This is the text of my Presidential Address yesterday to the second Diocesan Synod of the infant Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales:

Several years ago I sat through a theological conference in Salisbury on Fresh Expressions and the nature of the church. Like most conferences, there were some papers that grabbed the attention and others that … well … didn't. As usual, I was waiting for the one that would keep me thinking well beyond the conference itself. In the end it came from a retired professor of New Testament who presented a deceptively simple paper on the church in the Acts of the Apostles. Her basic thesis was this: the centre needs the margins and the margins need the centre. (Now, how deep is that?)

What she meant was that when Paul took the church into uncharted territory – particularly opening it up to the Gentiles – he could easily have just done his own thing way out on the margins, and hoped that the other apostles didn't notice. However, he insisted in bringing back to Jerusalem the issues being faced in the far reaches of what used to be called the 'mission field', and keeping the pioneer churches accountable to the centre. Of course, the corollary is that at the same time he was compelling the centre to take responsibility for the whole mission of the church – even in those places where they were inventing new ways of being church.

The centre cannot ignore the margins and the margins cannot cut loose from the centre. That is one of the lessons from the Acts of the Apostles, and it is one that we are exercising in our deliberations today. How do we ensure in our large diocese a structure that will hold together and offer resilience in a world and a church of competing interests and priorities? It is a tough question; it is not an original question.

Of course, structure, governance and mutual accountability do not stand alone in some notional realm where standing orders take the place of holy writ. Rather, they must be written through and created by relationships that, rooted in a common vision (however articulated), are constantly seen as the end to which the structures are the means. That is the biblical way: we can get everything else right, but if we have not love, we are just making a loud and pointless noise. As Paul wrote in 1Corinthians 13: “So, these three remain: faith, hope and love – but the greatest of these is being seen to be right.” (Or, as Elvis Costello put it: “What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?”)

This is actually a serious matter. Creating structures of accountability and governance cannot be an end in itself; if the doing of this is characterised by anything other than love-exercising-trust, then we are not the church we are called to be.

Today's agenda is important and we need to apply our best thinking and deliberation to how we wish to shape the governance of our infant diocese so that we are liberated to do the work of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To put it concisely: how do we set ourselves up so that our energies and resources (of people and of stuff) get directed to prayer, evangelism, nurture, teaching and worship, and don't exhaust us all in too much bureaucracy or administration?

Now, this is not simply the local concern of this synod or this diocese. The General Synod has launched the Church of England on a radical process of reform and renewal – something we might hear more about later in our time together. An often-misused word, 'radical' means 'going down to the roots'. And for the church at this time it means recovering our vision and what I sometimes refer to as our 'core vocation'. Many groups and societies could do much that the church does in our communities – if they cared enough and got organised, that is; but, no one else will live and tell the good news of Jesus Christ on our behalf. If we don't do it, nobody will. If we believe this gospel, then, like Paul himself, we will be compelled to bring Christ to people and people to Christ. And we must not be distracted from this mission: to enable people to become and grow as disciples of Jesus Christ for the sake of the church which exists for the sake of the world that is God's.

However, we don't do this in a vacuum. Soon the general election campaign will begin. We will be battered by competing programmes and promises, by a rainbow of colourful rhetoric and differently shaded visions. The recent Pastoral Letter from the House of Bishops – notably and noticeably unread by many of those who confidently commented on it – does not set out a party manifesto; rather, it calls for a new vision for our political life and discourse … one that inspires and draws citizens out to vote. This goes behind the presenting issues that get batted around amid the varieties of pragmatic and reactive politics, asking questions about what are the ends to which particular policies are the means. Christians will come to different conclusions, no doubt; but, Christians must engage with offering a vision that inspires a fresh way of looking at why the world is the way it is and how it might be changed.

And in this context we shall have a short item introducing the Synod to the realities, application and implications of sanctions on benefit claimants. Despite the complexities of some of the political and economic debates about our society and cultures, we are constantly brought back to the people whom the church is called to serve.

