Changing demographics and a decline in religious adherence has led a Church of England commission to recommend consolidation of two or more dioceses. Final action requires the approval of General Synod and Parliament.
From the press release:
The report … recommends that there should be a single diocese, instead of the current three, covering West Yorkshire and those parts of the Dioceses of Bradford and Ripon & Leeds that are in North Yorkshire.
The new, de-centralised, diocese would be divided into five episcopal areas – Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds, Ripon and Wakefield – each with its own area bishop and area council to achieve a strong element of devolution within a context of rationalization. “The area bishops,” the report says, “would be, as many have requested, closer in every sense to their clergy and people than it has been possible for the diocesan bishops to be.”
It also recommends that the new diocese would retain all three existing cathedrals. …. Overall, the diocese would have the same number of bishops as the current three dioceses but one fewer archdeacon.
The proposals would eliminate duplication and triplication and offer the prospect of greater efficiency and resilience in the support of parishes, schools, clergy and other licensed ministers, the report argues.
For more of the press release and links to report go to the roundup at Thinking Anglicans. Reaction from the dioceses is also included. There is some resistance.
The first major shake-up of dioceses for almost 100 years could also see senior bishops replaced by lower-paid juniors, and millions of pounds shaved off central administration costs.
The move comes at a time when the Church is facing a severe financial squeeze, with £1billion wiped off its national assets last year.
Insiders said the crisis was particularly acute in parts of the country where population shifts had accelerated a general decline in churchgoing, hitting church collections which feed diocesan coffers.
One said: ‘Some areas with a high concentration of Muslim migrants have experienced “white flight” and the Church is struggling to maintain a foothold.’
The language is not of cuts, but instead of a “radical and realistic” approach, and Church House argues the changes will make “for more effective ministry and mission”. But for all the attempts to try and talk up the new proposals, it is difficult to see past the fact this represents the first time the Church has reduced the number of its dioceses.
It is also difficult not to see the merger – or axing depending on which way you’re looking at it – in the context of the rise of Islam in Britain. In Bradford, one of the dioceses that is being subsumed, Muslims make up as much as three-quarters of the population in some parishes.
Dr Priscilla Chadwick, who chaired the review, said the report was “mission-led and not finance-driven”, though she said money would be saved through the cutbacks and mergers. “We have asked which structures will best enable the Church of England to relate to the communities of Yorkshire, which will be most intelligible to non-churchgoers, which would eliminate wasteful duplication, and which are likely to prove resilient and sustainable into the medium term,” she said.
How would a report of this kind be received in The Episcopal Church? Would increase the likelihood that dioceses would undertake a necessary consolidation?