Church dioceses to debate merger proposal

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PLANS for a new Yorkshire “super-diocese” are a step closer to reality today after the Church body responsible for boundary reviews agreed to press ahead with a draft scheme to merge Ripon and Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield.

The Dioceses Commission said the proposals represented a “once-in-a generation opportunity for reinvigorating mission in the region” as it announced its decision yesterday.

It said the current diocesan map owes more to history than the way its communities are now shaped and had received “overwhelming evidence” that the Church’s structures no longer reflect current social, economic and demographic realities on the ground.

A revised scheme will be published by the end of October alongside a fresh report addressing concerns and setting out potential benefits of a single diocese.

The dioceses will then vote on the plans by next March before the General Synod – the Church’s “parliament” – is invited to debate the scheme in July.

If it approves the proposals, the new Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales could be established as early as next autumn.

Commission chairman Professor Michael Clarke said: “The Commission is clear that this represents a remarkable and unique opportunity for the Church of England.”

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, has welcomed the news, as has the Bishop of Bradford.

The Rt Rev Nick Baines said: “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 ensure our eventual decisions are fully informed and made for the right reasons.”

The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Rev Stephen Platten, who has previously urged a rethink of the plans, reacted with more apprehension, however.

He said: “Now the Dioceses Commission has decided to proceed with its proposal we look forward to an open and honest debate within the Diocese of Wakefield.

“It will be important that people holding a range of views on the proposal have an opportunity to contribute to a wide-ranging and fruitful discussion before the Diocesan Synod votes next March.”

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post before yesterday’s announcement, the Dean of Wakefield also expressed his reservations about the merger.

The Very Rev Jonathan Greener fears it would result in only one cathedral in the super-diocese continuing to receive grants from the Church Commissioners, the trustees who manage the Church of England’s £5.6bn assets.

Losing the money would result in mid-week closures at the cathedral and jeopardise the cathedral’s choir, education and community programmes, he said.

“These three cathedrals rely on these grants literally to keep their doors open. If the funding did go we would have to shut our doors some of the week,” he said.

Closures would also lead to less donations from visitors, another major funding stream, he added.

“You’ve still got the cost of running the building, insuring it, maintaining it, but you don’t have any income because it’s not open. It’s a disaster,” he said.