Churches sceptical over move to merge dioceses

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PARISH churches across the Bradford area have expressed serious reservations about the creation of a new merged “super-diocese” in Yorkshire.

Anglican Church leaders met at the weekend in Skipton to debate plans to replace the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds, and Wakefield with a single diocese, saving about £800,000 a year.

Some parish church leaders believe the plan is financially motivated and could weaken the mission of the Church.

Critics fear that a much larger diocese will be dominated by Leeds to the detriment of other towns and cities.

Church councils in Oxenhope, Haworth and Cross Roads-cum-Lees said they failed to see what benefit the proposal would bring.

In a joint statement, the trio said: “Our conclusion is that this exercise is to appease Leeds City’s appetite to dominate West Yorkshire, to the detriment of the surrounding areas and parishes.

“Out second conclusion is that the financial business case is poorly constructed and unsound. A far more detailed case needs to be built so that the real potential savings and benefits are identified.”

There are also concerns that the new diocese will be called the Diocese of Leeds, although it could informally be known as West Yorkshire and the Dales.

The Cross Roads-cum Lees parochial church council concluded that “the boundary proposals are primarily aimed at cost cutting and not mission”.

And the Rev Michael Cowgill, of the United Benefice of Sutton with Cowling and Lothersdale, said a Church of England report on the proposed changes “is not convincing in believing that the changes will improve the Mission of the Church”.

The Rev John Peet, the Vicar of Cononley with Bradley, said he was concerned about “over centralisation” and the perceived “downgrading of Bradford” by taking away its Bishop.

He added: “To name the new diocese ‘Leeds’ may be insensitive and unhelpful.”

The criticisms and comments in favour came in response to questions sent to 135 Bradford parishes which prompted replies from over 40.

Many of the responses backed the proposals and on Saturday the majority of Bradford Synod members voted to support “in principle” the idea of a new, merged diocese.

A total of 48 members voted in favour of the principle of a merger, eight were against the idea and three abstained.

Clergy on the Leeds edge of the Bradford Diocese are among the supporters of the proposed changes.

The Rev Catherine Norman, of St Peter’s at Rawdon, Leeds, said: “Most people in Rawdon work in Leeds and identify with Leeds. People have very little identification with the city of Bradford or Bradford Cathedral.”

Bishop of Bradford Nick Baines, who is backing the proposal, said it would create a “confident and more expansive diocese” which would be more successful in attracting clergy.

He said the proposals were “not before us in order simply to save money”, adding: “It is a vision for a better-resourced and locally-supported parish system that drives this and persuades me that the future lies in us having the courage to do something new.

“And, as I have said before, the people, clergy, churches and parishes remain... whatever the changes to the ‘badging’ or the mechanics of making the system work.”

Consultation on the draft plan will continue until April 30.

Comments will be passed to the Dioceses Commission, which may make further changes to the proposals before a final scheme is agreed and passed to the Church of England’s governing body.