I am in Eisenach, Germany, for the annual meeting of the Meissen Commission. It is late and I am tired, but as the statement from the Dioceses Commission was issued earlier today, I just make the following comment.
The statement reads as follows:
At its meeting on 26 September the Commission was able to complete its consideration of all the submissions made to it on the draft Reorganisation Scheme for the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield. It carefully considered the representations made to it, both at this stage and earlier, and has unanimously decided to proceed with a draft scheme bringing all three dioceses together.
The Commission firmly believes that the scheme represents a once-in-a generation opportunity for reinvigorating mission which should be grasped. It intends to issue a revised scheme embracing all three dioceses by the end of October, together with a fresh report which will both address concerns that have been put to the Commission, and set out the benefits to mission that it believes will come from a new single diocese.
The current diocesan map in the region owes more to history than the way these communities are now shaped. The Commission received overwhelming evidence that the Church's structures no longer reflect current social, economic and demographic realities on the ground, and that the Church needs a single diocese to engage effectively in mission with the people and communities of West Yorkshire and the Dales.
The Commission believes that the benefits to the Church's mission and ministry in West Yorkshire and the Dales will only be fully realised by a scheme embracing all three dioceses. They each have their own distinctive contribution to make, and have a part to play in creating something new, rather than recreating an older model.
Chair of the Commission, Professor Michael Clarke, said: “On behalf of the Commission I would like personally to thank everyone who has made representations to us. A revised scheme will be published next month, and all three dioceses will then have a chance to decide whether they share our vision, which has been drawn from our discussions in Yorkshire over the past two years, that the proposals will better enable them to advance their mission to the communities which they serve. The Commission is clear that this represents a remarkable and unique opportunity for the Church of England.”
1. The Dioceses Commission published a draft scheme to amalgamate the West Yorkshire dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield on 1 November 2010. This followed extensive consultation within the dioceses involved prior to that stage. The statutory six month consultation period on the draft scheme ended on 30 April 2012. Full details of the proposals can be found at http://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/structure/dioceses-commission/yorkshire.aspx
2. In June 2012 the Commission decided to proceed with a scheme on the basis that the details would be worked out over the summer.
3. Having decided that there would be a scheme, the Commission, under the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure 2007, needed formally to decide whether or not to amend it in the light of the representations made. It plans to issue the details of its revised scheme – together with supporting documentation – by the end of October. It is the Commission's intention that its papers would be accompanied by an executive summary with a pastoral letter from its Chair to parishes. It will inevitably take a little while to finalise the documentation following the Commission's meeting on 26 September, hence the short delay before it can all be issued.
4. The Commission's scheme and its report on it will be submitted to members of the Diocesan Synods of the dioceses affected, so that the Synods can then decide whether or not to support the Commission's proposals. That decision needs to be made by the end of March next year, with the intention that the General Synod would be invited to debate the scheme in July. The earliest any of the proposals could be implemented would be in the autumn of 2013.
The diocesan bishops of the three diocese have made their own responses, mine being as follows:
“I welcome the decision by the Dioceses Commission to go ahead with their proposals for a new diocese for West Yorkshire and the Dales. The publication of the revised scheme next month will provide greater detail which all three dioceses will consider before they vote on the scheme next March. I look forward to this further opportunity to explore how a new, bigger diocese could enhance the work of the church in this part of the country. As we explore the potential, and the pros and cons, it will test our creative vision, prophetic courage and commitment, and will ensure that our eventual decisions are fully informed and made for the right reasons.”
Opinions will differ as to the wisdom of the proposals. I make the following observations:
1. The church's talks radical, but never does it. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the church to take responsibility for being creative – making a diocese that is truly new, and not a merger of three, not an amalgamation of three, and not an aggregate of three. Taking a risk on creating something for the future means taking responsibility for it, even if it doesn't work. But, we expect this of parishes and clergy and we should not fear it when it comes to dioceses.
2. We must consider carefully the implications of the proposals – when we get them in detail – and make wise and informed decisions in March 2013. But we must not make decisions based on fear, risk-aversion, nostalgia, conservatism or self-interest. That is a denial of any hint of Christian vision, theology or mission.
3. Forget the fate of bishops. Two will retire. I took on Bradford knowing that acceptance of the proposals would mean me losing my post. That is fine. The church does not owe me a living and it is not about my security. That is irrelevant to any consideration of the merits of this scheme.
We now have until March to weigh up the details and make a decision about the proposals as a whole. There might be deal-breakers. But, until we see the detail, we won't know. So, for now, we need to ask serious questions about our motivation, vision and theological basis for our handling of what will inevitably be difficult proposals. I don't know what I will think until I see the final scheme. But, I can start working on my rationale.