It should not be surprising, then, that this Synod is both inward-facing and outward-facing. Governance is not simply about representation and order, but will also shape how the area bishops are to be equipped to offer the leadership required of them. If the area system is designed to bring decision making closer to the ground, then how the bishops are engaged in the governance of the diocese matters. In the debate we will need to be clear about creating a structure that does not militate against what we say we want in terms of leadership, coherence and mission – for example, in creating Area Mission and Pastoral Committees that work. And the point of it all is to free us for effective mission and evangelism.

The Constitutions of Boards and Committees enable us to get the car on the road so we can steer it in the direction we wish to travel. And we need to keep before our eyes the ends to which these are, again, the means – and not confuse the two. Likewise, I shall confirm the appointment of Debbie Child and Ashley Ellis as joint Diocesan Secretaries. The sudden departure of the former acting Diocesan Secretary, John Tuckett, placed a huge responsibility on the shoulders of Debbie and Ashley which they were not obliged to assume or accept. They did, and have continued to exercise leadership and service in trying and complex circumstances, keeping the administration of the existing diocese afloat and taking on the immense task of identifying and enabling the processes that will allow us to create the diocese we choose to be. The Diocesan Registrar will pass on the job descriptions if requested, but at this stage we need to express our support for Debbie and Ashley – and the staff of our offices – in their enormous task.

So, our business is substantial in shaping the diocese for the future. We even get to promulge two canons – and life doesn't get more exciting than that! Yet, the point of the inward-facing stuff is not simply to make us neat and tidy for our own sake, but, rather, to enable us better to face outwards with confidence to a world in need as part of a national church that is deliberately reforming and renewing itself in recognition of the urgency of our task. If we can get some of the internal stuff sorted – or at least get us on the way – then future agendas should be capable of focusing our energies on our external obligations. We must remember that a synod is not there simply to hold people to account, but to enable the church to consider and what being the body of Christ means in flesh and blood in our day.

I am clear that, however we articulate it, we must measure everything against – and draw everything from – a vision that compels us in our common life and witness. We are the church of Jesus Christ, who though being in the form of God, emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. If we are Christian, we must be imitators of this Christ. And, as we walk the way of the cross in the days ahead, we can do so as those grasped by a burning need to give ourselves that others might see how much God loves even them.

That is why I believe we are called to be a vibrant diocese – one that, sensitive to the movement of both the Holy Spirit and the world we are in, vibrates with life and energy. For this to happen we need to enable our clergy to be confident in their calling – in and through the church – in order that they might be equipped to bring Christ to people and people to Christ. Of course, evangelism and nurture are not the sole preserve of clergy; but, the clergy are called to grow communities of disciples who in turn become ministers – confidently living and telling the good news of Jesus Christ in West Yorkshire and the Dales (and Barnsley).

I pray that, rooted in prayer and selflessness, we will keep our focus today and in the future, not confusing ends with means, not settling for mere tidy pragmatism, but being fired with love for Jesus Christ and a commitment to live in and for him in the power of the Holy Spirit for the sake of the world.

So, now to business.

Happy New Year!

I hope.

Here are some (unedited) preliminary thoughts on Day One.

Of course, for most people on the planet it promises to be no more happy than the last year. The horrors of persecution of minorities – especially Christians – on some parts of the planet show no sign of abating; and some countries in the sophisticated liberal west show no sign of offering hospitality to those doing the suffering.

In the UK we face a general election within a few months. The political parties still dance to a first-past-the-post tune when the reality of political allegiance sounds a coalition melody. Unlike other European countries which shape their rhetoric and policy making around coalition inevitabilities, our parties will play an unconvincing game of macho posturing before then having to “do a Lib-Dem” later in May. How many elections might it take before the realities impinge on the rhetoric and the electorate begins to be treated as intelligent (as well as politico-media literate).

The big challenges ahead include: the role of xenophobia or racism in the general election; whether hospitality is offered to refugees and asylum-seekers from places where loss and suffering have become intolerable; public ethics are to be shaped by more than populism.

