‘Australian returning home’. Checking this box on my immigration card when we landed in Australia last month felt like letting out a breath that I hadn’t realised I was holding. Lecturer in Systematic Theology, Victoria Lorrimar, reflects on her journey to her new ‘home’ at Trinity College Queensland.
This was our fourth international move in the seven years we’ve been married. Twice now we’ve cycled into a foreign city after a couple of months on the road, panniers stuffed with grubby camping gear and cycling clothes, not knowing a single person in the place that is to be our ‘home’.
New starts are exciting – we are forced from a place of comfort, we meet wonderful people, we change in surprising ways… but they are nevertheless daunting. New systems to learn, streets to navigate, friends to make, all the while missing and trying to maintain old connections.
As a believer, however, I have discovered pockets of home in all of the places we have lived. In a basketball stadium or a child care centre in Perth, or a residential hall in Leuven, a dimly lit mediaeval chapel or a worn stone church in Oxford, communities of Christ followers come together in worship and fellowship. Whether liturgy is a regular part of worship, or another style is favoured, the familiar creeds, prayers and scriptures unite believers all over the world.
When I lay claim to the designation ‘ecumenical’ before I reach for denominational labels, it’s because of these experiences: peaceful evening prayers at Baptist summer camps sitting in still-warm sand by the Indian ocean (the same ocean in which I was baptised), sharing cups of tea at international bible study in Belgium, learning the joyful simplicity of Taize music from Swedish and Polish friends, having immensely enriching theological discussions with my Catholic friends as we walked through the English countryside, before donning the robes of a Bible clerk and taking my place for the Anglican evensong service in my college’s candlelit chapel.
In all of these expressions of Christian faith and worship I have found encouragement and blessing. “We, though many, are one body in Christ” (Ro 12:5), is a promise that we will belong regardless of where we end up. One of my favourite theologians, Stanley Hauerwas, has jokingly referred to himself as ‘ecclesiastically homeless’, in reference to his eclectic background of church membership. Reading his autobiography, however, suggests that he is not ‘homeless’ so much as he has been able to make a home in diverse church traditions (Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian). I hope for the same ability to see unity in diversity, and find inspiration in his conviction that ‘no theologian should desire anything less than that his or her theology reflect the catholic character of the church.’
This brings me to my new role, as lecturer in systematic theology at Trinity. The UCA has a proud heritage as a broad and welcoming tradition, bringing together several strands of Christian faith and practice in an ecumenical spirit. Theology today needs to be constructed both in conversation with the breadth of the tradition, listening to those who have gone before us, but also engaging contemporary philosophy, science and culture with all of the challenges that brings. I’ve spent the last few years researching how the questions surrounding prospective technologies for enhancing human characteristics (genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, etc) can be brought into dialogue with traditional theological understandings of what it means to be created, and to be participants in God’s creative work.
My teaching philosophy is to give students a broad grounding (which includes teaching ideas that I may not hold myself sometimes), but also to show how far reaching and empowering theological study can be – anything you might possibly be interested in can be explored from a theological perspective. The church needs thinkers and leaders who have a robust and resilient faith, who can communicate the scriptures intelligently, faithfully and creatively, and I’m thrilled to be a part of this work at Trinity – another place to be at ‘home’.