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Memorial Gathering for Feminist Theologian Letty M. Russell at Yale Divinity School

Nov 08, 2007 — Categories:

We at FaithTrust Institute lost a friend and colleague, mentor and leader this past summer. “Letty Mandeville Russell, one of the world's foremost feminist theologians and longtime member of the Yale Divinity School faculty, died Thursday, July 12 at her home in Guilford, CT. She was 77.” She was honored at a memorial service at Yale Divinity School on Oct. 23 when her portrait was hung in the Common Room.

We at FaithTrust Institute lost a friend and colleague, mentor and leader this past summer. “Letty Mandeville Russell, one of the world's foremost feminist theologians and longtime member of the Yale Divinity School faculty, died Thursday, July 12 at her home in Guilford, CT. She was 77.” She was honored at a memorial service at Yale Divinity School on Oct. 23 when her portrait was hung in the Common Room.

Letty was a teacher and colleague to so many over the years. I first knew her when I was a college student involved with the National Student Movement of the YWCA and she was a staff person providing leadership on the program imperative to eliminate racism. She was helping young white women understand what it meant to be anti-racist. In 1976, she came to Yale Divinity School as I was finishing my Masters work, and she proceeded to change YDS forever.

Her activism was thoughtful, strategic, focused, and grounded in her deep spirituality—hence, it was very effective. If Letty took up a cause or a project, it would get done. She created space for women from every corner of the planet to answer the call to ministry with deep respect for who they were and where they came from. She guided several generations of us in understanding the importance of institutional change and how to bring it about inside and outside our own religious institutions.

After graduating seminary and being mentored by many respected and loved male leaders, I was blind to my own narrow masculine leadership and ministry style. Letty helped me to see that many of the changes, like ordaining women and incorporating inclusive language, were merely a shaving off the tip of the iceberg in the deconstruction that needed to take place in the church if it was going to celebrate the full humanity of women and men. Letty helped us see that Feminist theology like Womanist theology has a much greater power than simply arguing for equality among the sexes.

Letty built a Feminist bridge that connected our personal salvation to social, political and economic change. And because she was a caring, courageous woman as well as a great theologian, she also taught us that the revolution of freedom begins within ourselves. Letty challenged me to take a good look at myself to determine if I was celebrating the full humanity of women, and if I was celebrating me.

In the pulpit, classroom, at lunch, the fireside, or in the cool of a garden, Letty was always sharing double-edged truth. She shared wisdom that was faithful to deconstruct and reconstruct, to break and mend, to cut and heal. She spoke graciously and powerfully to students, teachers and pastors challenging them to be in full partnership with God. She helped many of us make the spiritual connection between faith and struggle, me and them, the world and the church, ministry and justice, the now and the not yet. Today, much of my pastoral theology and my paradigm of ministry is the result of Letty’s fine thinking, gifted teaching and her wonderful hospitality.”

We appreciate Letty’s faithful support of FaithTrust Institute over the years and we will miss her strong, dependable leadership in many different venues. She joins that great cloud of women witnesses who continue to encourage and inspire us. Let the people say, “Amen and Alleluia.”

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

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