In March, New Directions carried an article on the possible suspension or amalgamation of some of the smaller dioceses in this country; about a month later the Yorkshire Post ran a similar piece; in early June, The Times devoted half a page to the same theme, suggesting that ‘secret talks’ had already targeted three vulnerable dioceses. It was then reported that an official spokesman at Lambeth had emphatically denied the whole story within 24 hours.
So are there no discussions, no planning, no thinking about the future of dioceses of the Church of England? Odd, when one remembers that the Turnbull Report, star pupil of the New Church Bureaucracy School, suggested that there should be, and furthermore that dioceses should begin to work in groups (team ministries at a higher level). If the spokesman’s statement was false, it means that the central bureaucracy is prepared to lie about something which in theory is beyond its immediate control.
If true, it means that these highly-placed, highly-paid officials are either bone idle or woefully incompetent. If they are not talking about such things, then they ought to be. Actually I can confirm, and no doubt so can other clergy, that the proper authorities in some dioceses are discussing these issues. It is on the agenda, as the intemperance of the official denial seemed merely to confirm.
At the very moment, therefore, that women bishops are becoming a distinct possibility, we find that the future of the dioceses, to which they might be appointed, is being called into question. Interesting times.
The flurry of interest and media comment which followed the Times piece will inevitably die down. It would be a mistake, however, to allow the issue to fall back into disinterest and inactivity. For the key question remains, ‘Who will decide?’ The amalgamation of parishes continues apace because it is bishops and archdeacons who dispose, not the parishes themselves; but when it is those same bishops and archdeacons who must be declared redundant, the smoothness of the downsizing operation is less easy to discern.
There is some work to be done by members of diocesan synods in (?) Bradford, Leicester, Wakefield, Portsmouth, Truro… To begin with, why not ask what plans are being drawn up.