A worship service that lasted nearly two and a half hours became part of the history of the Albanian Moravian Church. While the service set a record for its length, the actual historical significance was that Sister Dena Fortuzi was ordained as the first pastor of the Moravian Church in her country – male or female. For the first time in the 29 years of the Moravian Church’s existence in Albania, a member of the church has been given the job of administering the sacraments and proclaiming the Word.
That makes many things easier. In past years, Danish Pastor Jørgen Bøytler (also Unity Board administrator) traveled to Albania three times a year to baptize, to perform weddings and to celebrate Holy Communion. He was also the liturgist for Dena’s moving ordination worship service.
The service took place in the middle of Albania’s capital city Tirana, where a large office similar to a multilevel apartment, located at a busy intersection, serves as the center of congregational life there. Brother Theodor Clemens from Herrnhut was the ordaining bishop and Brother Sam Gray, a bishop from North Carolina, assisted him.
As is customary in the Moravian Church, the liturgist asked Dena if she felt ready to enter the service of Christ and his church. He also asked if she accepted the Holy Scriptures and would teach them. Then he asked if she promised to work faithfully with the brothers and sisters.
After she affirmed this, the congregation was asked, “Will you accept her as your pastor? Will you accept her with all her strengths and weaknesses? Will you support her with your prayers?” After they affirmed this, a member of the congregation solemnly gave her the Bible and symbolically sent Dena Fortuzi into the world as a messenger of Christ.
Before the Bible was handed to her, however, Dena, who is 41, received her blessing verse from Bishop Clemens: “Jesus said: ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Take courage. I have conquered the world. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” Sister Dena was visibly moved by the ceremony, during which her husband and their young daughter sat in the first row.
Dena’s road to ordination was supported by many around the world,
especially in the U.S. She studied for six years at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, PA/USA via distance learning in preparation to become a pastor, earning her Master of Arts in Theological Studies in summer 2022. Moravian Theological Seminary, the Unity Women’s Desk, and Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem supported her studies.
Pastor Jørgen Bøytler from Denmark served as her mentor during her studies. This close relationship can be understood in historical context—the Danish Moravian Church and its Mission Society were the first to support the Albanian brothers and sisters on the road to living out their Christian faith in the Moravian Church.
A long road to service
Dena had walked this road since her childhood. Her mother was one of the three founding members of the Moravian Church in Albania. Dena belonged to the first Bible Study group in the church. She still remembers the three principles: “Read the Bible, learn how to pray, sing songs.”
For many years, Dena has served the Moravian Church as a lay pastor. She brings extensive international experience to her work as a pastor. As a high school student, she spent one year as an exchange student in Denmark. She earned a bachelor’s degree in International Communication in Perugia, Italy, and an MA in International Relations in Tirana, Albania. Dena also has experience working with government and non-government organizations, including working as a communication trainer for a UNICEF program addressing violence against children in schools and working as head of staff for the Albanian Inspectorate of Education.
In 2016, she started her theological studies through distance education and was able to fulfill her great desire to serve God and to make this service part of her daily work. This was a great task, especially since, while most members of the Albanian Moravian Church are women and children, public opinion in the country is often critical of women serving as pastors. In a conversation with the Unity Women’s Desk, she said, “It would be rare for other religious groups in Albania to accept a woman pastor. But it’s not a problem. It’s a challenge, and I will manage by God’s grace.”
Among the approximately 80 guests at the ordination was her professor Craig Atwood, of Moravian Theological Seminary. In a very touching greeting, he explained that he had met many students in his many years of working at the university. But Dena was the student he most admired. “She was not only a brilliant student. She was working full-time, took many courses late at night, was caring for her parents, and English is not her native language. She overcame all this with her trust and faith in God.”
Klas Lindberg, Pastor of the Moravian Church in Stockholm, shared a very witty greeting. He spelled the first name of the ordained pastor using key words that he also combined with best wishes: D as in “divine ministry,” E as in “Evangelical” and “Encouragement,” N and A as in “Never alone”.
The Albanian Moravian Church is one of eight countries that belong to the European Continental Province of the Moravian Church and consists of around 320 members in six congregations. After the ordination, an announcement was made to the guests that the church will no longer be known by the name Lutheran and Moravian Church in Albania. It would now be called “Moravian Church of Albania”.
On the same day, a few hours after the main event, Dena Fortuzi served as liturgist, together with Jørgen Bøytler, in a Holy Communion celebration in her congregation in Tirana—the first time as ordained pastor.
Original German Text: Ulrike Keller, Herrnhut, Translation: Julie Tomberlin, Winston-Salem, Unity Women’s Desk. Below: photos from Dena’s ordination service.