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.

 

This is going to be a great week.

Not only do we hit 'the longest day' – 21 June, midsummer's day – when I and colleagues will spend the whole day from 5am to 10pm walking in the diocese, visiting places, doing meetings, taking part in the Grassington Festival and meeting loads of rural people, but we also have a Clergy Study Day on Wednesday on 'change'. In the morning we have Ben Quash (Professor of Christianity and the Arts at Kings College London and Honorary Canon Theologian of Bradford Cathedral) leading us through 'a theology of change'; in the afternoon we have Sebastian Feydt (Pastor of the Frauenkirche in Dresden) telling his story of living through massive change between 1989 and today.

The Diocese of Bradford faces a decision by the General Synod on Monday 8 July on the proposals for dissolution of three dioceses and the creation of a new Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales. We have lived with this uncertainty about the future for the last three years or so. I was appointed as the Bishop over two years ago in order to take the diocese through this never-done-before process and build confidence for change. If the Synod votes against these proposals (which would be mad), we cannot go back to business as usual – there will still have to be change as we look to the future.

So, doing theology on Wednesday is intended to reinforce the theological framework in which and through which we see what is happening and shape our future with vision, courage and wisdom. Listening to a personal story of how a whole world (Communist East Germany) collapsed overnight and how individuals, churches and society coped with a whole new emerging world should (a) be dead interesting, (b) flesh out some of the theology we have been discussing, and (c) put diocesan reorganisation into some perspective.

Behind this lies a conviction that structures of themselves guarantee nothing; it is the imagination, vision, will and determination of people that effect change. And for this to happen we need to dare to think and see differently. Whatever decision the Synod makes in July, one thing is certain: mistakes will be made and elements of a new structure will be found wanting. The interesting bit, however, will be how those involved either engage with and own the 'new' or seek out the failings in order to say,”I told you so.”

Not for now, but there are some very interesting biblical associations with all of this.

 

I am writing this while waiting for the flight back from Bermuda to the UK. I came on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury to ordain the new Bishop of Bermuda, Nick Dill. The collective of 'Bishop Nicks' became confusing once or twice.

What have I learned this week?

1. The new Bishop of Bermuda is excellent, popular and clearly the right man at the right time in the right place.

2. The new Bishop of Bermuda faces challenges and opportunities that are unique to this small island in the Atlantic and very different from those I face in Bradford and England.

3. The clergy of Bermuda remind me of how it must have been being an original disciple of Jesus: thrown together in a small place with a mandate to love each other and serve together for the sake of the kingdom of God – with nowhere to hide when problems arise.

4. Bermudians are remarkably hospitable and welcoming to strangers like us. It has been a gift of a week for us, and we return to England refreshed, rested and ready for the challenges that await me even this week (and there are many).

5. When sailing with the excellent Governor of Bermuda and his wife and the wheel becomes disconnected from the rudder, the police are funny, professional and considerate in rafting us into port and getting us home on their high-speed launch. (A fantastic day out with wonderful hosts and, I hope, new friends.)

6. The UK government seems (from a distance) to be reacting to media agendas rather than setting a proactive and principled course in policy terms. 'Tax haven' headlines grab attention, but the implications are clearly more complex than they at first appear.

7. Bermuda is beautiful, the sea unbelievably lovely, the wildlife spectacular, the warmth lovely and the views unremittingly gorgeous.

8. The same social problems found in England are to be found in different form even on small Atlantic islands: gangs, murder and other stuff. This is because they are human issues and not everything is context-specific.

9. Sailing can be enjoyable.

10. God calls us to be faithful in and to the place where we are and not to romanticise the 'other'.

So, there we are. Now for the flight back, the Sandford St Martin Awards on Monday evening at Lambeth Palace, lots of meetings in Bradford, a whole-day deanery visit up north on Wednesday, and so on. And I am ready for it.

 

This morning the Bradford Diocesan Synod – in a secret ballot – voted 90-4 in favour of the Dioceses Commission scheme to create a single new diocese for West Yorkshire and the Dales. We had an excellent debate in which people were visionary, responsible, realistic and prophetic: it was inspiring to listen to. The negatives were aired alongside the positives, but courageous vision is how I would describe the vote.

