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.