The Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister, was commissioned as Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Ely at a service at St Andrew’s Church, Alwalton, on 21 November 2011. This means that he now has the Bishop of Ely’s authority to speak on behalf of all Anglican Christians in the City of Peterborough.
The ancient boundary between the dioceses of Ely and Peterborough follows the line of the River Nene, meaning that Fletton, Orton, Woodston, Stanground and other villages in the Yaxley Deanery are in the Ely Diocese, even though they are within the civic boundary of the City of Peterborough.
“The boundaries of the church are defined by history but we need not be confined by them” said Rt Revd Stephen Conway, Bishop of Ely, in his address. “God is always leaping over boundaries.” He added, “This is not about legal joining. It is not about territory. It is about friendship between two dioceses: a prophetic friendship for the sake of the community and the Gospel.”
The new arrangement will mean that Bishop Donald and the Archdeacon of Oakham will be the key points of contact between Peterborough City Council and the Church of England. Bishop Donald may also preside at Confirmation services and Licensings of clergy in the parishes south of the River Nene.
A similar extension of episcopal authority was made in 2004 between Bishop Donald and Bishop Stephen’s predecessors, the late Bishop Ian Cundy and Bishop Anthony Russell.
When the Diocese of Peterborough was created in 1541, the boundary which separated it from the Diocese of Ely (founded in 1109) followed the course of the River Nene, which had been the ancient boundary between the Diocese of Ely and the Diocese of Lincoln.
The ancient Soke of Peterborough lay to the north of the river and the villages of Fletton, Orton and Woodston, Stanground and Yaxley lay to the south. In the medieval period rivers formed a natural boundary and bridges were few.
The City of Peterborough expanded throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, culminating in the creation of the Unitary Authority in 1996. Today, as in many other places, the old river boundary no longer has social or geographical significance and a considerable part of the City of Peterborough is south of the river and in the Diocese of Ely.
The City of Peterborough is expanding to assume an increasingly significant role in the region, both as a centre of employment and as a hub of domestic life. This has given rise to an evolving situation between the two Dioceses, which particularly affects the parishes south of the Nene within the City of Peterborough. It is important to have close co-operation between the two Dioceses in the service of these communities.
While the current boundaries may continue to make sense ecclesiastically, they do not impinge on the consciousness of the general population of the Ortons with Alwalton and Chesterton, Woodston and Fletton, Stanground, Orton Goldhay and Malborne, and Farcet/ Hampton. It may become appropriate in future to resolve the diocesan boundary issues along civic boundary lines, if a wider reorganisation is not determined by the Dioceses Commission.
The Rt Revd Donald Allister, Bishop of Peterborough, with the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, Bishop of Ely.