Ripon & Leeds voted in favour. Wakefield voted against. Now it goes to the Archbishop of York for a decision as to whether the wider needs of the Church of England should demand that the changes be put to the General Synod anyway. They should.

Here is the text of my (so-called) Presidential Address to the Synod this morning:

PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS

One of the Old Testament pithy sayings I often quote is the line from Proverbs 29: “Without a vision the people perish”. The truth of the saying is not in doubt. Any group of people that has no vision toward which they live and work – and for which they might sacrifice much – will not survive for long. It is the common purpose – the commonly held sense of direction – that holds them faithful while all around them changes and threatens and wobbles.

No wonder, then, that a common vision is hard to hold on to and sometimes hard to identify in the first place. After all, a ‘vision’ can be made up of lots of fine-sounding words; but then more words have to be found – and agreed upon – that establish the strategy – the ‘how will we get there?’ stuff – for making the vision a reality. And there lies the real challenge. For any vision that can only be realized in the long term lies open to being thwarted by immediate or short-term realities that can easily distract from the agreed goal.

So, although we might all agree with the fine-sounding line from Proverbs, we then find ourselves in some difficulty trying to formulate precisely which vision and strategy should be adopted. In one sense, we need to be grasped by a vision – having our imagination and will captivated by it – rather than us simply trying to dredge one up.

This is pertinent when we look at the matters before us on our agenda today. What sometimes looks obvious and clear from a distance becomes more complex and demanding the closer we get to actually making a decision. But, let’s put the more ‘domestic’ matters in perspective before getting into the substance of the options before us.

A month ago I travelled to Sudan for my first visit to our link dioceses there. Linda and I spent just over a week meeting people and being introduced to the place, the people, the church, the history and the politics of the country. I posted eight blogs from Sudan while we were there, but tried to be careful about what I wrote and how I wrote it. As I learned from my decade-long links with Zimbabwe, it is all too easy to salve my western conscience by ‘speaking out’ about what is going on there, whilst thereby only making life even more difficult for those people who pay the price for my ‘prophetic’ utterances. Since returning, I have been clear that any response from me and us must be guided by those who will live with the consequences. Accordingly, I am in contact with Ezekiel, Bishop of Khartoum, about the daily realities, checking our perceptions with him, and being guided about what to do at this end. (And there was a debate in the House of Lords on Wednesday this week, sponsored by Baroness Cox, into which our experience and analysis was fed via the Bishop of Exeter.)

What is increasingly apparent is that President Bashir’s government is engaged in ethnic cleansing of Africans. It is further clear that they want a single nation (Sudan) of a single race (Arabs) with a single language (Arabic) caught up in a single religion (Islam). Although complex, the direction – the ‘vision’, if you like – is clear; and it is not good for Africans – Muslim or Christian. We need to bear this in mind daily as we pray for our brothers and sisters in Sudan, as we interpret the news we hear, as we consider how to respond, and as we continue to give of our wealth to house and feed those who have nothing.

Such support also comes form strange sources. I was speaking at an ecumenical conference in Hannover, Germany, a couple of weeks ago and agreed to stay on and preach at an international service on the Sunday morning. The organisers pressed me about where to direct the offering, which normally amounts to around €150 and in the end I suggested our Kadugli Appeal, which so far has raised around £100,000. The offering came to just short of €600 and will arrive in our accounts soon.

I tell you this partly to assure you that when I am on business away from Bradford, I am also working for Bradford and telling our story beyond our borders. The conference in Hannover was established by both Roman Catholics and Protestants in the Hannover-Hildesheim region and attracted 1300 delegates to look seriously at how the church in Germany must change if it is to grow and reach a new generation. Fresh Expressions is something they have latched on to and they are keen to learn from the Church of England about our successes, our failures and our vision. Of course, listening through German ears compels me to examine the perspectives I have in England and in Bradford – which is never entirely comfortable, but does inform priorities and action.

