faith leaders of mosques and churches to support this worthwhile initiative through prayers and by raising funds for the appeal.

Bradford Cathedral, with my encouragement and at my instigation, is to hold a silent prayer vigil this coming Sunday evening from 6.30-8.30pm and Muslim representatives will be present. The vigil will be introduced by the Dean of Bradford and Dr Philip Lewis (Interfaith Advisor to the Bishop of Bradford). (I will be in the north of the diocese that evening in a rural parish.) Furthermore, a place of prayer will be established within the Cathedral for those Christian victims of such violence and other minorities who are subject to violence on account of their faith. This place will remain until Remembrance Day.

While writing this I have received information about a serious outbreak of civil violence in Khartoum, Sudan, and continued violence against civilians (mainly African and Christian in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile regions of Sudan. These are our brothers and sisters and we know many of them by name. So far the appeal in my name to support displaced people in these areas has raised well over £100,000 in eighteen months. There is more to be done.

But, perhaps this illustrates what partnership means and how we respond in Bradford to events that appear as news headlines.

The Diocese of Bradford is currently hosting the Bishop of Khartoum, Sudan, as we celebrate 30 years of a diocesan link. Talking with the bishop over the last few days about the situation facing Christians in Sudan, I keep asking myself the question why a red line has been drawn in Syria, but not in Darfur? President Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, yet the West has not threatened to carry out surgical strikes against those Sudanese military installations that continue to commit murder on a massive scale.

Why not? What is the moral difference between Syria and Darfur/Sudan?

These questions arose not just from conversations with the Bishop of Khartoum, but also from a service in a Bradford parish church this morning.

Church – particularly the Church of England – frequently gets a bad press, yet where else can you find a community of people who consciously belong together, deliberately question their own way of life, dig deep into the stuff of their souls, wrestle with how personal commitment (discipleship of Jesus) connects with (or leads to or derives from) stuff like Syria, Darfur, and so on? Where else do you get this corporate soul-searching in a context of music, silence and attentive listening? What other group brings together (by choice) people of different social strata in one place where attention is paid to looking at the self and beyond the self, encouraging commitment and perseverance, challenging complacency and hypocrisy?

I think we easily overlook just how remarkable this phenomenon is. A congregation thinks of today's routines in the light of the eternal and the global. It hangs on and lives with uncertainty and unresolved questions. Yet, it does so with hope – not wishful thinking, but the hope that derives from “hearing amid the cacophanies of the present the music of the future”.

Anyway, the point I was musing on with the congregation this morning was that when Jesus invited people to follow him, he insisted that they did so with their eyes open. This journey would be no walk in the park, but would throw them together with people they wouldn't choose and might not like – but by following him they would deny themselves the option of choosing company that was convenient to them. Pulling together a passage from Jeremiah (18:1-11) and Luke (14:25-33), we noted that Christians are to be people who, having received the generosity of God, are bound to live generously. However, they must also live out the habit of recognising failure and choosing to change – personally and by feeding the hungry, caring for the destitute, and so on.

And when it seems that, in Jeremiah's language, the potter's clay gets messed up and has to be broken and re-thrown, this is not the end of the story. According to the biblical narrative, (and in the words of Amercian Fransiscan, Richard Rohr) “everything belongs”. Nothing of our life is wasted. The broken bits get collected up and re-worked into something both beautiful and useful. Yet, this should not be easily romanticised: it is painful and hard, and impacts on the emotions, the psyche, lifestyle and self-esteem.

This is what church does. It creates a space in which deep examination and questioning can go on – both of the self and of the world we live in. And it opens up the possibility of motivating a community of people who seek to see the world changed, but starting with themselves. This is the humility of repentance.

And it compels us not to lose hold on the hard questions about self and Syria, the local and the global, the temporal and the eternal.

It is also hugely enjoyable.

 

So, this is the morning after the day before. The sun rose on the Dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield – as it did every day for the last century – and life carries on. (OK, maybe on some days the cloud just got lighter and the rain warmer…)

And there can surely be no sinister significance in the decision by the Synod being followed by Luis Suarez wanting to leave Liverpool and sell his soul elsewhere. Surely? (Minimum of £50million, please.)

Well, what is needed now is a clear timeline or framework of work for the next few months. We need to know when the 'appointed day' will be and then work back to timetable all the necessary, legal, financial, consultative and preparatory work in. The three dioceses need now to continue the conversations that have been going on for the last couple of years. It is an exciting time.

