Saturday, 8 December 2012

Celebrating 125 Years

As our Diocese marks 125 Years in 2013, since its foundation in 1888, a new book tells the story of those years, 'Wakefield Diocese, Celebrating 125 Years', by Wakefield Historian and Lay Canon Kate Taylor. The irony of the celebratory year marking this anniversary is well known across the Diocese, due to the proposals of the Dioceses Commission, this may be the 125th and last year, if the mega-Diocese of Leeds/West Yorkshire and the Dales/whatever it is going to be called this week is to be formed. That irony is not lost on the author; there is clearly a sub-text to the book, that the loss of 125 years of loyalties to one another and of our particular traditions and ways of working, will not be compensated for by the new proposals.
The book itself is a perfectly decent read, and sets out to tell a continuing story, rather than a last word. One two counts it is a pleasant surprise - it is a 'proper book', published by Canterbury Press, and not the large pamphlet that a number of folk were expecting! Secondly, unlike a number of Diocesan histories, it is not simply a story of Bishops and Cathedrals, indeed, I would have expected more on the life of the Cathedral than we are actually given. The story of the wider Church of England from the late 19th to the early 21st centuries can be traced in this book, and developments and problems are placed carefully into context.
The story is told in three sections, from Bishop Walsham How and the early days through to 1938, from 1938-67, and from 1968 to the present day, these slightly arbitrary dates seemingly relating to convenient changes in the Episcopate. The final section takes up over half of the book, presumably reflecting a greater availability of both archive source and living memories. At times, the final sections become a little breathless, perhaps reflecting the difficulty of comment and analysis on recent events, but also reflecting the sheer activism of those years. As one of the 'younger, mission-minded priests attracted to the Missionary Diocese by Bishop Nigel McCulloch', in my case in 1995, it is exhausting at times to read again the variety of initiatives, programmes and proposals we have lived through in those years.
A few minor gripes; a stronger editorial hand would help the final sections, there are I'm sure some inaccuracies in dates, which makes me wonder how secure some of the factual information is, and it would have been good to be able to trace the evolution of the Deaneries, increasingly significant now the Deanery Plans are a key factor in appointments and Parish planning. The story of the establishment of Groups and Teams in the 1980s is not matched by that of their dismantling over the last few years, as they haven't delivered; (here not for the first time, we wait for the Church to catch up). Better maps would help, and, given our current context, it is surprising that more is not said about the reasons for the changes in Diocesan boundaries and transfers of Parishes that have already happened over the 125 years. But a good read, a fitting contribution to the 125th Anniversary, and to the discussions, debates and decision making that ought not to overshadow 2013, in final response to the Dioceses Commission proposals.