At the root of all this lies a fundamental question – one that should be put to every candidate in the May election: “What is your theological anthropology?” OK, not in those words. Try: “What is a human person? Why does a human person matter? How do you know?”

These aren’t merely academic philosophical questions. They go to the heart of that from which all policy commitments will follow. For example, if we state that every human being has value (and rights – although the possession of rights cannot be simply derived from existence), how does that shape our policy with regard to letting Africans drown in the Mediterranean Sea, Yezidis freeze on a mountain, Christians get butchered in Syria, or wealth lie in the hands a handful of people in the rich world. I think we will find that policy is disconnected from stated anthropology – or that the stated anthropology is assumed rather than argued for.

This isn’t easy stuff. A Christian anthropology begins in an acceptance that each human person is made in the image of God. Everything stems from that. It goes on to face the reality of human failure (‘sin’) and the power of redemption. This is why Christian hope is not rooted in wishful thinking or a rootless optimism in the progress of human nature, but in the person of God who refuses to let violence, death and destruction have the last word. You may disagree with this anthropology, but at least it is clear why a Christian thinks people matter. And this stuff isn’t easy because, having taken this on board, we still have to work out in an imperfect world how to establish in a contested political space policies that might command support as well as compromise.

It seems that, despite the evidence of the centuries, there is still a widespread assumption that human beings are on an upward trajectory that will eventually lead to world peace. Hegel’s dialectic is somewhat attractive as a descriptor of historical development, but it still assumes that there is an end-point at which the dialectic ceases and we remain static in a state of wonderfulness. On what basis does this assumption rest other than wishful thinking or a blind prejudice that persists in the face of all the evidence? Christians prefer ‘hope’ to optimism.

So, the election campaign ahead of us will be challenging – for a host of reasons. Fundamental questions need to be asked about the anthropologies and moral bases of political judgement and policy – rather than us settling for the usual suspects playing the usual games and indulging in the usual point-scoring rhetoric that is demonstrably leaving most of the electorate cold.

In the context of these macro questions and challenges other realities have to be addressed in 2015. Top of my list is the fact that 2015 is the first full year of life for the Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales. This time last year we still had four months to go before the Appointed Day (the day – Easter Day – when the three historic dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds, and Wakefield would cease to exist and the single new diocese would begin life). We still did not know who would be the first diocesan bishop of Leeds – and I didn’t know if I would have any job in the Church of England after Easter. The future was full of uncertainties.

We go into 2015 with a full team of bishops and a clearer administration. The clergy and churches have been remarkable in continuing their mission in parishes and institutions amid so much continuing uncertainty about future shape and direction. We have begun to grasp nettles – and to identify which nettles need to be grasped, and by whom and when. We now face a year of establishing new governance and structures, focusing on evangelism, nurture and growth, whilst taking seriously our responsibility to serve our local communities in all their diverse complexions. The priority of the poor stands at the heart of all this.

However, the press of priorities has itself to be prioritised. We have to hold our nerve and retain our discipline as we tackle each element of diocesan life, vision, purpose and means in turn. We have to be systematic. We will make mistakes in all this, but they will be honest mistakes. And I am confident that we can renew our confidence, build our capacity (and face the cost of doing so) and ‘inspire by being inspired’ as we shape our future.

So, I look forward to 2015 with hope, faith and realism. No romanticism or vague aspirational optimism. My guess is that it will be a complex year, and that prioritising will not be easy at any level for society, politics or church. But, we can go for it with a theological anthropology that provides parameters within which to live: that the God who has made us in his image sets us free from fear, compels us to love our neighbour as ourself, promises us nothing other than a cross for doing so, and captures our imagination with a vision that takes the world seriously (what Christmas is all about – God opting in to it) whilst placing it into the context of eternity (where death is refused the final word).

