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Education pioneer begins new chapter

Dr Sue Fairley at Grace College, UQ. Photo by Dianne Jensen

"WHEN are you going to join the real ministry?" is a question that Dr Sue Fairley has been asked often during more than 45 years of service with the Methodist, and then the Uniting Church.

"My answer then, and now, is that I was never called to the ordained ministry.

"I always felt strongly connected to lay education, and still do," says Dr Fairley, who is retiring as principal of Grace College (University of Queensland) after a career which has encompassed significant achievements in tertiary and theological education.

The young girl who lined up her siblings to play school only ever wanted to be a teacher.

She also had a strong sense, from the age of 16 years, that God had called her to ministry.

Dr Fairley (EdD, MA, Grad. Dip. Higher Educ., BA) began her career as a secondary school teacher, and after two years moved into the Methodist Department of Christian Education as a District Field Officer.

After completing her Masters degree in the US, she established the first course in Australia for training youth workers.

Her passion for education, especially theological education for the whole people of God, led her to challenge some of the bastions of male dominion in the Church.

"When I started in the early 1970s there were hardly any women in leadership.

"Certainly there were deaconesses, but there were no female ministers in the Methodist Church," she recalls.

Dr Fairley became head of Ministry and Mission at Trinity Theological College in 1997, and later the first female principal. She was appointed principal of Grace College in 2004.

She is also the first female president of Camps Farthest Out (CFO) International, an interdenominational organisation which hosts camps, retreats and leadership training in 24 countries.

"I believe women have a different attitude to power, and therefore their leadership is different," says Dr Fairley.

"When I did my doctoral studies I was privileged to work with a group of Uniting Church ministers, some female and some male, and it was interesting talking about how they understood leadership, and the qualities of leadership.

"I think that a lot of it is to do with the issue of power.

"[For women] it's not an aggressive controlling thing. It's more about empowerment." Sue Fairley credits early mentors such as John Mavor, Lew Born and Jack Frewen- Lord, and later Col Ray, with encouraging her and providing leadership opportunities, something which she has gone on to do for countless other young people.

Now, as retirement looms, Dr Fairley is enthusiastic about the new places where God is leading.

"I want to take time to be still and quiet, listen and reflect, see what comes out of that.

"It's going to give me the freedom to be involved in the things I love.

"And I hope that lay education or teaching is going to be part of that."

Photo : Dr Sue Fairley at Grace College, UQ. Photo by Dianne Jensen