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Yorkshire Diocesan Reorganisation

Monday 8th July 2013

The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu today spoke in the General Synod debate about the Yorkshire Diocesan Reorganisation Scheme. His speech in full follows...

"Members of Synod, I beg your indulgence for a few moments so I can focus on some of the issues we are addressing in this debate. I would like to cover just three issues:


  1. Why I see this Scheme as so important for the Church of England generally, and in particular for the Church in West Yorkshire and the Dales.
  2. A few thoughts about Cathedrals that have dominated much of the discussion in West Yorkshire and the Dales.
  3. Some reflections and tributes to those who have got us to this point.


Let us recall for a moment how the Chair of the Dioceses Commission started this debate.


He referred to the remit we in this Synod gave the Commission. A remit to:

  • look imaginatively at our traditional and historical boundaries, and
  •  to treat each of the geographical areas on its merits, without imposing a standard solution.


That is precisely what I believe that the Commission has done here.    They began the task by looking at the Dioceses of Yorkshire. In the course of their consultations it became clear that there was great synergy between the Dioceses of West Yorkshire and the Dales, and so it was decided to leave the Dioceses of Sheffield and York out of this particular scheme.


May I inform the General Synod that, right now, the Dioceses Commission is consulting the Diocese of York on its delivery of mission and is considering whether the structures we have enable that mission to be delivered.



Hence there is a freeze on the appointments of Whitby and Selby, until we receive the Commission’s recommendations for our Diocese.


In focussing on the Dioceses of West Yorkshire and the Dales, I believe the Commission has come up with the best solution for these three dioceses in this particular part of God’s own county. The key to this is a call to a collaborative way of working, not allowing ancient boundaries to stand in the way of effective mission. Regionally the three Dioceses cohere and they would make a diocese that would deliver mission across the piece.


Synod may also be interested to know that, with the new Clergy Terms of Service, it became very clear to the Dioceses of Sheffield, Ripon and Leeds, York, Durham and Newcastle, that if we pooled our resources, we would be able to appoint a first-class HR person. Singly we could not afford to do it; but together we have the best of both worlds. As the African saying goes, “They who travel fast, travel alone; they who travel far travel in company with others”.


Clearly, what is appropriate for these three dioceses does not necessarily apply anywhere else. I encouraged the Commission to value the diversity of different areas, and not to impose a standard solution.  This Scheme, with its five areas within a single diocese, provides local solutions tailored to local needs.


Many have asked me why have I referred this Scheme to the General Synod – what are the wider issues for the Church that justify a decision being made in this place, rather than locally.


Our beloved Church of England is all about worshipping the almighty God, and being at the cutting edge of Mission and Ministry; living and proclaiming the Gospel in every part of England, whether in schools, hospitals, prisons, homes; as well as in our churches.


Our challenge in this turbulent world is to give shape to a Church fit for the 21st Century; that reflects the Christian faith as we have received it – both catholic and reformed.  A Church that is able to relate meaningfully to society and communities who are changing more rapidly, and in more different ways, than we have ever known before.


If it is to have an impact in such a fast moving world, our Church needs flexibility, mobility and agility. It needs a readiness to take risks, guided by the Holy Spirit, and try new ways of reaching out to people of all ages.


We do not change our message because that is our faith. But we must explore different ways of delivering that message - ways that respond to people’s lived experience and ensure the impact of God’s message in the changing world around us.


We cannot and must not assume that the ways which served us well in the past are automatically appropriate now. It would be nothing short of a miracle if our structures, our organisations and boundaries, many of which were developed hundreds of years ago were anything near appropriate for today’s challenges. 


This new proposed Diocese reflects a bold and imaginative way forward that breaks some of the shackles holding us to the past, provides an organisational framework that is minimal, and gives everyone within it, clergy and laity, the opportunity to develop the flexibility, mobility, and agility that we so badly need.


What are the new ways of working and delivering God’s Mission; of being a power for good in God’s world?  Discovering them is our present adventure.


This is why I felt it so important that we debate this proposal here. It is not just an opportunity for these three Dioceses, it is an opportunity for all of us to share in and learn from a new way of re-imagining our Ministry and Mission.


A few words on Cathedrals.  Much has been said about the uniqueness of the proposals’ arrangements, whereby the new Diocese will have three Cathedrals. My position is simple. A Diocesan Bishop has his cathedra in every church within his Diocese, whether that is a Cathedral, a Minster, a Church or a Chapel. To link a Diocesan Bishop with one type of establishment - a Cathedral - and insist that we have only one cathedral for every Diocesan, is to miss the heart of our Mission of today, which is to be a presence in every community and every Church however big or small.



Those who are licensed by the Bishop in every Church community, receive the cure of souls, which they share with the Bishop.  Cathedrals are instruments of mission and not the Kingdom of God. Wherever the bishop gathers the faithful to worship, to witness and learn more about our Lord, there the Cathedral is.


Having three cathedrals in one Diocese will be different; it will be breaking new ground; it will challenge our traditional thinking.


But the whole rationale for this new Diocese is to develop new forms of Ministry and new ways of delivering God’s Mission. New opportunities for cathedrals are amongst the exciting jewels of this Scheme: opportunities to collaborate and share resources with each other; to develop new and relevant forms of local Ministry for the varied communities to be found in the Dales, Wakefield, Leeds, and Bradford.


Let us not go into the minutiae of who will fund what, for how long, or how Minsters or a Pro-Cathedral may work.   Let us, instead, explore the splendour and glory of what is possible with the wide range of marvellous places of worship this new Diocese will have. It is there we will find the Glory of God and how best we can reflect that in our work.


Why not learn from the Diocese of Clogher, in County Fermanagh, which has two cathedrals – one in Clogher and the second one in Enniskillen.


Let me end by paying tribute to the three Bishops who have led their people through very difficult and challenging times. We all know the difficulties of maintaining faith and progress when faced with fundamental change such as this Scheme proposes. Let us remember that, for some, this includes the dissolution of their own positions and roles.


Within the three Dioceses I have seen a sense of continuing purpose and determination that has grown rather than diminished, and this is due to the steadfast leadership of the three Diocesan Bishops concerned. Whatever their individual views, whatever the disagreements, whatever the outcome of this debate, we all owe these three an enormous sense of gratitude and admiration for showing us an example of leadership and courage during a period of intense challenge, in the best traditions of our Church.


I also pay tribute here to those who have challenged and disagreed with the proposals. It takes huge courage to go against the grain and put the opposite view. Whatever the merits of their arguments, I would like to acknowledge that bravery and determination and assure you all that I see their efforts as a valuable and essential part of the debate here today. My one plea, though, is that, whichever way this vote goes, we may have reconciliation and harmony as we build a future together.


Synod members, I pray you will support this Scheme, and pray with me for all those within the three Dioceses. We are giving them a challenge from which we may all learn and grow; a challenge that will I am sure help us all dream dreams, see new visions and, by God’s grace, labour in God’s Mission field for the salvation and well-being of all in West Yorkshire and the Dales.


This is what the Scheme before you is all about."

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