Gracious God, we thank you for calling Florence Li Tim-Oi, much-beloved daughter, to be the first woman to exercise the office of a priest in our Communion; By the grace of your Spirit inspire us to follow her example, serving your people with patience and happiness all our days, and witnessing in every circumstance to our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the same Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I would imagine that most people, certainly most average once-a-week Episcopalians, have not heard of the Rev. Dr. Florence Li Tim-Oi, who is honored today on the church calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. I didn't know anything about her either, until this past summer during the Lambeth Conference when one of the opponents of NH Bishop Gene Robinson gave her as an example of someone who gave up their position as a priest to preserve "decorum" in the male-dominated Anglican Communion (the idea being that if Robinson would give up his position as a bishop, everything would be OK in the Communion. Yeah, right!)
Florence Li Tim-Oi was ordained into the priesthood by Bishop Ronald Hall of Hong Kong in 1944, a time when the Chinese were fleeing from Japanese persecution. She had been serving as deacon in Sino-Portugese Macau. Hall ordained her when, due to the conflict with Japan, there were no priests to serve there. Her ordination caused an uproar in the Anglican Communion because she was--eek--a woman! As a result, Rev. Li Tim-Oi gave up her priest license and refrained from practicing (though she never gave up her Holy Orders). She emigrated to Canada where she was able to resume her priestly duties in Toronto. Thirty years after the protests of her ordination came the ordination of other women into the priesthood. But one has to wonder if the wait would have been that long if she had NOT given up her license.
The gospel reading assigned to her day is from the first nine verses of Luke 10:
After this the Lord appointed seventy* others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”*
I think that's great and all. But given how she had been pushed into resignation, I would add these additional lines from the same gospel chapter in Luke:
But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”* I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town... ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’ --Luke 10:10-12;16
There are still those in the Anglican Communion who have failed to recognize that God calls forth some of the least likely people to be the leaders of the people back to God. And God doesn't discriminate on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin, etc. etc. God examines the heart of the person, and their commitment to being in relationship, ones who accept that the covenants made are not merely words on paper, but a binding and lasting commitment of God's love for the whole of creation. He seeks out those who will be apostles and not just cheerleaders for his unconditional love. And God remains patient as humans continue to try to place conditions on that love, and squelch the voices of those whom he has called on to be the carriers of the message. In time, Rev. Li Tim-Oi was again licensed as a priest. And perhaps it was her initial ordination, and the fury it caused, that set the stage for what was to come thirty years later.
I hope her life and commitment to being one of the called serves as a reminder to all that God needs all kinds of people to create the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.