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From ballerina to head of a Bible college

Katy Smith is keen to get behind Christian women

It’s surprising to discover that theological study was actually “plan B” for Katy Smith, the new principal of Mary Andrews theological college in Sydney.

If her teenage dreams had played out, Smith would have been a professional ballet dancer. However, a serious injury thwarted that plan when she was 17 and in her second year of training at the National Theatre Ballet School in Melbourne – meaning that she could never dance again.

“I had to work through what it means when you’ve been working towards something your entire life for it suddenly not to be there anymore,” she says.

“They’re the decisions and they’re the circumstances that left a vacuum, and a vacuum enough for me to re-evaluate my choices, particularly in relation to who Jesus is and the importance of church and being part of a church community.”

“I was like this sponge just soaking it up, and I couldn’t stop writing down everything he was saying about who God was.” – Katy Smith

Smith, 38, grew up in a Christian household and spent her early childhood living in South Africa and the UK before arriving in Australia at age 11. While her parents were highly involved in modelling evangelism, she had been on a “not-so-brief hiatus from church” when her moment of crisis at 17 happened. About a year later, she felt convicted to return to church and began to bring her own life “under Jesus’ kingship”.

Still feeling directionless after her dance career fell part, Smith dabbled in a uni degree in biomedical sciences – assuming university study was just “what everyone did”. However, she lasted only a couple of months before discovering that she really disliked statistics.

But then, some months later, she found something that did set her heart alight, while attending a church camp.

“David Bassett [now an Adelaide Anglican minister] was the key speaker at the camp, and he was presenting studies on the character of God. It was one of the first times that I’d been exposed to this conference-type setting with key talks unpacking the Scriptures,” Smith reflects.

“I was like this sponge just soaking it up, and I couldn’t stop writing down everything he was saying about who God was.

“[Bassett] suggested that we go and read J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. So I went from the church camp and immediately went and bought it and read it within that night. I thought, ‘This is opening up something I’d never thought I’d be able to understand or to study and grasp, and I’d like to know more.’”

After talking about this her church pastors, they suggested Smith go to Ridley College for a year – “and a year only, just until I figured out what I was going to do with the rest of my life, and just so I could be trained and equipped further to serve in my local church. And that’s what I did,” she adds.

“I would have quit college at the end of my second year if it was not for two lecturers in particular.” – Katy Smith

In fact, Smith ended up spending a lot longer at theological college, as her extensive qualifications show. She has a PhD through Trinity College Bristol in the UK; a Masters’ degree from Ridley College; she spent seven years as Old Testament lecturer and head of Postgraduate Studies at the Bible College of South Australia; and was ordained in the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, where she served as an assistant curate in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. She also earned a Bachelor of Theology with First Class Honours and an Advanced Diploma of Ministry at Ridley College.

After her years at theological college, Smith went on to serve as branch director for the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in South Australia and the Northern Territory – helping equip long-term cross-cultural workers – before taking up the role at Mary Andrews College (MAC) in March.

She credits much of these achievements to the support she was given by lecturers, both while at college in the years since.

“I would have quit college at the end of my second year if it was not for two lecturers in particular … the way they got alongside me and they encouraged me and just sat and listened. They were essentially cheerleaders who kept me going.

“Even when I had so much ambiguity and uncertainty about why am I doing this, where is this leading to and should I go through the ordination paths. They started to help me think that, actually, teaching in theological education one day might be a helpful way for me to use my gifts …

“Over the years, they have remained champions and advocates, and kept me focused on who I am in Christ and the potential of how I can serve God’s kingdom for the long term.”

“I’m looking forward to serving alongside students, encouraging them and equipping them so they can serve faithfully in their local church contexts.” – Katy Smith

Now, as the 11th principal of MAC – Australia’s only theological college designed for women in particular – Smith is keen pass on the mentoring she received to the current MAC cohort of 84 students.

“I’m looking forward to serving alongside students, encouraging them and equipping them so they can serve faithfully in their local church contexts,” she says.

She’s also excited about future opportunities for MAC – one of which landed in her lap during her first week on the job. Having just stepped into the role of principal during the Coronavirus outbreak, Smith had to the lead the move of MAC’s classes from face to face to online. After successfully making this shift, the college is also about to launch an “eFormation platform” to support students through the more personal aspects of being formed for Christian ministry.

While MAC had to postpone this year’s graduation ceremony (for 71 graduates), Smith explains why, despite the challenges, she is determined not to cancel any study units this year: “We don’t see cancelling as a real option as our task is to prepare women to pastorally care effectively in their local church communities and in their everyday lives; this is a more critical task given the circumstances we are all facing. So, we’ll continue with flexibility and adaptability so that women can be mobilised to care and disciple effectively throughout these changing times,” she writes in a follow-up email to Eternity.

In concluding the interview, Smith further defines just how important she believes theological training to be: “For every Christian woman who has a Bible, there’s always an opportunity to learn what the Bible is teaching us in greater depth, and with that depth, we are more able to serve faithfully in our different contexts.

“So I think the question is not ‘Why should I [do theological study]?’ but ‘Why shouldn’t I?’”

For more information about Mary Andrews College visit mac.edu.au.

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