A Church of England report is proposing a radical boundary shake-up that could affect churches across Craven, particularly those in West Craven.
The 120-page report by the Diocese Commission, which organises the structure of the Church of England, recommends scrapping the Bradford Diocese, of which Craven is a part.
The present diocese, along with Ripon and Leeds, would be subsumed into a larger Diocese of Wakefield.
There would be a diocesan bishop at Wakefield, who would double up as area bishop, and there would be four area bishops covering Bradford, Leeds, Ripon and Huddersfield.
The Ven Paul Slater, Archdeacon of Craven, said: “It proposes we shall have fewer close links with the Aire Valley and Bradford and be part of a predominantly rural area which will be essentially the western half of North Yorkshire with a local area bishop based in Ripon.”
Under the re-ordering proposals, four parishes in Pendle and eight in the Ribble Valley – currently in Bradford Diocese – would transfer to Blackburn.
The parishes affected are Bracewell, Barnoldswick, Earby, Kelbrook, Gisburn, Slaidburn, Tosside, Hurst Green, Mitton, Waddington, Grindleton and Bolton-by-Bowland.
Church bosses say the move is to tidy up the boundaries of Yorkshire and Lancashire.
The plans have been seen as controversial by some parishes in the Skipton Deanery as residents feel more aligned to Yorkshire than Lancashire.
“It’s doesn’t look like this is going to be the status quo (staying with the Bradford Diocese),” said the Rev Hugh Fielden, vicar of All Saints’ Church in Earby. “We’re either going to be part of Ripon or Blackburn. Geographically, whichever way we go, we’ll always be on the boundaries.”
Vera Cocker, churchwarden at All Saints’ in Earby, said: “There is still a tremendous feeling here about being moved out of Yorkshire and into Lancashire.”
And the Rev John Lancaster, vicar of Holy Trinity and St Mary-le-Gill churches in Barnoldswick and St Michael’s Church in Bracewell, added: “At the moment we have a very strong connection with Bradford. It’s a relatively small diocese that has a strong identity and family connection.”
He said that moving into the Blackburn Diocese would not be “as simple as saying yes or no” because Barnoldswick churches had close links with others in the West Craven cluster, such as St Mary’s Church in Thornton-in-Craven which would come under Ripon.
The report also says there are concerns the Blackburn diocese has a more Catholic ethos than Bradford and there are indications some individuals would resist their parishes being transferred to a diocese in which two of the current bishops oppose women priests.
Local churches have been asked to comment on the recommendations, which then must be debated by the Bradford and Blackburn Diocesan synods, and other Yorkshire dioceses facing change, before any scheme can be submitted to the General Synod, the Church of England’s ‘parliament’.
This is unlikely to be before July 2013.
Mr Lancaster said nothing was cast in stone and he stressed it was important that churches and their parochial church councils approached these discussions with an open mind.