This morning the new Bishops of Bradford and Huddersfield were consecrated (not ‘concentrated’, as someone put it in a prayer last week) at York Minster. The immediate reports and photos can be seen here.

This completes the episcopal team for the new Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales (not “Daleks’, as someone printed it recently). The new bishops, Toby Howarth and Jonathan Gibbs will start on 1 December, but might make appearances before then.wpid-Photo-20140709193123.jpg

This is the latest and very important step in shaping the new diocese. We face significant challenges, but fantastic opportunities. The new bishops will find a great openness in the diocese to new ways of doing things. They will also be able to put immediate energy into encouraging, nurturing, challenging and shaping. They will also need to learn the patch and the people – without buying in to all the myths that grow around the church and the way it does its business.

Of course, this is all happening against a backdrop of economic challenge at home and serious international challenge away. It is an exciting and demanding time to take on episcopal ministry and leadership.

Anyway, back to concentrating on the Daleks for this evening…

It's a bit like the London buses: you wait for long enough and two come along at once.

Downing Street has today announced the appointment of two Area Bishops for the newly created Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales of which I am the Diocesan Bishop.

The Revd Dr Toby Howarth, currently Secretary for Inter Religious Affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury and National Inter Religious Affairs Adviser for the Church of England will be the Bishop of Bradford.

The Revd Dr Jonathan Gibbs, currently Rector of Heswall in the Diocese of Chester, will be the first ever Bishop of Huddersfield. This is a new bishopric covering the local authority areas of Calderdale and Kirklees and is one of five areas in the diocese, which each have their own bishop.

We launched the new bishops on a footbridge at Leeds station before they went their ways to their new episcopal areas for meetings with key people from church and society. Which, on reflection, is a great metaphor for what the church is about: stuck in the middle of a public space where people pass by, some paying attention and others not, and glancing off people – whoever they are and wherever they come from.

I am delighted with these appointments which complete our team of bishops. They bring wide experience, great expertise and substantial gifts to our leadership and ministry as we build the new diocese. Both will bring important outside perspectives to this complex task and help bring bishops closer to the ground in parishes and local communities.

Toby Howarth brings expertise in teaching, pastoral care, leadership and interfaith relations at parish, national and international level. This is an important appointment for the Church of England and for Bradford where he will serve as Area Bishop.

Jonathan Gibbs brings to this new office wide experience at parish, diocesan, national and international level. He has been a committed parish priest and has served in a variety of contexts. His appointment is hugely welcome as he establishes the new episcopal area of Huddersfield.

Toby Howarth and Jonathan Gibbs will both be consecrated as bishops in a service at York Minster on Friday 17th October at 11am, conducted by the Archbishop of York.

Here are the brief biographical statements from the diocesan press notice:

The Revd Dr Jonathan Gibbs (aged 53), has been Rector of Heswall in the Diocese of Chester for the last 16 years. Before that he was Chaplain at Basle with Freiburg-im-Breisgau, in the Diocese of Europe from 1992-98.

Jonathan says: “I am delighted to be coming to Yorkshire and to be joining the new Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales at this exciting time. Toni and I are thrilled to be moving to such a great part of the world, with a wealth of culture in its towns and cities as well as beautiful villages and countryside. I am looking forward to working with the other members of the Diocesan team to build up the life of our churches both numerically and spiritually and to contributing to the life of the rich and diverse community in West Yorkshire. I am also very partial to a pint of Timothy Taylor’s “Landlord” and am looking forward to getting to know some more of the local brews!”

Jonathan takes an active role in the Church of England on diocesan, national and international levels: he has been Chair of the House of Clergy in the Diocese of Chester since 2006 and Chair of the Diocesan Clergy Chairs Forum since 2011. He is a member of General Synod, of the Meissen Commission (which links the C of E with the Evangelical Church in Germany), and of the Clergy Discipline Commission. He has also represented the General Synod on the Council of British Funeral Services and the Churches’ Funerals Group, focusing on the importance of clergy working flexibly and creatively to support grieving families.

