John Higginbotham, from the Diocese of Alliance and Leicester on this month’s Southwell diocesan motion
Nicholas Turner’s comments on diocesan restructuring [ND May] rang all too true. It is inconceivable that the present structures will be sustainable long into this century. So what are we faced with? What solutions are being offered? Name changes were seen as one way forward. It started with the Bishop of Swindon in 1994, more with the times than his former see title of Malmesbury, now relegated to that of an archdeaconry.
Now there is that novel phenomenon, the double-barrelled diocese: the transformation of the Diocese of Ripon into the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds in 1999 caused a good deal of innocent amusement. ‘What next?’ asked one wag. ‘The Diocese of Cheltenham and Gloucester? The Diocese of Bradford and Bingley?’ There is scope here for sponsorship from some of our leading banks and building societies.
Our ecumenical partners were (apparently) consulted before this earth-shattering change was made. The (Roman) Bishop of Leeds, we are told, raised no objection. So they are at it again: under the shadow of the women bishops motion, precious synodical time will soon be taken up with a proposal for a sparkling new ‘Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham.’ Again the (Roman) Bishop of Nottingham is said to have approved. All the diocesan statutes will have to be changed at great expense: the lawyers will have a field day.
Such multiplication of see titles would of course create problems when the inevitable amalgamation of dioceses comes to pass. The sort of pluralities which give Irish bishops writer’s cramp would spread like a rash. The Diocese of Limerick, Ardfert, Aghadoe, Killaloe, Kilfenora, Clonfert, Kilmacduagh and Emly offers the CofE one of the most striking examples.
There is a story told of the Bishop of Gambia and Rio Pongas, who on arrival in this country went to claim the single room which had been booked by letter, found that he had been allocated a double room instead. ‘What about Rio Pongas?’ asked a puzzled receptionist of an equally puzzled bishop. This particular cohabitation has now been dropped to avoid further embarrassment; but the lure of the double-barrelled dies hard in signatures such as ‘Leroy North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba.’
I know that there are still those who confuse Southwell with a diocese on the south bank, but do we seriously believe that adding extra names is going to transform the church in the twenty-first century?