Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Women's History Month: Anglicans

The Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi (1907 – 1992)
the first woman to be ordained in the Anglican Communion

In 1944, faced with a situation in the diocese of Hong Kong that called for pastoral care, Bishop Ronald Hall ordained Ms. Li to the priesthood. Although this action was well received in the diocese, it caused a storm of protest in the wider communion and pressure was brought to bear on the bishop, requesting that she relinquish the title and role of a priest.

When Ms. Li became aware of the concern of the wider church and of the pressure on Bishop Hall, she did not get angry and leave the church but made the decision to resign the exercise of her ministry in 1946. For the next 39 years, she served faithfully under very difficult circumstances, particularly after the Communists took over mainland China.

In 1983, arrangements were made for her to come to Canada where she was appointed as an honorary assistant at St. John's Chinese congregation and St. Matthew's parish in Toronto. The Anglican Church of Canada had by this time approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and in 1984, the 40th anniversary of her ordination; Ms. Li was, with great joy and thanksgiving, reinstated as a priest. From that date until her death in 1992, she exercised her priesthood with such faithfulness and quiet dignity that she won tremendous respect for herself and increasing support for other women seeking ordination.

The very quality of Ms. Li's ministry in China and in Canada and the grace with which she exercised her priesthood helped convince many people through the communion and beyond that the Holy Spirit was certainly working in and through women priests. Her contribution to the church far exceeded the expectations of those involved in her ordination in 1944. The Episcopal Church commemorates her ordination on January 24.

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