After gaining an MA in Philosophy and Politics from Jesus College, Oxford, he went on to train for the ministry at Ridley Hall in Cambridge, where he also completed a PhD in Theology at Jesus College. He served his curacy in the Diocese of Chester at Stalybridge Holy Trinity and Christ Church (1989-92).

Jonathan is married to Toni who with others set up the Besom charity on the Wirral, which provides a bridge between those who want to give time, money, things or skills and those who are in need, working with over 40 agencies in the statutory and voluntary sectors. They have three children, Harriet (24) who is married to Matthew Curry, Edward (21) and Thomas (18).

Jonathan’s interests include walking, usually accompanied by their Cocker Spaniel, and rummaging in second-hand bookshops. He is fluent in German, Swiss-German and French and he and Toni have a love of France (where they first met). Jonathan is also a member of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), and is committed to supporting village and community life. As members of the National Trust and English Heritage, they are looking forward to visiting many of Yorkshire’s historic properties.

The Revd Dr Toby Howarth (aged 52), has served as a parish priest, taught and studied in several areas with a variety of different faiths and cultures before working with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England nationally in inter faith relations.

Toby says, “It is a great joy to have been appointed as the new Area Bishop of Bradford. The role has no shortage of opportunities and challenges. I am very much looking forward to working with clergy, congregations and ecumenical partners in the diversity of the city itself, the surrounding towns and rural areas. I am also looking forward to engaging with the communities of which our churches are a part, and building relationships with those involved in the range of civic, statutory and community organisations which make up this vibrant metropolitan district. The Church of England has been bold in creating the new Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, and it will be exciting to work with Bishop Nick Baines and the diocesan leadership team in developing structures that will better enable local churches to flourish and to serve their communities. I want to pray, to look and listen for what God is doing here so that I can join in and take my part.”

After graduating from Yale University in the US, Toby returned to the UK to work as a research assistant and postman before training for ordination in Birmingham, Oxford and Uganda. He was ordained in 1992 and served his curacy in Derby before moving to India with Henriette, his wife, who is from the Netherlands. There they joined the Henry Martyn Institute for Reconciliation and Inter Faith Relations in Hyderabad where he researched for a PhD in Islamic preaching from the Free University of Amsterdam while Henriette taught at a local theological college. In 2000 they moved with their two Indian-born daughters to the Netherlands, where Toby worked as an Evangelist at the Netherlands Reformed ‘Pilgrim Fathers Church’ in Rotterdam. Two years and another daughter later, they moved again, to Birmingham, where Toby became Tutor and then Vice Principal at Crowther Hall, the CMS Training College at Selly Oak, and Henriette was ordained in the Diocese. From 2004 to 2011 Toby was Priest-in-Charge at Springfield, a multi-cultural parish in the South East of the city. From 2005 he served also as Inter Faith Advisor to the Bishop of Birmingham before moving to London to take up his role with the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2011.

As well as helping to develop the church’s relationships and formal dialogue with other religious leaders on issues from global trafficking to religious freedom, Toby has also had responsibility for the Church of England’s ‘Presence and Engagement’ programme (www.presenceandengagement.org) that seeks to encourage dioceses and churches to reach out to and work with people and communities of different faiths. This is led by a national Task Group chaired by the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, now Bishop of Wakefield, and includes several people from West Yorkshire. Toby’s believes strongly that wherever the Church is, Jesus calls it to become a community that lives out his love and compassion.

Toby and Henriette have three daughters: Franciska (17), Lucy (15) and Tamar (12). They enjoy London and being a part of their local community of Peckham, and as a family they are actively involved in their local church. Whenever they can, they like travelling together, particularly linking up with friends across Britain, Europe and further away. On a day off or holiday, Toby enjoys visiting a museum or gallery, reading a novel, playing music, camping or going for a bird-watching walk or cycle ride.

Onward and upward!

