Reorganisation of dioceses in the Church of England doesn’t sound like the sexiest of subjects, does it? Especially in a week that has seen the slaughter of so many young people in Norway and the tragic death of Amy Winehouse – to say nothing of impending economic meltdown in the USA and the continuing grief in the financial markets.
But, even diocesan reorganisation represents the continuing of ordinary life in the face of ‘big’ and mortality-reminding events in the wider world.
And that is actually the point of the proposed reorganisation of the West Yorkshire dioceses (Ripon & Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield): it is about enabling the church better to relate to and reach out to the communities of these areas. Contrary to the rather lazy (and oft-repeated without critical thought) assumption that this proposal has arisen from either (a) financial decline or (b) numerical decline, the proposal to dissolve (not ‘abolish’) three dioceses and create a single larger diocese with an internal ‘episcopal area’ system is born of a desire to do our ministry and mission better and more effectively. There might be savings and consolidations eventually, but this is not driven by finance or staffing.
So, where are we now that the Dioceses Commission has issued an interim report today? Well, we are simply where we are. The interim report does not address the big questions of (a) the name of the new diocese, (b) the status of the cathedrals, (c) the precise location of the episcopal areas or whether the Diocesan Bishop should have one, and (c) where the diocese will be ‘based’ (in terms of location of central administration. All that is still to come. Today’s document states the response of the Commission to the responses it received following the original proposals last December… in respect to the potential moving or certain border parishes from one diocese to another.
The Commission will now draft a Scheme (a formal proposal) which will come to us in the autumn and initiate a six month period of formal debate and decision making. The Commission will then consider the outcomes of this formal consultation in the three dioceses before then deciding whether to amend the Scheme before sending it to the General Synod for final decision. In other words, what we have now is the second word in a multi-stage consultation/conversation – not the final word. So, if any reporting suggests that ‘the Church of England is to abolish’ dioceses, they are spouting rubbish.
There also seems to be an assumption that I will be the Diocesan Bishop of the new diocese if and when it is created. That also is nonsense. The posts of the three current Diocesan Bishops will be dissolved, the Bishops of Wakefield and Ripon & Leeds will retire, and I will look for another post. The church might ask me to do another episcopal job or it might not (or I might not feel it right to do so). So, I will happily look at all options and not worry about it. But, it would be helpful if people stopped assuming I will be the bishop of the new diocese as the only certainty for me is that the success of the Scheme will see the end of my See. And that’s fine. Our job is to do the best for the Church in order that we can best serve the people and communities of our country.
So there. It’s not boring, is it? The Church hasn’t really done this before. It is interesting, challenging and potentially exciting. An ‘area system’ would bring Area Bishops closer to the ‘ground’ than a Diocesan Bishop can currently be, and would give places like Bradford two bishops for the price of one: an Area Bishop devoted to the Episcopal Area and a Diocesan Bishop representing Bradford also.
Yes, there are details to be hammered out and there will be losses as well as gain. It might not even go through in the end. But, whatever eventual decision emerges must be rooted in vision, courage, faith and adventure.