However, while the preparatory work is being done, there might be a short delay in communicating detailed timelines. We need to take a breath, keep doing our work of worship, mission and ministry in West Yorkshire and the Dales, and then – probably in the early autumn, if not sooner – give more definite and clear detail to our parishes and communities.

A key figure in all of this is the Programme Manager who has been working with us for eighteen months and discovering just how weird the polity and processes of the Church of England are. John Tuckett brings experience, wisdom, clarity, articulacy and excellent skills of communication, strategic thinking and attention to detail whilst holding the big picture. His contribution to getting us here has been appropriate (convening conversations, doing research, planning on our behalf, and always with the consent of the bishops). His contribution in the next phase of the process will be vital to the success of the scheme.

All three dioceses now have an answer to the unsettling question put by the Dioceses Commission three years ago. Wakefield, particularly, now needs space to face the new reality. The rest of us want to get on with it and to work closely with all three dioceses to create the new diocese and move things on. I am very confident this can be done.

It is a good day. Even if the Synod is now back onto internal electoral matters, something changed yesterday.

And Luis Suarez might stay at Anfield, after all.

Yesterday morning the General Synod of the Church of England determined to agree a way of opening the episcopate to women. Then, in the afternoon debate on reorganising the three West Yorkshire dioceses, the Synod showed vision and renewed confidence in agreeing to proposals to dissolve the Dioceses of Bradford, Wakefield and Ripon & Leeds and create a new Diocese of Leeds (also to be known as West Yorkshire and the Dales).

I am not sure that the Synod quite realises what it has done.

In the morning we opened – after much hard work over the last few months – a will to find a different way of doing business in our attempt to hold together while making it possible for women to be bishops. This is really difficult. We have to find a way to allow the church to have women bishops while making provision for those who cannot agree to this (mainly for reasons of order rather than mysogeny). From the outside this looks like a no-brainer, but it is tortuously difficult in a church that bucks the cultural norm by trying to hold together rather than dividing in the interests of partisan purity. It is not easy, it it feels like we might just get there.

But, the vote to reorganise West Yorkshire and the Dales was a bit of a shock. There were some strong speeches, but in the end only six people voted against the motion. This is overwhelming – both shocking and hugely encouraging. The Synod caught the vision: the church must have the vision to change radically and take responsibility for changing itself in order better to fulfil its mission in the world. This vote has made it clear that we are up for big change and big challenge.

However, the Diocesan Synod had voted against this move. The Bishop of Wakefield spoke eloquently against it. Subsequent speeches – in which the objections were articulated and Wakefield's concerns clearly heard – led to an overwhelming vote for change.

Wakefield's concerns have been noted. They have also been articulated during the process by the other two dioceses. But, we are now in a new world. Maturity, Christian commitment and realism will compel us all to work together in order to make this transition a reality. I have no doubt that, despite positions held during the difficult last couple of years of uncertainty, the three dioceses will work together to make this new diocese come into being with the best possible chance of succeeding. We are mature Christians who put the interests of the wider world ahead of our own sentiments,

The future will be hard and complex. But, it also looks to be bright. Tonight the Church of England took change seriously.

This is the text of my speech to the General Synod on the proposals to dissolve the Dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield.

Chair, the Scheme before us today requires a definite decision that will bring an end to more than three years of uncertainty in the Dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield. I strongly urge the Synod to vote for it and to show both the realism and the vision that has been mostly evident up north.

When I was appointed Bishop of Bradford just over two years ago – the announcement came one week to the day after publication of the Dioceses Commission proposals – there was inevitably a degree of uncertainty in the diocese about the future. Several of my colleagues faced either an uncertain future or, in one case, definite redundancy. I want to pay tribute to my colleagues in Bradford for the professionalism, vision and holding together of big picture and detail as these two years of uncertainty have progressed. Whatever the outcome of this vote this afternoon, I want to place on record that it has been a privilege to serve with them. Personal insecurity has never impinged on the need for change for the sake of the Church of England's ability better to serve the part of the world committed to us.

If this Scheme goes through, I, along with the other Diocesan Bishops, will lose my job by dissolution of the post. So, I too face further uncertainty and this is not a comfortable place to be.

However, I strongly support the Scheme. It offers (a) the benefits of scale with the intimacy of locality in an episcopal area system (that, contrary to assertions in the press, is not being dismantled in other dioceses…); (b) the ability to make structure follow vision – something the church always calls for, but rarely delivers; and, (c) the freedom and opportunity for the Church of England in West Yorkshire and the Dales to address the needs of the region with coherence, informed intelligence and greater strategic wisdom.

