This article was published today in the Yorkshire Post.

I remember 7 July 2005 very clearly.

I was in my office in Croydon when a friend phoned to say she couldn't meet me in London later because “London is closed”. She said the train from Leicester had been stopped at Peterborough and turned around. Passengers had been told that a power surge had shut the rail network.

It wasn't long before the shocking news began to drip through that in fact there had been four suicide bombings and the casualty numbers were going to be high. Within an hour all the buildings around the station had been evacuated and the station cordoned off. Fear of further attacks was palpable.

The next morning I was due to be at meetings in central London. There was a lot of questioning about whether it was safe to use public transport or venture into town at all. I was clear that (a) you can't let terrorists win by giving them what they want, and (b) life must carry on. So, I went.

Two weeks later there was a second attempted attack, but it failed. On a visit to Belmarsh Prison later that year I met the alleged terrorists and had a conversation with them about scriptures.

As we discovered very quickly, the bombers came from West Yorkshire; and questions began to be raised about what it was about this part of the world that made young people capable and willing to commit such atrocities. Of course, the religious motivation behind these murderous actions soon became the focus of media speculation and the satellite vans descended on Leeds and its environs.

The ten years since those appalling events have been both encouraging and discouraging.

Whatever the (often simplistic) public debates about radicalisation or ghettoisation in West Yorkshire, much significant positive work has gone on under the media radar. Relationships between Christians, Muslims, Jews and others have been worked at on the ground in order that they are strong and supportive when the crises come. When Muslims feel scapegoated by wider society in the wake of some Islamist atrocity somewhere else, it is often those of other faiths who maintain the friendship and keep the communications open. Although some local authorities are locked into a narrow conceptual preoccupation with 'community cohesion', they often facilitate and encourage serious initiatives that bring people together and break down barriers.

There are numerous examples of mutual care and compassion in our communities as well as honest debate and discussion about the hard issues: why some young people reject 'normality' and have their head and heart turned by exclusive and violent ideology; how doctrinal teaching can breed in young people the seeds of hatred; how the isolation of ghettoised communities can be countered and schools become places of encounter with difference.

The last decade has taught us that communities finding themselves under media scrutiny naturally turn in on themselves in preemptive self-defence. Muslims fear being scapegoated for the sins of the fanatics, and they resent the ignorance of outside commentators who find basic distinctions such as “ethnic” and “religious” too difficult to comprehend.

Clearly, radicalisation has its roots not just in religion, but in poverty, ideology and politics. (The Arab Spring turned into a nightmare ignited by responses to the chaos left behind by western invasions and occupations.) However, what has been particularly interesting about the western response to radicalisation and the cases of individuals and entire families disappearing to join so-called Islamic State is its bewilderment. We are told that we need to educate our Muslim young people better so that they know how appalling are life conditions under IS – that they will be subject to a brutal religious ideology that might involve them in violence and suffering. Of course, many of those who have left the relative comfort of 'home' in the UK are extremely well educated and fully cognisant of what they are heading off to. Education is not the issue. Information is not lacking. What perhaps is lacking is inspiration to see life and death here as in any way valuable or attractive.

I don't say this lightly, and I certainly don't say it in defence of Islamic maniacs who are prepared to do unspeakable things to innocent men, women and children. But, if we are to begin to understand what attracts then drives (mainly) young men and women to leave behind a life of humdrum security for a (perhaps short) life of action, we must ask this question: how do we offer our disillusioned young people an alternative world view and lifestyle that captures the imagination, fires up vision and inspires self-sacrifice (in a non-mortal sense)?

In one sense, none of this is new. Young people are always – and always have been – susceptible to alternative inspirations. But, our question in 2015 has to do with how we inspire young people to see value beyond celebrity and consumerism in a world short on vision and long on entertainment.

We need to continue to work in schools and places of worship to enable integration in a multicultural and multifaith and multiethnic society. We also face an urgent need to offer real opportunities to elements of this society who – rightly or wrongly – feel disenfranchised, disempowered and disillusioned. But, education won't do this alone; we need to inspire. And that is a much harder task.

 

Doesn’t this video of Bradford’s city centre make you want to visit? Not only this, but the architecture here is fantastic… if you just look up a little.

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 know it sounds weird, but I always have this feeling as 31 December motors on towards midnight that we have climbed a long, high ladder… only to fall off and have to start again on the bottom rung. So, 2012 ends as 2013 appears over the horizon. The Sound of Music is on the telly, Harry Hill's Livin' the Dreem is on my lap, the world continues, but some things never change.

