Case has not been made by Church for vast new diocese

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From: Kate Taylor, Honorary Lay Canon of Wakefield Cathedral, Pinder’s Grove, Wakefield.

THE Bishop of Bradford hopes that those taking part in the (hugely important) vote at their diocesan synods on Saturday will not be “limited by fear, nostalgia or protection of our own comfort” and will opt for the change that will provide a new diocese embracing West Yorkshire and the Dales (Yorkhire Post, February 22).

I am “limited” by none of those considerations though I suggest that tradition and a sense of identity are not lightly to be dismissed.

Entirely unmoved by the 
classic trick of deriding the opposition, I intend to vote against the scheme because I do not find the rationale for it persuasive.

The report of the Church of England Dioceses Commission, and Nick Baines himself, make a good case for small episcopal units within the large diocese where, most importantly, the area bishop will have the intimacy of contact. But I find the supposed “benefits of scale” of the vast diocese itself quite elusive.

My concerns are not about the travel to which the bishop refers, but rather about how the increased amount of work for, for example, the new Diocesan Registrar, the Director of Religious Education, and the Diocesan Advisory Committee can be adequately carried out, as they so well are in the present dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds, and Wakefield, unless there are deputies and assistants or divisions. This raises the question of cost-effectiveness.

Issues that are far more important for the mission of the Church are invoked in the scheme. Apparently ignoring the developments over the past 40 years, it is claimed, but without saying how, that it will provide the opportunity “to involve the laity more fully in the delivery of mission”. It is argued that the current challenges for the church require a “broad range of diverse skills, expertise and experience within its clergy and members” which “no one diocese” has at present. This is so generalised as to be meaningless and seems to me something of an insult to the present wealth of talent in the existing dioceses.

Among the other virtues claimed for the scheme is that the Metropolitan City of Leeds, which currently impinges on all three dioceses, would lie wholly in the new superdiocese, thus making it easier for the Church to “speak with one voice” to the civic authorities. I believe the argument is given undue emphasis and is misguided.

The sole example given in the report of the advantage of the one diocesan voice lies in the field of education. Here in the past, more than one voice has been useful! Following the 1902 Education Act, the great West Riding Education Authority was responsible for all elementary schools in the dioceses (then) of Ripon, Wakefield and York. It was for some years ruthlessly hard on church schools (and those of other denominations). It cannot but have been a good thing for the Church that three diocesan Inspectors of Religious Education and, more importantly, their bishops, opposed the Authority’s actions. Importantly, in this vexed period between 1904 and 1908 the dioceses made many representations to Parliament via their MPs on issues relating to the schools. Still today if the Church is to pursue its mission aim to “transform unjust structures of society”, contact with MPs and indeed the episcopal presence in the House of Lords are at least as important as relations with local government. The report of the Dioceses Commission makes no reference to association with Parliamentary constituencies and in reducing the number of diocesans from three to one weakens the position of the Church in Parliament.

I suggest we send the Dioceses Commission back to the drawing board.