Chinese-Australian appointed next Anglican Bishop of Western Sydney

AMS Staff

Dr Peter Jensen, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, has announced that the Rev Ivan Yin Lee, 46, will be the next Bishop of Western Sydney.

When he succeeds the Right Rev Brian King on February 1, 2003, he will become the only serving Anglican Bishop of Chinese ethnicity in Australia.

While the Right Rev George Tung Yep was the first Chinese-Australian bishop, serving as assistant bishop of North Queensland from 1985 to 1995, Mr Lee’s appointment may prove a watershed for the Anglican Church of Australia.

Archbishop Jensen has spoken openly about his strategy to reform the Anglican Church as part of his desire to see ‘at least 10 per cent of the population in Bible-based churches within 10 years’. Indeed with 18 Chinese Anglican churches now in Sydney, ministry to Chinese-speakers has been one of the fastest growing sections of the Diocese. Dr Jensen believes the Anglican Church needs to shed its English heritage if it is to become a truly Australian church, accessible to Australians of various ethnic backgrounds.

Mr Lee has been a passionate advocate of this strategy. “We have to reach non-Anglo Australia because that is what Australia is becoming. I love multicultural Australia and my deepest desire is to see Australians of all cultural backgrounds discover the joy and forgiveness found in a new relationship with Jesus Christ. The gospel message is as true and as relevant as ever, but I’m afraid that sometime we - the church - don’t always communicate effectively its truth or relevance. We need far more creativity and variety in the way we ‘do church’ so that people of all backgrounds can ‘see Jesus’ clearly.”

Describing himself as ‘very much a second generation Chinese-Australian’ who speaks ‘basic’ Cantonese, he has thought at length about strategies to minister effectively to the children of migrants. He established a congregation for second-generation Asian Australians at his current parish.

Mr Lee’s parents migrated to Australia from Guangzhou province in mainland China 50 years ago. He grew up with no connection to the church whatsoever and simply assumed an atheist position.

“When I was seventeen I was invited on a camp for school students run by Christians. I didn’t know anything about Christianity. I had grown up in Australia without ever hearing that Jesus had died for me. When I heard that claim on the camp, I thought it was an extraordinary thing for God to do, so I spent many months investigating it. Considering the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus was the first step. But what really convinced me to become a Christian in the end, was the analysis of evil and the fallen human nature in the Bible, and the wonderful offer of forgiveness through Jesus’ death.”

“As a bishop I want to help the church become more accessible to a multicultural society. Visitors may not accept what they first hear, but they need to understand what we are doing and saying; church needs to ‘make sense’ to them. And then they can consider the claims of Christ. We also need to make church a really positive experience, because knowing God is a positive experience.”

Raised in the St George district and educated at James Cook Boys High, Mr Lee entered the University of NSW in 1975 with the intention of studying medicine. During his time as a medical student, however, he decided to enter the ordained ministry. Enrolling at Moore Theological College in 1977, he was ordained in 1980. Mr Lee served as a curate at Manly and then Beverly Hills. From 1985 to 1990 he was rector of Merrylands West, a parish in Sydney’s West, the region he will soon oversee as bishop.

In 1990 he accepted became senior associate minister at St Jude’s, Carlton, in Melbourne, which has a strong ministry to the University of Melbourne. In 1997 he returned to Sydney to take up his present position as rector of St Aidan’s, Hurstville Grove.

Mr Lee said he learnt a lot from his time in Melbourne Diocese. It was in Victoria that he began his association with the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion (EFAC). He was a member of the executive and was the editor of EFAC’s Australian journal Essentials.

Mr Lee said he would be a ‘relational and approachable’ leader focused on ‘transforming’ the Region.

“Without change we won’t grow,” he said. “Ministry is a lot harder than you imagine when in theological college. As I’ve ministered in different contexts, I have grown in self-awareness of my strengths and weaknesses. Ministers need to grow in self-awareness and become multi-skilled. As bishop I hope to help clergy and lay ministers address their weaknesses and build on their strengths.”

He says his great passion is training preachers ‘who want to be better communicators’.

“A lot of us need to work a lot harder at preaching. Our preaching may be biblical but we do not communicate well.”

In nominating Ivan Yin Lee as bishop, Dr Jensen emphasised that he had consulted widely before reaching a decision.

“One of the points that came up was that the new Bishop should be a man who would willingly minister in the West; Ivan, as you can see, has proved his willingness by having done so already,” Dr Jensen said. “I am bringing the name of a man who is a good model in word and deed, who is known to preach well and to pastor effectively, a man recommended to me by senior ministers whom I have consulted, a man who has wide ministry experience both interstate and in Sydney, and a man who has improved himself theologically, and can give spiritual and intellectual leadership for our Mission.”

Mr Lee has a Bachelor of Divinity from London University and a Master of Theology from the Australian College of Theology. His Masters thesis explored aspects of Reformation theology.

He is married to Virginia and they have three daughters, twins aged 18 and a third child aged 11.

Jeremy Halcrow
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Margaret Rodgers
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