The Diocese of Leeds in its annual return recently told the Charity Commission that it was looking forward to the arrival of its new bishop. According to the diocese's trustees, since the now-Archbishop Arthur Roche had left in 2012, Leeds had “not been able to innovate”, but instead had had to focus on putting itself on a viable financial footing, to make sure that outgoings were within reach of income once again.
Last year the diocese lost £3 million, but thankfully that included the vast majority of its restructuring costs, including job cuts and retrenchment on expensive building works. The new Bishop of Leeds, Mgr Marcus Stock, will arrive in Yorkshire then with his new diocese’s affairs ably turned round by its senior clergy, and find its people ready to receive care, love, inspiration and renewal. It is unlikely that he will fail them in that need.
Bishop-elect Stock is among the most able clergy of his generation. A convert to Catholicism, and a graduate in theology from both Oxford and the Gregorian universities, he was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Birmingham. Quietly orthodox, he is a profoundly pastoral man who loves parish ministry and misses it when he is called away by the Church to other duties, such as directing education for the diocese or serving as general secretary of the bishops’ conference.
The future Bishop Stock expressed a hope that he might learn about the “place” of the diocese as well as its people too: Leeds City Region is now a major economic powerhouse crucial to both national economic renewal and rebalancing growth and political control from London and the South East. The diocese is home to world-class universities and significant rural communities. Its members of parliament comprise those who effectively control the direction of any future Labour government and some of the most creative in the Conservative Party as well.
Leeds Diocese is home to a lively Jewish community, a large and diverse Muslim community and white-working class towns that have faced tough times. In Bradford, Dewsbury, Armley and Huddersfield, Stock’s experience of education will be crucial because the judgement calls he makes will shape community cohesion and cross-community understanding for generations especially among young Muslim and white men who feel no stake in our nation. The events of the turbulent summer in Gaza and Iraq are real and raw in these neighbourhoods.
The bishop-elect is a man who cherishes people in all their variety. I have seen him equally at ease representing the Church at functions filled with cabinet ministers and local government leaders as with parishioners. No wonder that in his first comments at a press conference upon news of his appointment, he referenced strongly a commitment to mercy, echoing the words of Pope Francis and reached for a motto that spoke deeply of the love and consolation of God – “I have longed and longed for you”.
Francis Davis was previously a ministerial advisor in central government and currently a trustee of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Near Neighbours initiative to support community cohesion in Yorkshire, Lancashire and other ethnically diverse localities. He was educated by the Benedictines.