(I will be in Germany again in May, along with some clergy and lay people form the Diocese of Bradford. The Kirchentag attracts around 120,000 ‘full-timers’ and a total of around 300,000 people over the four days. I will be doing various things, but my principle responsibility will be to preach at the outdoor closing service to a congregation of between 100-120,000 people. This will also be televised nationally on German TV. This is a privilege for an Englishman, great for the Church of England, and a shameless propagation of Bradford in Europe. Pray for me… and for those who have to decipher my German.)

I have been accompanying and observing the German Church’s reform process since 2007 when I was invited to the launch of the process in Wittenberg, birthplace of the Reformation in 1517. Although the cultures are different in many respects, watching the management of change in the EKD has been informative at a time when we are looking at significant change in the Church of England. I will refer here to two matters.

First, the matter of admitting women bishops to the episcopate. I don’t intend to rehearse here the events of July or November in the General Synod. Suffice it to say that anyone who comes up with a simple rationale for the failure of the legislation in the House of Laity has almost certainly got it wrong. The reasons for the failure are many and they are complicated – especially when you realize that it failed (in terms of votes) because enough people who want women bishops didn’t want them in the manner prescribed by that form of legislation. Vision and means again.

Since November facilitated conversations have been going on between different parties and the House of Bishops discussed these developments at our meeting in early February. Several options emerged and these will be worked on to see if there might be sufficient support for a form of legislation to be recommended by the House of Bishops in May for initial debate at the General Synod in York in July.

It is less clear to me than it is to others that this will happen. The current mantra is ‘simplicity with security’, which, it seems to me, ignores the fact that the search for ‘security’ militates against ‘simplicity’ – which is how we got to where we were in November in the first place. Anyway, an enormous amount of work is going on in order to see if a way forward can be found informally that will subsequently bear the weight of any legislation that might follow. Watch this space.

But, if agreeing on how to have women bishops is tough, we in West Yorkshire and the Dales face a challenge much closer to home. I hope to speak to this in the debate later, but will only do so if the points I wish to make have not already been made by others.

The challenge before us looks simple: we all agree we need to change, but what that change should look like – and how it should be brought about – is not obvious to everyone. The Dioceses Commission did not dream up their proposals because they had nothing better to do with their time or imagination. Look at the numbers for the three dioceses and, whatever the rhetoric from some quarters, they are, broadly speaking, heading south. If the proposals for a single diocese with an area system do not offer better mission and growth potential, then it should be obvious that current arrangements do not offer an alternative. One way or another there has to be change in the way we organize, ‘do church’ and reach out in this part of the world.

The problem comes, of course, when we ask what that change should look like. That will be the matter debated later. The Bishop’s Council has agreed that we vote in a secret ballot in order to ensure that everyone is free to make their own mind up. The method for doing so will be outlined immediately prior to the debate. Please note that our vote today is in principle – and although a considerable amount of coordinated work has gone on within and between the three dioceses already in order to flesh out realities and potentials, costs and benefits, making any changed arrangement a reality will depend solely on the will, determination, imagination and vision of those involved.

So, if you vote for this scheme, you commit to taking responsibility for making change work; if, however, you vote against, you need to ask yourself what you are, in fact, now voting for. No structure, old or new, will of itself deliver anything. Today is a challenge to our vision for the good news of Jesus Christ in West Yorkshire and the Dales, our courage in facing change, our faith in God and one another, and our realism about the challenge before us.

The writer of the proverb I cited earlier got it right: without a vision the people perish. (Although ‘perishing’ can take many forms…) But, to confound Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, not ‘any dream will do’. Our vision must be faithful and bold, realistic and achievable, godly and honourable. However we vote – and you do not need to be reminded here of my support for the scheme, especially as I am probably one of the few to have worked an effective area scheme (Southwark/Croydon) – we need to do so prayerfully, with confidence and with a clear recognition that the status quo is not an option, that we will direct change or it will drive us.

As Joshua heard before entering new and unknown territory: “Be bold, be strong, for the Lord your God is with you.”

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