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35 Years Ago . . .

Feb 28, 2011 — Categories:

I was ordained to the Christian ministry 35 years ago today--February 28, 1976--in the chapel of Yale Divinity School, where I had just completed my Masters of Divinity degree. I became infamous as the woman who was ordained without a “call.” What this meant at the time was that I was ordained without a job. Some people equated the two. In 1976, wanting to work on violence against women within the faith community, I knew very well that there were no jobs.

I was ordained to the Christian ministry 35 years ago today--February 28, 1976--in the chapel of Yale Divinity School, where I had just completed my Masters of Divinity degree.

I became infamous as the woman who was ordained without a “call.” What this meant at the time was that I was ordained without a job. Some people equated the two. In 1976, wanting to work on violence against women within the faith community, I knew very well that there were no jobs.

But I did have a call. For me, “call” means a vocation, a calling, a direction given by God for one’s life that is then confirmed by one’s faith community. I knew that I had to do this work. If I could figure out a way to do it and get paid for it, all the better.

So I said “yes” to the call and then created the job ex nihilo. I will be forever grateful to the New Haven Association of the United Church of Christ that they also knew that I had a call and that their vision of possibility for me was even larger than what I could muster. They ordained me to go forth and do the work of helping the church address violence against women.

At that point, ordination meant two things to me: credentials and community. Strategically, I was encouraged by my mentors to seek ordination so that I would have the professional credentials of a clergyperson, which would open up some doors of the church that would otherwise be closed. This was doubly important as a woman at that time. But the affirmation of my faith community was also very important. To be ordained was to be called out for leadership with a promise of spiritual support for a new ministry.

I had no idea what I was saying “yes” to; I had no grand plan. What I realize in looking back is that all I did was take the first step and then the next, all the while believing that God would guide my steps. There was no promise of a smooth, paved road. Indeed this path has been rocky and challenging, and I have stumbled not a few times. But in 2011, I am still on this path. My hiking shoes are well worn, but they still keep the water out. My cap is faded, but it still keeps the sun out of my eyes. My pace is a little slower, but I plan to stay on the path in the years ahead. I give thanks for the many companions I have met along the way.

So I greet this day with gratitude that I have had the privilege of answering a call that has allowed me to join my heart and mind in meaningful work for all these years. God is indeed good.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute

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Posted by Marvin Eckfeldt at Mar 01, 2011 03:39 PM
I, too, share gratitude to God that a call was sent and I am thankful, Marie, that you were open to hear that call. You have been a true pioneer and also a challenging prophet. A lot has changed in these past 35 years and we've also learned that much more needs to change in the church and our communities. Thank you for your faithfulness. It is a privilege to partner with you in the work! God bless.


Posted by Kate Jones at Mar 01, 2011 03:39 PM
Thank you Marie for the courage to answer the call. You have made a difference in the lives of thousands. You inspire all of us who hear a call that does not fit neatly into ordination rubrics but beckones us out into a messy world to seek and share what is holy and what is good in the midst of what is evil and broken. Blessings for the days ahead as God continues to beckon you in the creation of new things.


Posted by Rev. Dottie Mathews at Mar 01, 2011 03:39 PM
Congratulations on your 35th anniversary of ordination - and we join you in that space of gratitude. THANK YOU for answering your call so whole-heartedly. You have had such an impact on how faith communities look at this crucially important topic and (in large part due to your persistence and tenacity) clergy persons across the world know that we have a responsibility to our communities to no longer ignore this societal scourge. We cannot pretend that it is NIMC ("not in my congregation") because we know it is everywhere. Thank you! Blessings on many more years!!


Posted by Carol Drew at Mar 01, 2011 03:39 PM
Dear Marie
peace and grace
Yes, if there was ever a call, it was for you to do the work you do and have done for domestic violence and all its manifestations. Congratulations on your 35 years and thanks for all your good work. Our trip to the Philippines is remembered well and all the learning and sharing. Blessings and greetings. carol

Answering God's Call

Posted by Pastor Juanita Mason at Mar 01, 2011 03:39 PM
We must always be obedient to God's call and live on purpose. Though we can't see it, or understand faith we engage in it...and God's Grace and Mercy does the rest. Congratulations on your stand to obey the Call. Minister Fortune.

"He will bless you if, you faint not" are blessed because you are helping to Break the Silence and heal the hurts of the past in so many lives.

Rev. Marie's call and ordination

Posted by Debbie Michels at Mar 01, 2011 03:39 PM
Dear Reverend Marie,
Congratulations on 35 years, on having faith in God enough to take each step on your path, on giving so very many people (myself included) empowering information, inspiration, hope, faith. The thought of you - and reading your books - has encouraged me for years and years.

Please consider writing more books, as you age. I don't know how old you are, but I am 61, and I feel deeper inside and more knowledgeable just because I've been around for awhile. I'm sure the same is true for you and I'd love to read anything you write - autobiography, stories about the FaithTrust Institute, stories about women you've helped - philosophy, theology - ??!! And again, congratulations on your 35th anniversary! I'm so glad you became a minister and such an intelligent, loving, dedicated servant of woman- and humankind.