The story of the Scriptures is one in which God invites his people to imagine a different world, a different way of being, and to defy present fears or insecurities with prophetic courage. The West Yorkshire process has taught us many things about how to and how not to manage change, but the process has fundamentally compelled us to engage in this imaginative prophetic task. We sometimes talk about change as a substitute for actually doing it. Here we have a bluff-calling opportunity to take responsibility for doing it.

As we know, structures, in and of themselves, will guarantee nothing. This Scheme creates a framework that will then depend on the real and actual creative will of its leadership and people to establish something new – and to manage the difficult process of making it happen across the piece. Yet, this is not new. Leadership is always dependent on the vision, will, pastoral commitment and strategic wisdom of those who implement change and innovation. Indeed, the collegiality set up by an area system would allow – and this is integral to mission – an episcopal team combining a diversity of gifts, leadership in episcopal areas closer to the ground, better pastoral care of clergy, more focused encouragement of and support for locally appropriate lay development, discipleship and evangelism.

It has been said that one diocese might be omitted from the Scheme on the grounds that the other two 'want to merge'. This oft-repeated claim completely misses the point and misrepresents the case. First, this is not a 'merger' – it is the dissolution of three dioceses and the creation of a new diocese. Secondly, Bradford and Ripon & Leeds do not wish to merge – they wish to answer the question put by the church and answered by the Dioceses Commission regarding a coherent ministry in and mission across West Yorkshire and the Dales. To leave one diocese out – which is not an option on the table anyway – would fail to answer the original question, would leave the dioceses with a further decade or more of uncertainty (because the question will not go away), and would demonstrate an inability on the part of the Church to effect change where the power to do so lies in its own hands.

During the process we have argued over specific elements of the draft and final schemes. None of us engaged in those debates has ended up with what we might see as the ideal. Not all my proposals have been agreed with. However, we must recognise that not to be agreed with is not the same as not having been listened to.

I love the Diocese of Bradford and feel a certain poignancy in recognising that there will also be a personal cost to the decision by the Synod this afternoon. But, I love the Diocese of Bradford enough to recognise that this Scheme offers more than could have been dreamed of several years ago: the freedom and responsibility to do something new and risky and visionary, taking the best of the old and setting it free in the shaping of the new. I believe that the Scheme offers the possibility, if we take responsibility for it, of a bright and engaging future for both church and our communities, and that West Yorkshire and the Dales will benefit from this change. If so, I believe the three existing dioceses will get down to the job of making it work well.

I hope the Synod will grasp this opportunity to say yes to shaping the future with confidence, faith, vision and courage.

The bishops in the General Synod have to go on a duty rota in order to make sure that the House of Bishops is always quorate. There are usually far more bishops in the chamber than the rota requires, but you do feel obliged to be there when rota'd, however 'interesting' the debate might be.

On Sunday I sat through lots of important legislation. Then we came in the late afternoon to the debate on safeguarding. Like many others here, I went into it committed to making the church a safer place – something I have tried to prioritise in the Diocese of Bradford. I thought what we were proposing was good, and certainly an improvement on the past and in the light of research and review.

But, when the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham stood up to speak, instead of reading his proposing speech, he read first a statement by abuse survivors who were sitting in the gallery. It shone a whole new light on what we were about to do. And it was very uncomfortable to hear.

They felt that the church was acting again without letting survivors speak – which reinforced the fact that survivors are the last to be drawn in instead of the first. It was painful because it put the good things the Synod was about to do into a different perspective.

Reading the statement would not have had the same impact. Seeing the survivors sitting in the gallery while someone else spoke on their behalf turned words into drama. I was caught off-guard, as were many others. Just when we think we know what we are doing we get to see from a different angle – and we feel judged by our own blindness.

Tomorrow we get back to women bishops. I wonder if the same experience might be had – one of being surprised by looking differently at what we thought we had flogged to death.

A similar challenge will emerge in the afternoon when the Synod will vote on the proposal to dissolve three West Yorkshire dioceses and create a new one. It needs to go through – demonstrating that the church can 'do' vision, creativity, risk and change. However, if it does go through, I will face a personal challenge to all my own rhetoric: my post will go early in 2014 (probably) and we will have to work out what happens thereafter.

As I often say, it's never boring.

 

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