History has been made this Easter, 2014 with the creation of the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, the first new diocese in the Church of England since 1927, and, at 2,630 square miles, one of the largest dioceses in England by area.
The new diocese stretches from Huddersfield and Holmfirth in the south-west to Richmond and the River Tees in the north-east and from Barnsley in the south-east to Bainbridge in the north west. With a population of 2.3 million people served by 656 Anglican churches, it includes the cities of Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield as well as North Yorkshire towns such as Skipton, Catterick, Harrogate and Settle.
A key feature of the new diocese will be its five smaller areas known as Episcopal Areas, each with its own Area Bishop and Archdeacon, responsible for local decision making. The new diocese will also retain its three cathedrals – Bradford, Wakefield and Ripon.
Marking the end of the three former dioceses of Wakefield, Bradford and Ripon and Leeds, thanksgiving services have been held in each cathedral, and on Easter Day, the Rt Revd Nick Baines the Bishop of Bradford and Rt Revd Stephen Platten the Bishop of Wakefield lay down their pastoral staffs on the altars of Bradford and Wakefield Cathedrals. (The former Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, John Packer retired in January).
Bishop Nick Baines has been chosen to be the first Bishop of Leeds, the official name of the new diocese, and the Archbishop of York has announced that he will also be Acting Bishop for the new diocese until his Confirmation of Election at a Service of Inauguration in York Minster on June 8th.
The Most Revd Dr John Sentamu said, “I am thankful for all the hard work that has gone into preparing for the new Diocese, in particular for the Bishops and their staff, who are in the front line of all the changes.
"On Easter Day the new Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales (Leeds) comes into being. On Tuesday (April 22), Bishop Nick Baines will take up his role as acting Diocesan and Area Bishop of Leeds, until his Confirmation of Election as Bishop of Leeds on June 8th. Also on Tuesday, Episcopal functions for the Other Episcopal Areas are delegated as follows: Wakefield and Huddersfield – Bishop Tony Robinson; Bradford – Bishop Tom Butler; and Ripon – Bishop James Bell. My prayers are with you all in West Yorkshire and the Dales as your new Diocese begins. As we join together in thanksgiving and dedication may God lead us all to share more and more in the new life of Christ, risen from the dead! Alleluia!”
In a pastoral letter to be read out in every church on Easter Day, Bishop Nick calls the churches of the new diocese to live out the resurrection in their local areas through prayer and commitment. “Along with my fellow bishops, James, Tony and Tom, I commend you for your faithfulness and call you to prayer and commitment to living in the power of God's Spirit in the places we live and work and play and serve. Together we can live out the resurrection on the ground in our parishes and institutions, offering a bold model - an incarnation - of resurrection hope.”
Speaking about the changes, Bishop Nick said that contrary to some reports, it was not being done to save money but in order for the church to more effectively serve the region, “This unprecedented organisational change in the Church of England will facilitate the Church’s mission, combining the intimacy of the local with the advantages of scale. It will enable the Church of England to have a coherent regional voice at the same time as paying attention to distinctive local character.
“We’ve been given a unique opportunity to look afresh at what we do and why we do it, at who we are and for whom we exist. I look forward to working with my colleagues across the diocese as we help shape the mission of the wider Church across West Yorkshire and the Dales.”
Posters, bookmarks and prayer-cards announcing the new diocese are being distributed to every parish church. The new diocesan website, www.westyorkshiredales.anglican.org, will carry the latest information, news and the diary of events. New letterheads and diocesan logos can be downloaded from the new website and new email addresses for staff and officials will follow the form john.smith [at] westyorkshiredales.anglican.org.
Although many people in church on Easter Day will not see any immediate differences, several significant changes will be taking place behind the scenes. A new transitional Board of Finance, a transitional Board of Education and new Mission and Pastoral and Advisory bodies come into being, but in the short-term the three former diocesan offices at Leeds Wakefield and Bradford will continue to function as normal and continue to handle administration across the former diocesan areas.