 

Appointing bishops is a long process. A year ago yesterday the General Synod voted to dissolve three dioceses and create a single one for West Yorkshire & the Dales, working it in five episcopal areas. Almost six months to the day later I was interviewed for the post of diocesan bishop and asked to do it. Just over three months later the new diocese came into being and I went into episcopal purdah for six weeks. Then, eleven months to the day after the vote to do all this, I legally became the Bishop of Leeds in the Confirmation of Election at York Minster (and received the 'spiritualities'). Today I have been to London to see the Queen at Buckingham Palace for a brief private ceremony at which I received the 'temporalities' of the office. This then allows me to be enthroned in the cathedral next week.

Well, if that sounds simple enough (though long…), I actually have be put in to three cathedrals: Wakefield, Bradford and Ripon. Next week will see yet another first in English history: a bishop being enthroned in three cathedrals in a single diocese. And, in-between these three services, I will also appear at Leeds Minster and Halifax Minster in order to be present in the two episcopal areas without a cathedral per se.

Now, I realise that this sounds longwinded and a little bit convoluted. That's because it is. It is a bizarre process, but one that works in and for normal bishops in normal dioceses. In the creation of a new diocese it has not been an ideal process of change, and we must learn from it for any future such radical change.

But, whatever the challenges of the process, we are now nearly there. My office has been in Leeds since before Easter, and my wife and I will now move house from Bradford to Leeds the week after the enthronements.

The use of the word 'enthronement' sounds a bit dodgy, too, doesn't it? It sounds grand and anachronistic and just a little bit pompous on the part of the person being seated. But, using it also offers an opportunity to reiterate what is actually happening: the bishop is being put into the seat of teaching, discipline and pastoral responsibility. (In the olden days teachers and preachers used to sit while the people stood.) So, what I feel when being enthroned – put into the 'cathedra' in the place where the cathedra is located, the … er … 'cathedral' – is the weight of the office, its demands and responsibilities. Nothing grand, but a certain heaviness and fear (in the proper sense of the word).

I did an interview with a journalist yesterday who asked if, when I was told I had got the Leeds post, I pulled my shirt over my face and ran round the bedroom pumping the air in celebration. (He watches too much football.) He didn't seem convinced when I replied that all I felt was a sense of challenge and responsibility, and a desire to get on with it quickly.

The point of it all is to lead the shaping of a new diocese to enable us better to live out our discipleship of Jesus, to give ourselves for the common good of our communities and region, to grow in confidence in outreach and apologetics, to re-shape the church so as to enable us to get our priorities right. We face hard decisions and there are nettles to be grasped; the challenges are huge, but the opportunities are even greater; the risks are there, but they are not to be feared. So, watch this space.

We're nearly there now. At last.

(I also managed to fit in an interview about leadership development for young people and a meeting about ecumenical developments while in London. And some suited bloke at St James's Park tube station shouted “Monster” at me as I walked past – he obviously doesn't work for the Diplomatic Corps.)

 

Happy Easter!

Today we celebrate God's inability to stay down. Death, violence and destruction do not have the final word in this world, after all; God does. It is 'resurrection'.

Christians are to be people who are drawn by hope, not driven by fear. They are a people who have been grasped by the outrageous good news that endings provide the soil for new beginnings. Christian hope is not rooted in any formula guaranteeing a safe or comfortable life; it is rooted in the person of the God who doesn't avoid a cross, but who empties a tomb and promises us new life.

Today is especially striking. There is a rumour abroad that the church in general and the Church of England in particular is incapable or unwilling to change. Well, here in West Yorkshire & the Dales we have opted for change in a serious way. The new diocese is born at midnight, ushering in the light of Easter. We face many challenges as a consequence of our willingness to take the risk of dying in order to live – but, we will face them as people of hope whose hearts and imaginations have been caught by Jesus himself.

We are an Easter people and hallelujah is the song that will not be silenced.

 

This is a poignant week. Not only do we we in the church consciously walk with Jesus and his bizarre group of friends through acclamation, popularity, betrayal, denial, desertion and death, but up here in West Yorkshire we experience all the emotions that go with 'endings'.

