Clergy and lay leaders from across the new diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales have met for the first time as a joint Diocesan Synod (or ‘parliament’), to take key decisions on the running of the diocese which covers 656 churches, 496 clergy and 250 church schools stretching from Barnsley and Huddersfield to Richmond and Settle.
Nearly 300 members from across the former dioceses of Wakefield, Bradford and Ripon and Leeds gathered at the Cairn Hotel in Harrogate on Saturday November 22nd for the first Synod since the formation of the new diocese at Easter this year - and debated a range of subjects including budgets and finance, the structures needed to run the new diocese, the titles given to area bishops, the size of the new Synod and appointments to key roles.
The feelings of those present were summed up by the Dean of Ripon, the Very Revd John Dobson who said that the Synod had made a positive start. “We have seen today an example of Synod working well and it bodes well for the future of the diocese.”.
In his opening keynote address, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt. Revd Nick Baines (right) told members “What we decide today will allow us the space to do more work in the next few months on how we want to shape our ways for the future. Therefore, I hope we can be mature about our processes, keep means and ends in perspective, and conduct ourselves with wisdom and generosity.”
Key appointments announced
Bishop Nick announced new and key appointments within the diocese. Dr Richard Noake (pictured below left) was congratulated on his appointment as the new Director of Education for the whole diocese – his department brings together the Wakefield Board of Education (DBE) and the joint Bradford and Ripon& Leeds DBE and he and his Education Team will be responsible for 250 church schools across the diocese.
The Bishop also announced that Chief Officers, Ashley Ellis and Debbie Child (pictured right) have been appointed as joint acting Diocesan Secretaries following the decision of Mr John Tuckett to leave the diocese and his posts as Programme Manager and acting Diocesan Secretary. Mr. Peter Mojsa was appointed as the acting Secretary to Diocesan Synod.
Governance of the Diocese
The biggest debate of the day focused on proposals for the running or ‘governance’ of the new diocese. Proposing their approval and development. Bishop James Bell, the Bishop of Knaresborough, described them as “a streamlined structure enabling what need to be done, to be done effectively and efficiently.” Under the new scheme, Area Bishops would work with an Area Team developing the mission of the diocese, while centrally a single Main Board would address strategy, policy and priorities and would be accountable to the Synod.
In a robust debate Synod members raised concerns about a possible lack of representation and election of members to the central Board with one member calling it ‘Management strong – democracy light’, another that it was too much ‘command and control’. But two authors of the proposals the Very Revd John Dobson and Revd Martin Macdonald (pictured left) explained the thinking behind the plans, and by an overwhelming majority approved the motion that further work on the plans be continued for consideration by Synod.
Size of the new Synod
Church rules state that a diocesan synod must number between 100 and 270 and next summer, elections will be held for all 42 diocesan synods across England. With nearly 400 members of the combined Synod, a radical reduction was inevitable sand on the table were three options – for a smaller streamlined decision making body, a medium sized or larger and perhaps more democratic Synod. The proposals were outlined by Bishop Tony Robinson (pictured below right). By a large majority, Synod members opted for the largest possible Synod – several members arguing that it was important for democracy and for greater diversity and representation. Up to 261 members will form the new Synod which will be elected in July and meet for the first time in the Autumn of 2015.
Names of Bishops
At present the Area Bishops for Ripon and Wakefield are called ‘Knaresborough’ and ‘Pontefract’. Synod members gave overwhelming consent to a change of the names to match the name of the areas and for Bishop Nick to petition Her Majesty -via General Synod in February.
Areas and delegation - How the role of area bishops is developed under what are called ‘instruments of delegation’ was one of the most innovative aspects of the Dioceses Commissions plans, and the Synod agreed to accept and give its consent to these developments along the lines originally set out by the Commission in its Scheme.
Parishes to be asked for a Share rise of 1.75%
Members agreed to the proposed Budget for 2015 after a lively debate and a series of questions from the floor. Parishes will be asked to increase their Parish Share contributions –which pay for clergy stipends, housing and pensions – by 1.75%. The Diocesan Board of Finance, led by acting Chair, Bishop Tom Butler, also recommended a pay rise of 2% for clergy in keeping with national stipend levels.
Bishop Butler said that there was a projected shortfall for 2015 of £770,000 - but that that figure was based on a 100% Share collection rate. A more realistic expectation of 90% would result in an added shortfall of £1.5million. “These shortfalls,” he said, “can be covered from healthy reserves. But the simple truth is that the diocese is living beyond its means and a radical re-examination of the way we raise money to fund our ministry must be given the highest priority in 2015.”
Transition costs and other factors in 2015 are also estimated to be £1.2 million though Bishop Butler said that savings could be made if the programme was re-examined. He added, “We have argued strongly with the Church Commissioners that it is unreasonable to expect a new diocese to bear all the transitional costs and we are confident that some £1 million might be forthcoming from the Commissioners during 2015 which would help reduce the cost on the diocese. But we couldn’t include this ‘speculative’ figure in the budget.”
Finally two retired bishops were welcomed as Honorary Assistant Bishops in the new diocese – the Rt Revd Clive Handford had been an Assistant Bishop in Ripon and Leeds diocese. The Rt. Revd David Hawkins who was the Bishop of Barking until his retirement, was also welcomed. Before moving to the Diocese of Chelmsford, David Hawkins was Rector of St George’s Church in Leeds City Centre.