Monday, January 24, 2011

Receiving Florence Li Tim-Oi

Monday, January 24, 2011 -- Week of 3 Epiphany, Year One
Ordination of Florence Li Tim-Oi, First Woman Priest in the Anglican Communion, 1944
To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 944)
Psalms 41, 52 (morning)       44 (evening)
Isaiah 48:1-11
Galatians 1:1-17
Mark 5:21-43

Today is the commemoration of the ordination of the first woman priest in the Anglican Communion in 1944.  The story of Florence Li Tim-Oi begins with a crisis in the Chinese church after the invasion of the Japanese.  Bishop Ronald Hall of Hong Kong realized that restricted travel would prevent priests from celebrating the Eucharist during the foreign occupation.  Seeing the gifts of priesthood in Deaconess Florence, he "decided that God's work would reap better results if she had the proper title of priest," so he ordained her on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. 

After the war there was much controversy about her ordination.  She made the personal decision not to exercise her priesthood until it would be more widely acknowledged, though she continued to claim her order, and Bishop Hall instructed that she be called a priest when he appointed her rector of St. Barnabas Church in Hepu, China.

During the Cultural Revolution she was forced to work on a farm and later in a factory and was subject to political re-education.  She resumed her public ministry when the churches reopened in 1979, and two years later, while visiting family members in Canada, was licensed as a priest in Montreal and later Toronto where she settled.  She was awarded honorary doctorates from the General Theological Seminary in New York and Trinity College, Toronto.  She died on February 26, 1992. 

On the diamond anniversary of her ordination, an icon written by Sr. Ellen Frances (a recent McMichael lecturer at St. Paul's) was dedicated for the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London.  Although some parts of the Anglican Communion still do not recognize the ordination of women, Florence Li Tim-Oi is commemorated in the calendars of the Episcopal and Canadian Anglican churches and in several church windows and icons.

Bishop Hall acted upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to ordain Florence, knowing his act would be controversial.  He recognized the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Florence and the need of her priestly ministry for the church.  At her ordination he recalled Paul's conversion, and Paul's commitment to carry the gospel to the Gentiles, a gospel that Paul asserts "is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." 

We read today in Galatians how Paul received his gospel in a time when he was a persecutor, and yet he was called as an apostle to proclaim Christ "among the Gentiles" although he says, "I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus."  Paul began his work, like Florence Li Tim-Oi, without the authorization of the wider church, and years later, as we read in his letter to the Galatians, he was still involved in church conflicts over his insistence that the gospel be given freely to the Gentiles without their having to become Jews.

Paul lived with great conflict as he defended his gospel.  We'll be reading that as we continue through Galatians.  But eventually the church received his teaching and practice and universally allowed Gentiles full membership in the Body of Christ.  The universal church in currently in the process of receiving the teaching and practice that allows women full ordained authority in the Body of Christ.  The first women were ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1974, although their orders were not regularized until 1976.  The universal church is also in the process of receiving the teaching and practice that allows gay Christians full sacramental membership in the Body of Christ, although gay couples and gay priests and bishops have quietly served the church for centuries.

There is an ancient pattern.  God acts.  A faithful, courageous servant responds.  God's grace flows in a new way.  God's people debate and pray over this new thing.  Eventually, it is received into the church's life through its formal structures and authorities.  Sometimes God does not wait on our structures and authorities.  Paul the Apostle and Florence Li Tim-Oi the priest are witnesses to the ever-renewing power of God's Spirit.  And we are each called to be wise and Spirit-filled as we discern where God is leading us in our day.  There will always be debate and disagreement.  God will lead the church through our controversies into new places of grace.  That is a focus of Paul's gospel.  It is also the promise of Christ.



Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location -- --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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