12th Assembly 2009

Assembly pays dual tribute to lay educators

The Uniting Church, through its Basis of Union, has always valued an “informed faith”.

The benefits such a faith can bring to the Church is well demonstrated by the life and ministry of both the Rev. Dr Lee Levett-Olson and Dr Marelle Harisun.

The 12th Assembly of the Uniting Church on July 17 recorded a Minute of Appreciation for Dr Levett-Olson and for Dr Harisun for their service to the church, particularly through their involvement with the recently disbanded Coolamon College.

marelle harisun1_kcAssembly President the Rev Alistair Macrae joked about a mutual appreciation society, as Dr Harisun spoke glowingly of Dr Levett-Olson and then stepped to the side so that he could speak to the proposal relating to her. In fact, it was clear the relationship between the two had been enriching both to each other and to the wider church over two decades.

Dr Harisun was part of the Coolamon College Council throughout its life, including time as Chairperson and Acting Principal.

Dr Levett-Olson praised Dr Harisun’s leadership and commitment to “using the resources of education to help lay people discover, develop and deepen and then respond to God’s call as leaders and disciples.”

He also described her as a pioneer of “new thinking and ideas”, who had been involved in finding new ways to develop access and equity for people in rural communities, “who hardly dared to believe there was a ministry for them”.

lee levett-olson_kc 5“Marelle never doubted it and she challenged the church and the leaders of Coolamon to make sure they followed it up.”

He said Dr Harisun continuously asked herself and encouraged others to ask themselves, “Are you listening to God’s call to deepen your walk in faith?”

Dr Levett-Olson was the third principal of Coolamon College, the national training body for lay education. He took on the role at a time of great change, overseeing the move from Brisbane to Adelaide, and the development of the relationship with the Adelaide College of Divinity and Flinders University.

He also developed a wider network of theological educators who helped develop 40 different accredited courses for lay people.

“Throughout his term as Principal, Lee always exhibited a significant commitment to equipping the whole people of God for the ministry and mission.”

While there was sadness relating to the end of Coolamon College, she said Dr Levett-Olson’s new role as Principal of Nungalinya College in Darwin was the fulfilment of a long-held dream of working with Aboriginal people. She said his current position would offer “a new expression for his commitment to justice and ecumenism”.

Dr Harisun paid tribute to Dr Levett-Olson’s “great and deep commitment to equity for all”, which she had witnessed personally in a number of different ways, as he was first her minister, then chaplain while she was General Secretary of the church’s Synod of South Australia and most recently while he was her doctoral supervisor.

Dr Harisun then presented the President with her thesis, Power, Policy and Politics in the Uniting Church.

Dr Levett-Olsen said that, by completing her doctorate while in her 70s, Dr Harisun had once again demonstrated her “insatiable keenness for lifelong learning”.

Wendie Wilkie, from Western Australia, also paid tribute to Dr Harisun, describing her influence as a strong female lay leader in the church.

Ms Wilkie thanked Dr Harisun for her personal support and for encouragement and mentoring of many lay people throughout the church, saying, “We pray in this stage of your life you will continue to find ways to inspire us and challenge us.

“May God continue to give you peace and help you walk in his way.”

Seconding the proposed Minute of Appreciation for Dr Levett-Olsen, the Rev. Glenda Blakefield spoke of the contribution he brought to the work of Assembly during the regular meetings of national directors.

“Lee always brought creative and theological edge,” she said, through which he expressed “his passion and commitment to the Uniting Church”.

“On behalf of the Assembly staff team, we say to you, ‘We miss you.’”

Each Minute of Appreciate was recorded with acclamation.

Before they left the stage, the Assembly paused in a prayer of thanksgiving. The President also asked God to honour their disappointment at the closure of Coolamon.