THE first Bishop of Leeds has been named as the Right Reverend Nick Baines who has pledged the creation of a new, enlarged diocese would better serve the people of West Yorkshire.
The appointment was announced by Downing Street today after receiving the final approval of the Queen, in her role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
Rt Rev Baines, the outgoing Bishop of Bradford, will lead the new Diocese of Leeds – to be known as the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales – which replaces the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds and Wakefield.
Dubbed Yorkshire’s “super diocese”, it will be the largest geographically in the country, covering 2,425 square miles.
He will be supported by four other area bishops for Ripon, Wakefield, Bradford and Huddersfield when the diocese comes into effect on Easter Sunday.
Bishop Baines said his appointment was a “great honour and privilege” as well as an enormous responsibility.
“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.”
Bishop Baines has been Bishop of Bradford for three years, and before that was Bishop of Croydon, in the Diocese of Southwark.
Born in Liverpool, he read German and French at Bradford University before his ordination in 1987.
Welcoming his appointment, The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said: “Bishop Nick brings a well-grounded understanding of the area he will serve, together with the vision, energy, and experience in strategic change, which will equip him for his ministry leading the church in mission across the new Diocese.”
The move to create an enlarged diocese in Yorkshire was prompted by declining congregations, fewer clergy and weakened finances – but had attracted controversy on its passage to yesterday’s announcement.
Critics feared the new set-up would be dominated by Leeds and others believed the changes were driven purely by financially reasoning. Once fully established, it is understood the net savings in revenue costs would be about £800,000 a year.
In February 2013, members of each synod voted on the plans, with Bradford and Ripon and Leeds dioceses voting in favour of the reorganisation but Wakefield voting against.
The Archbishop of York then referred the final decision to the General Synod, who overwhelmingly backed the plans in July last year.
Speaking yesterday at Leeds Minster yesterday – before he went on to visit Wakefield, Bradford and Ripon cathedrals – Bishop Baines addressed critics’ fears.
“People always assume you change because you are running out of money or people,” he said.
“That isn’t the case. I mean, we should be able to save money in due course, but actually it’s probably more expensive to go through the changes we’re going through.”
He said the shake-up would “serve the people of West Yorkshire better, organise church better and we can communicate better across the region if we do this”.
He added: “I’m fully aware of the challenges this brings, but am confident that this new diocese will thrive. 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.”
The former Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Tom Butler, who is acting as a Mentor Bishop during the transition, said: “Bishop Nick has been clear that although change is uncomfortable, the opportunities to shape the future for the common good should be grasped.
“He has championed a process of change in the Dioceses of West Yorkshire while knowing it would result in the dissolution of his own post with all the uncertainties which that would bring. I am confident that he will now give the new diocese the clear leadership which it will need.”