Your call

Posted by yvonne devaughn at Mar 01, 2011 03:39 PM
I am so thankful that you continue to respond to that call.

35 years Ago

Posted by Laura Spurrell at Mar 01, 2011 03:39 PM
Thank you for answering the call, and thank you to the brave and visionary people who listened with you and agreed to send you forth. You have been a good and faithful servant, Thank you.

Happy Anniversary

Posted by Judy Callahan at Mar 01, 2011 03:39 PM
I cannot imagine what this world would be without people like yourself who are willing to answer the call when it is so clear and deep inside you. There are so many "martyrs" who pave the way for things to get better and growth to come. You could have taken an easier route, but you remained true to what you knew you need to do and it has made all the difference; as you have made a difference in women and children's lives. Keep on keeping on. We congratulate you on this anniversary and wish you long life and more energy to go the distance. John and Judy


Posted by Al Miles at Mar 01, 2011 03:40 PM
Dr. Fortune,

Thank you for serving God's people with love and respect!!

Love, Al

answering the call and stepping out on faith

Posted by carolyn at Mar 01, 2011 03:40 PM
Thanks for reminding me that it is important to have faith and keep moving forward no matter how hard things appear to be. This blog is very inspirational. Blessings. Caro

A Call

Posted by Jaime at Mar 01, 2011 03:40 PM
I can join with you in your leap of faith, leap into a call that is not entirely defined or established. I feel kinship with all who take up this creative and pioneering path to promote healing and end abuse everywhere. Peace.


Posted by Jerry McCloskey at Mar 01, 2011 03:40 PM
Congratulations on your anniversary. I had no idea it had been that long. But you're still a baby. I'll be 47 in May. Sometime you must address the rest of the story, e.g., how did you get out here?

Happy Anniversary!

Posted by Jess Amo at Mar 01, 2011 03:40 PM
Rev. Marie, we've never met but I've followed your work for years after hearing you speak at a vigil. Thank you so much for your years of service and your inspiring commitment!


Posted by Rev. Joy Melton at Mar 02, 2011 07:28 PM
Let me add my thanks for the fact that you said "Yes!" when you heard the call then, and every time since. I'll always be grateful.


Posted by Eileen Norrington at Mar 02, 2011 07:28 PM
Congratulations on the anniversary of your ordination! Over the years, your ministry has inspired many, enlightened many, and has given hope and new life to many. Thank you for answering the call and for persevering when the going has been tough. Your continuing ministry is a blessing to us all.


Posted by Shirley Fessel at Mar 02, 2011 07:28 PM
How astounding that you not only recognized the need 35 years ago when no one was talking about it but that you found the ability to stay focused and create concrete ways of addressing such a large issue. I too wanted to make a different in Christian service but did not find such a focus and am only now finding about about your work. Thanks for remaining unwavering in the cause and I know you are pleased to see your work now bearing fruit after all these years of effort. Blessings and lots of hope for an enduring impact among all cultures and faiths that think women deserve less than full human dignity.

Thank You

Posted by Sarah Bania-Dobyns at Mar 02, 2011 07:28 PM
Thank you for answering your call and demonstrating what courage looks like.


Posted by Marilyn Breitling at Mar 02, 2011 07:28 PM
Congratulations, dear friend Marie. As one who was cheering for you to do something so unorthodox as be both called and ordained. You broke ground for so many others, and you have made unbelievable contributions to the UCC and to the lives of women and children world wide. Keep on! Marilyn

joining the wave of gratitude

Posted by Rev. Dr. Cindy Bauleke at Mar 08, 2011 06:55 PM
Marie, I join so many in being grateful for you, for your perseverance in pursuing your call, for your clarity and vision, for your ministry, which has changed my life and so many others. I am a better pastor because of you. Our Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ has been greatly enriched in many, many ways by your ministry amongst us. While there is still far too much work to do, take this time to celebrate, dance, and sing (and baseball of course)!

35 Years of Service

Posted by Norm Schwab at Mar 08, 2011 07:18 PM
Hi Marie,

Your name and FaithTrust Institute popped up on my Facebook page when a neighbor of mine, Catherine Bailey, commented on your posting! Keep up the good work of a lifetime's devotion. You are in my thoughts.

Norm Schwab

35 Years of Service

Posted by Norm Schwab at Mar 08, 2011 07:19 PM
Hi Marie, Saw this posting on Facebook by a neighbor of mine, Catherine Bailey. Good to see that you are still active in domestic violence prevention efforts! Best wishes to you.

Norm Schwab

GLAD you followed God's calling

Posted by Cindy at Mar 08, 2011 07:48 PM
I totally agree with you that following God's call on our lives is worth it; but can be hard. God led me to your book, "Keeping the Faith" and also to FaithTrust right when I needed to know that there were other christian women going through the struggle of abuse and church. It was a blessing to read your book.

I am now attending college for a Social Work degree; possibly in DV. I will actually be researching FaithTrust and your work for a paper soon. If you were in the area, would interview you, and/or would like to ask you questions through email.

Thank you for standing up in this area and I pray that churches will understand the truth and effects of DV on women (or victims) of all faiths!

God bless you!