Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Strange goings on in Yorkshire

As I understand it last Sunday, Easter Day, there came into being the merger of three Anglican dioceses in Yorkshire to create a new see of West Yorkshire and the Dales. 

This has been done by amalgamating the Diocese of Ripon, founded in 1836, and in recent years styled Ripon and Leeds, whose territory was the western half of the North Riding and the north-eastern part of the West Riding, with the diocese of Wakefield, founded in 1888 - a strip of the central West Riding including Halifax, Huddersfield, Barnsley and Pontefract - and that of Bradford, founded in 1926, which comprised the north-west West Riding up to Skipton and Sedbergh.

Under the scheme the diocese will have three co-cathedrals - Ripon, Wakefield and Bradford plus the recently elevated pro-cathedral in Leeds - and the new Bishop will be assisted by at least two suffragans. the existing diocesan Bishops have retired and the suffragans of Knaresborough and Pontefract have stepped up to take the titles of Ripon and Wakefield respectively. The other West Riding diocese, Sheffield has been left alone. All clear so far?

Now this is my home area, and I can see there was a case for adjusting diocesan boundaries to align with local government ones and social realities and patterns. I can see a case for combining the cities of Bradford and Leeds in one urban diocese, rather like the Anglican dioceses of Birmingham or Manchester, with a cathedral and a pro-cathedral to keep both cities happy. If that were done the rural part of Bradford diocese could be returned to Ripon to create a large, essentially rural/market town diocese, and Wakefield might take in part of the adjacent southern bits of Ripon, and its boundary with Sheffield adjusted in the outskirts of Barnsley. That might well make sense, even good sense.

However what has been done, to my tiny mind, makes no sense whatsoever. There will be a vast new unwieldy diocese, whose people will not know one another. I recall from my days in the Wakefield diocese that the Anglo-Catholic inclined deaneries of Pontefract and Barnsley had little in common with those around Huddersfield and Halifax; when I was on the Diocesan Synod it was a meeting of strangers, guarding our own interests, rather than of a genuine corporate body. 

There will still be three bishops at least, and three cathedrals and a pro-cathedral with their establishments, and doubtless as many Archdeacons etc, not to mention all the diocesan bureaucracy of boards for parsonages, education, ministry..... So the case for economies of scale looks pretty thin.

I am told that one bright idea was to call this monstrosity the diocese of Leeds - until it dawned on the organisers that there is such a body, the Catholic diocese created in 1878 for the West Riding (now minus the fairly recent Sheffield-based diocese of Hallam). Since when did Church of England dioceses have such territorial names as "West Yorkshire and the Dales" rather than using the name of the See city? Since now obviously. How we used to smile slightly, if politely, at the titles of colonial bishoprics such as The Gambia and the Rio Pongos, or even Australian dioceses such as Wangaratta...

There will, I can well imagine, be twenty years of telling parishioners how wonderful this barmy scheme is, despite all the evidence to the contrary, followed by a twenty year long period of divorce and dissolution, back to three separate dioceses...

I know the Church of England has an unfortunate predilection these days for daft ideas - the ordination of women is not a unique aberration - but this one really is a classic. Whoever had this bright idea will, no doubt, get a mitre or an O.B.E. out of it, but they certainly will not deserve it.

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