This evening my office closed for ever. Tomorrow I will preach and preside at Bradford Cathedral with the clergy and ministers as we recall Jesus sharing a final meal with the friends who would fail him so badly only hours after pledging eternal allegiance to him. We will re-affirm our ordination vows, looking with a confident humility to the future, fully conscious of our failure to be consistent. On Saturday night the Dioceses of Bradford, Wakefield, and Ripon & Leeds will end and the new Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales will be born. On Monday I will become the acting Bishop of Leeds until I get made 'legal' on 8 June at York Minster. My office in Leeds will open for business on 30 April. We will move house at the end of July (structural problems have been found and will take some time to resolve).

A crucified ankle bone (Basel)

Even those of us who believe completely in the way we have chosen cannot help but find this ending poignant. Earlier generations have been faithful to their call from God to celebrate and hand on the faith – and we are now called to be faithful to the challenges and opportunities presented to us.

Holy Week is a good time to prepare for this – despite the sheer hard work and hidden complexity of just making the new diocese legal, viable and operational on day one. Endings are important and need to be lived with. But, Sunday is coming and apparent endings are surprised by the irruption of new life and a hope that cannot be quenched. Christians are constantly told by Jesus not to be afraid: after all, we are drawn by hope, not driven by fear.

The practical work and decision-making involved in creating the new diocese are detailed, demanding and challenging. My colleagues deserve medals, but only get a barrage of emails! And Sunday is coming.

In fact, most people in the parishes and institutions of West Yorkshire & the Dales won't notice much difference at first. Changing the bank accounts overnight is unlikely to excite a great wave of joy. But, those whose lives and roles are affected will notice – and they are examples of vision, courage, faith and hope.

This might sound a bit trivial in the light of Syria, the dangerous situation in Ukraine, the sinking of a ferry in South Korea (to say nothing of Liverpool's Premiership title ambitions). However, the local and the personal are always most powerful, even if the wider world helps keep things in perspective.change is always upon us: we either shape it or we become victims of it. Our three dioceses have decided to shape the future and have taken the brave step of choosing to commit ourselves to both the known and unknown challenges that face us.

 

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.

 

It was announced at 10am this morning by 10 Downing Street that I have been nominated to become the first (Anglican) Bishop of Leeds for the new diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales. The Archbishop of York is to present me in Leeds before we then go on a tour of the cathedrals in Wakefield, Bradford and Ripon. Tomorrow I will visit the three diocesan offices before then, finally, starting my sabbatical proper by going away for a few days.

I have not taken this appointment lightly. The last three years – the announcement of my appointment to Bradford came one week after publication of the Dioceses Commission proposals to dissolve three dioceses and create a single new one for the region – have been enjoyable, but demanding. I have agreed to this new appointment with hope, vision and realism. I am looking forward with confidence and curiosity to working with colleagues across the new dioceses as we do something unique for the Church of England: to create a new diocese that can compel us to focus on our basic mission: the worship of God, living out our vocation in and for the sake of the world, offering pastoral community, and seeing the church grow in number, depth and discipleship.

That last statement begs a lot of questions. In the new diocese we will have to face some hard questions as we re-shape how we do what we do for the sake of the Kingdom of God. We already bring enormous strengths, and we can look to the challenges and opportunities of the future with both enthusiasm and confidence. Soaked in prayer and drawn by hope, we have a unique invitation to create a diocese that chooses to renew its vision and strategic direction (how to make the vision real) – a matter of will and discipline as well as inclination.

I look forward to this new ministry and to getting to know people and places over the years ahead of us. Despite the inevitable million distractions, my prayer is simple: that the God who calls and equips us will, by his Spirit, fire our imagination, strengthen our resolve and keep our eyes focused on the Jesus we love and serve.

(I also now have to add Leeds United, Huddersfield Town, Barnsley and Halifax Town to Bradford City to my list of football affections…)