Ray Roennfeldt with Jarrod Stackelroth

The exit interview

Friday, November 8, 2019
President reflects on his leadership and legacy

Professor Ray Roennfeldt thanks his colleagues for their contribution to the cause in an interview marking the end of a tenure as Avondale’s oldest and third-longest serving president. Public Relations Officer Brenton Stacey also asks the retiring 72-year-old about his leadership and his legacy.

You graduated as a nurse then completed a degree in theology before entering the ministry. You returned to Avondale to lecture and, eventually, lead the seminary. If not these experiences, what best prepared you for leadership?
I’m tempted to say nothing can really prepare you for this kind of leadership. However, it’s actually an accumulation of learnings from a diverse range of experiences. But if there is one factor that dominates the rest, it’s the eight years [wife] Carmel and I spent working in a cross-cultural context, which forced me to reflect deeply on the differences between people and how to work with those differences.

Affirmation, consultation, facilitation and vision. These are the characteristics you said you would bring to the presidency. Rate yourself. How did you do in delivering on these?
If I was beginning again, I’d still think this is a pretty good list, even from the vantage point of 11 years of experience in the role. How did I do? That’s for others to decide, but I probably did OK with the first three. I wish, though, I had more time for visioning rather than dealing with the mundane, including emails.

At the time of your naming as president, you described your capacity for ministry and leadership as being dependent on “my being a person of genuine openness and ethical integrity.” When during your tenure was that openness and integrity most tested?
Openness and integrity are tested almost daily, but there have been major instances when I’ve had to speak and stand up for what I know to be the right thing. Some of those have revolved around the equality of women in ministry and church leadership; the temptation to obey the loudest voice; and putting policy above basic human compassion.

You began serving as president at a time of change (an academic restructure), economic instability (the voluntary administration of ACF Investments Limited) and uncertainty (staff redundancies). These three challenges seem ever-present. What’s your advice to your successor?
The best advice I received as a young pastor was to look and listen before jumping in. That’s still good advice. Take plenty of time to examine things carefully before leaping in with your solutions. Then, be ready to admit it when you “stuff up.” But, most important, trust God and your team.

The success of Avondale’s application to the national regulator for a change of category—to “Australian University College”—is perhaps the greatest milestone since our founding. It came during your presidency. Is this the achievement of which you are most proud?
Yes, the achievement of university college status is a huge milestone. However, I don’t count it as my best work. We, together, built a team that achieved great things. I hope that’s my legacy.

What’s next as you enter retirement? How will you stay connected with your academic and professional colleagues?
I never expected to retire, so this is a bit of a strange place to be. However, I have some great things still to do. Carmel and I will be building a new house, after 25 years in our first and present home. And I plan to do some writing in the area of my passion: systematic theology. And I want to continue supervising doctoral students. I might even get some opportunities to work with some other higher education providers as well. And we want to travel to some new and previous destinations, preferably with our family.

You’re a pastor and theologian at heart. Leave us with a Bible text on which to dwell as we close 2019 and look ahead to our first full year as Avondale University College?
Try this one. I’ve modified it to be more inclusive but I think I’m still being true to the context: “We’re not saying that we have this all together, that we have it made. But we’re well on our way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for us. Friends, don’t get us wrong: By no means do we count ourselves experts in all of this, but we’ve got our eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward. . . . We’re off and running, and we’re not turning back” (Philippians 3:12-14, The Message).

Avondale’s president announces retirement

Avondale will begin searching for a new president and vice-chancellor following Professor Ray Roennfeldt’s announcement of his retirement after 11 years in the role.



Return to website

Leave a Comment