I was told off for using last month the flippant phrase, ‘the Disappearing Diocese of Bradford’. It is not something we are allowed to talk about in the polite north, but our bishop would surely agree. In a recent Grove Booklet, The Future of Ministry, Bishop David James writes, in a vigorous and imaginative article, ‘The church in 2030 will not have a strong hierarchical structure… There will be only nine or ten dioceses, each with a team of bishops.’
Consider the ones that must surely survive – Canterbury, York, London, Durham, Winchester, etc – and you begin to realize how many others must go. 32 in 25 years.
Watchers of one-day international cricket will know all about ‘required run-rate’. When chasing a target to avoid defeat, it is inevitable that the run-rate will increase during the course of an innings: the crucial thing is to keep the run-rate ticking over in the early part, while getting settled in and keeping wickets in hand, to be ready for the final assault. Be too cautious in the early stages and you leave yourselves an impossible task later on.
If the House of Bishops do nothing for five years, they will leave themselves a ‘run-rate’ of closing down three dioceses every two years. Do nothing for ten years and the run-rate becomes over two a year.
For the amalgamations to proceed in an orderly fashion, it is vital that the first one or two be disappeared as soon as possible, to keep the run-rate moving before the final assault. The team’s opening batsmen must do their bit. So consider which dioceses must go first. Portsmouth, Truro, Leicester? And Bradford. It is inevitable. It is not a matter of merit, but of size, money, history and geography, or the lack of them.
We never talk about it in clergy gatherings, but you can be absolutely certain that serious planning is going on. As Bishop James continues, ‘They will have bowed to the force of their own teaching and accepted that if the church is to be collaborative and share leadership then the overseers also must do so.’