The Bradford Telegraph & Argus, our excellent local paper, consistently gets one thing wrong. The proposals that three dioceses in West Yorkshire should be dissolved and a single, new diocese created in 2013 presents a fantastic and creative opportunity to re-imagine and re-shape the Church of England's mission in this part of the country. Yet, despite numerous explanations and careful use of language, the T&A persists in stating that “Bradford will be subsumed into the Diocese of Leeds” and that the Bishop of Bradford will “lose his job”. This just feeds the local prejudices about Leeds and misrepresents what is proposed.

First, there is no 'Diocese of Leeds' into which the Diocese of Bradford can be 'subsumed'. Secondly, the proposal sees the dissolution of three dioceses: Bradford, Wakefield and Ripon & Leeds – all three on the same terms. Thirdly, a completely new Diocese of Leeds – to be known as the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales – would then be created: a new entity and not a simple 'merger' or 'amalgamation' of three. Fourthly, I won't “lose my job”; rather, the post of (Diocesan) Bishop of Bradford would go, paving the way for a more focused (Area) Bishop of Bradford to be appointed. What happens to me is irrelevant to this; the Church is not to be held hostage to the role, 'career prospects' or security of bishops when re-shaping its organisation and ministry.

Right, got that out of my system. It isn't that hard to grasp, is it?

Anyway, 2013 remains as unknown and unpredictable as every other year, every other month, very other day in history. We live as if the past was ordered and coherent when, in fact, it never has been. We largely make it up as we go along. Assumptions that everything should continue as before should by now be seen to be a fantasy. The banking crisis caused the disappearance of pensions that people had paid into for decades; jobs with 'tenure' simply disappeared in a moment; business that looked permanent simply broke down. A contingent world inhabited by mortal human beings can change in an instant.

I am not being miserable or encouraging short-termism here. I am simply commending a reality check on our perspectives and expectations.

So, 2013 beckons. As poverty worsens and the government seems increasingly impervious to an understanding (I am avoiding the 'soft' word empathy) of how most people live, the gambling industry grows in ubiquity by the day. Might there just be the merest hint of a link between increasing poverty and the desperate illusion of instant unearned financial salvation… even against both all the odds and all experience? The new year holds no prospects of an Olympics or a Diamond Jubilee – although the prospect of Liverpool re-building under Brendan Rodgers keeps some of us going with some degree of optimism – and there doesn't seem to be a prospect of any repeat of the national celebration we saw in 2012.

What does lie ahead? Continuing inhumanity in Syria, endless suffering of Christian communities in places like Nigeria and Pakistan, relentless tribal conflict hiding behind identities labeled by race, religion or political creed. Economic austerity at home will bring challenges that can only be ignored by wilful blindness. The world will continue to face new challenges and opportunities – as it has done in every other generation. With a bit of humility, a developing sense of history (and what can be learned from it), some creative ambition and a renewed love of God and neighbour, we might just face some of these challenges with renewed ambition, creative imagination, generous humility and solidarity.

And what does the Christian gospel offer? I suggest the following:

1. Hope – rooted in a community of ordinary people who have been grasped by a refusal to consent to the assumption that death, violence and destruction have the final word in this world: God does, and it sounds something like 'resurrection'.

2. Commitment – followers of Jesus (however often we fail) cannot do other than get stuck in to the real world we inhabit: the good news is that God has, in Christ, opted into the contingent, contradictory and vulnerable messiness of the world… and refused to exempt himself from it. Christians inescapably commit themselves not only to worship and the building of the church, but to sacrificial service of their local community and the wider world.

3. Confidence – even when ridiculed or lazily dismissed by the effortlessly superior commentariat: the Christian church doesn't confuse repeated mantras of 'weakness' or 'irrelevance' with 'reality'. Whatever else happens, we won't either give up or go away. Confidence is not arrogance – it is grounded in reality coloured by hope.

So, having long ago rejected inventing soon-to-be-moved-on-from New Year Resolutions, I face the new year with the words of some largely anonymous Palestinians from two millennia ago. Mark 10 contrasts the blindness of those close to Jesus (James and John, in particular, who think godliness is all about personal status and security) with the vision of a blind man, Bartimaeus. The former see it as their job to keep Jesus from being disturbed or distracted – away from people like Bartimaeus; but, Jesus confounds their narrow little world and tells them to bring the blind man to him. So, they go to him… and these are the words that hang in my consciousness at a time of uncertainty:

Take heart, get up, he is calling you.

In other words: be encouraged and stop colluding with the fatalism and defeatism hanging in the air; don't be bound by the miserable prejudices of those who see themselves as the guardians of mercy. Now, get up, do something about it: faith is never merely notional, but has to be worked out and lived in choices and priorities and action. And don't think this is for others: he is inescapably calling me/us/you to commitment to this community of motivated people who dance to a different tune in this world – a tune that is an echo of another world.

Happy new year!

(And now back to the Sound of Music…)

 

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.”

Notes

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.