Friday, 29 July 2011

Dioceses Commission Gives Little Away

Hi there, folks! If you follow the blog, you may have gathered from the tone of the last couple of posts, and the infrequency of writing over the last week, that we have been on holiday in Wales. It seems that the world has not been on holiday, however - famine in the Horn of Africa, the Norwegian bombings and shootings, the ever-surprising twists and turns in the phone hacking crisis (will it yet bring the government down?), the turmoil in the Middle East and the anxiety in the financial sector make it very difficult to know what to blog about next! The nature of blogging is that you need to be up-to-the-moment but you also need to avoid saying anything so precipitately that your judgements are worthless, plain wrong and make you look foolish within twenty four hours!

Holidaying though we have been, it has not escaped my attention that the Dioceses Commission (which is the body that re-organizes 'executive' areas in the Church of England) has published an interim report stating that it intends to act on its earlier proposals to create a single diocese out of the dioceses of Wakefield, Bradford and Ripon and Leeds, in Yorshire. This will be the first time the Commission has, in fact, substantially reorganised a region and their proposals create both exciting opportunities and the potential to get things wrong if done without a proper understanding of what makes Yorkshire tick. Their initial report, published in November 2010, opened up a period of consultation and the Commission now thinks that it has received sufficient evidence to persuade it to proceed with its plans to dissolve the three present dioceses and create one large one with a diocesan bishop and four area bishops.

Frankly, with the exception of the decisions it has reached about the transfer of some parishes to other dioceses (see below),  the interim report doesn't seem to tell us a great deal. It merely sets out a timetable for future developments. I quote from the Thinking Anglicans website,

'The Commission announces that in the light of the responses they have received, it is drawing up a re-organisation scheme to replace the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds and Wakefield with a single new diocese, as well as draft instruments for the creation of episcopal areas. The draft scheme will be published in October 2011 and will be accompanied by a statement of the effect of the propsals on the mission of the Church of England and a detailed estimate of the financial effect of the creation of a single diocese.'

The question of the transfer of parishes to other dioceses will apparently be covered in a second scheme to be published at the same time (October 2011). However, the interim report states that the Commission intends to write into the scheme provision for the transfer of the parishes of Laithkirk, Romaldkirk, Bowes, Startforth, Brignall and Rokeby to the diocese of Durham (see 3.2.1,2,3,4 and 5.) Wycliffe is to remain in the new diocese. In the case of the parishes in the East Richmond Team and the Lower Swale which were asked to consider transfering to York Diocese, it intends to recommend that a final decision is postponed until a full review of the Diocese of York has been undertaken (3.6.1,2,3 and 4.) In the case of the parishes bordering on the Archdeaconry of Leeds, the interim report remains silent. The parishes concerned will know that this does not, in every case, follow the expressed wishes of the PCCs concerned. In the case of the Durham parishes, the Commission was of the opinion that the responses of the PCCs did not present any persuasive evidence to make them think again. In the case of the York parishes, they were persuaded that to make a decision without a proper review of the York diocese would be precipitate and might lead to a poor decision.   

This week's interim report doesn't give answers to any of the larger questions of detail about the new diocese which we, in Yorkshire, are all so interested in. It does not address the question of the name of the diocese, nor the question of the locations of the diocesan bishop and the administrative centre; it does not make clearer the status and responsibilites of the cathedrals or the financial arrangements for either diocese or cathedrals. It does underline that the impetus for a single diocese is not a response to numerical or financial decline; the Commission belives its proposals will enhance the church's ability to reach out to the communities of the region and to be more effective in terms of its mission. The scheme promised in October will be accompanied by a document clearly setting out the reasons for this, we are told. 

So, all in all, the gist of the Commission's announcement is that it is now committed to a one-diocese scheme with five episcopal areas and the transfer of some parishes to surrounding dioceses. However, it has not yet completed the necessary detailed work on how the scheme will be established and made workable. This will come in October and will be followed by a further statutory period of consultation. The Commission has listened to our request (contained in our Diocesan Synod's response to the initial report) for clarification on how the finances will work and on just why the whole thing will be better for mission. (As I have stated in other places, I think that if you read the original report thoroughly, it is pretty clear on the latter topic.) The point to stress now is that it will be vital for deaneries, PCCs, teams and indiviuals to respond with reasonable speed once the scheme is published. When we see the detail, we will have a much better grasp of the possible advantages, disadvantages and pit falls. This is the part of the process which is, in my opinion, crucial - the bringing together of well researched proposals with local knowledge. So my message is, clear a couple of evenings in late October or early November when you can read the scheme and the accompanying documents and then make sure you send your comments to the Commission before it is too late! And, if they show no signs of doing anything, needle your PCC, Deanery Synod and Chapter into having a proper, informed discussion of the issues and making their response.  Absolutely everbody is free to do this. Obviously, well thought-through and knowledgable responses from groups are likely to make more impact than very subjective or ill informed responses from  individuals.

The Interim report

Thinking Anglicans website
The Bishop of Bradford's blog

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