Members of the General Synod, the Church’s national assembly which is meeting in York, approved the scheme to dissolve the three existing dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds and Wakefield and replace them with a single new diocese of Leeds, with a working name of West Yorkshire and the Dales.
The move – which was opposed by the Wakefield diocese – has been prompted by declining congregations, fewer clergy and weakened finances. Under the scheme, there will be a new bishop, the Bishop of Leeds, with two new suffragan, or area, bishops, of Bradford and Huddersfield.
The three existing cathedrals of Bradford, Ripon and Wakefield will remain cathedrals, with Leeds parish church, known as Leeds Minster, made a “pro-cathedral”. The earliest possible date for the new diocese to come into effect is January 1.
The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, said: “I believe July 8 was a great day for the mission of the Church of England in West Yorkshire and the Dales. We had worked very hard to ensure that the measure for the new diocese is fit for purpose and I believe it to be so.
“The new opportunities for collaborative working need to be seized.
“In our own diocese both our archdeaconries have considerable change with new possibilities and new challenges.
“We need, with our colleagues in Wakefield and Bradford, to demonstrate that we can use the new structures to enhance the mission of the Church.”
Earlier, the General Synod voted to restart the process of introducing women bishops after widespread recriminations over the defeat of legislation last year.
The Archbishop of Canterbury admitted more work needs to be done if legislation introducing women bishops is to clear its final hurdle at the General Synod at a potential vote in July or November 2015.
The Most Rev Justin Welby said the General Synod would need to continue “working at it” in its attempts to introduce women bishops into the Church of England, and added: “There is a strong desire to get it done – we aren’t at the stage of saying ‘should we ordain women as bishops’, we are at the stage of saying ‘We are going to ordain women as bishops, how do we go about that?’”
The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Nigel Stock, said the Church’s bishops viewed the issue as “urgent” and described last November’s decision as “a serious blow to our female clergy”.
But the Rev Rod Thomas, from Plymouth, of the conservative evangelical group Reform, said: “If we go ahead with it, then we will not have achieved that objective of mutual flourishing, because instead of allowing people of my integrity to flourish within the Church there will be a sense of gnawing anxiety on our part if we go down the route as it stands.”
The new push to introduce women bishops comes after the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the “significant absence of trust” over the issue within the General Synod.
The Archbishop said: “This is not about whether, but about how, so that women are ordained on exactly the same basis as men and all parts of the Church of England may be enabled to flourish.”
Meanwhile, a man has appeared in court charged with two counts of assault during a high-profile church service at York Minster. Scott Apps, 42, of no fixed address, was remanded in custody until July 15 after appearing before York magistrates yesterday in connection with the incident on Sunday. He is also charged with engaging in violent behaviour in a church.
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, was due to give the key sermon at the service, which forms part of the General Synod meeting, when the incident took place on Sunday. One of Dr Sentamu’s staff and a steward suffered minor injuries. The service was attended by senior members of the Church of England including the Archbishop of Canterbury.