By Dorothy Lee
9 June 2022
My hope for the Melbourne diocese’s vision for the next 175 years is that, throughout that time, beginning now, it will re-confirm the centre of our faith, and discover new meaning in our identity as Anglican Christians.
Such a vision involves three elements. Firstly, it will mean placing worship at the centre of all our activities. Worship comes before everything else and needs to be firmly centred on God as Holy Trinity. Too much of our worship is banal, lacking reverence and beauty, with a minimal sense that, in God’s presence, we are standing on holy ground. We need to regain a sense of holy awe before God.
We read in Proverbs, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. This sense of awe in the presence of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is the ultimate goal of our lives and the beating heart of the church. It was that vision of God, revealed as Trinity in Scripture and the ecumenical creeds, that impelled early believers to stand fast in their faith (Hebrews 12:22–24). It is this same vision that we need to hold before us as we face the future.
We need to widen our vision so that it is not only Jesus we focus on but the whole Trinity as that sublime communion of Persons at the core of all creation, holding all things in being (Acts 17:24-28; Hebrews 1:1–2).
Worship also means centring on Scripture and the sacraments. We need to rediscover the dynamism, the hope, the beauty and the truthfulness in both.
Here it is not a question of relevance, although context is always important in how we interpret the Bible. Instead, the question of relevance works the other way: we are caught up into the life of God, in the sacraments and in the reading and study of Scripture, and in so doing we become relevant to God. We are transformed into the likeness of Christ through the Holy Spirit, as we read in 1 John 3:2.
In our sacramental focus, we need to proclaim a God who creates matter, who comes to us in matter and who redeems us as matter: in bread and wine, in water, in the holy oils, in the words of healing and forgiveness, in the final resurrection of the body and in the renewal of the whole creation.
Reclaiming our centre in worship of the blessed Trinity empowers and enthuses us for mission and evangelism. It shapes our understanding of mission, so well captured in the five marks of mission of the Anglican communion: proclaiming the good news of God’s reign (Mark 1:14–15), teaching and baptizing (Matthew 28:19–20), serving the needy (James 2:14–16), working for God’s justice in our social structures (Amos 5:15, 24) and calling for the renewal of creation crying out against its many forms of abuse (Romans 8:19–23).
Secondly, with that vision held always before us, we need to work hard to reclaim a sense of our rich tradition as Anglican Christians and the diversity on secondary matters that it creates. We need to learn to disagree with one another decently, with respect and charity and with openness of mind and heart. We need to become a more welcoming and comprehensive community that allows for difference of opinion, for different ways of interpreting the same Scriptures we all hold and cherish.
At the same time, we need to resist narrow-minded interpretations that reduce the wealth of Scripture to singular, dogmatic statements that exclude many and marginalise whole groups in our church. We need to resist attitudes that accord women secondary status within the ministry of the church, ignoring the New Testament witness to Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia and many others, seen in passages such as Luke 8:1-3, John 20:18 and Romans 16:1-7.
Thirdly, we need to become so enraptured by the vision of God revealed in Jesus Christ that we become truly courageous as persons, as parishes, as agencies – in our worship, in our common life, in our mission and service. Such courage will embolden us to speak and act truth to a needy world, in the face of its loneliness and longing, its violence and prejudice, its indifference to the needy and its relentless abuse of creation.
The vision we need for our future in this diocese is to rediscover what it means, in our current context, to worship and to proclaim a trinitarian God whose love for us and all creation is utterly faithful, forgiving, freeing and unfailing.
The Reverend Professor Dorothy Lee is Stewart Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity College Theological School and an associate priest at St Mary’s Anglican Church, North Melbourne. This piece forms part of an opinion series ahead of the 175th anniversary of the establishment of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne.