Monday, January 24, 2011

Out of Darkness: Florence Li Tim-Oi

"The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined."--Isaiah 2:4

I remember the first time I really heard those words, I cried. I came close to tears again yesterday, only this time it was in recognition and remembrance of that inaugural hearing. It felt as though the prophet was speaking to me personally and directly. Today, the sound of that image in my ears doesn't take me inward into my own journey only. I hear Isaiah describing a truth for a broad swath of humanity, especially within the church. We can see it with the celebration today of Florence Li Tim-Oi, the first woman priest in the Anglican Communion, whose calling became a political football not unlike what we've seen with gay bishops.

Bishop Ronald Hall of Hong Kong had a crisis on his hands: not enough priests to serve in the Japanese-occupied China during World War II. Li Tim-Oi was a deacon. Hall ordained her on January 25, 1944, and you would have thought that the world was coming to an end. Her ordination caused a firestorm of protest in the Anglican Communion because they were still living in the darkness of "no women in the priesthood." Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi was forced to give up her priestly license at the end of the war. However, nearly thirty years later, the Communion would again be faced with issue of women in the priesthood. As the Communion saw the great light of allowing women into priestly orders, Florence Li Tim-Oi was again recognized in the diocese of Hong Kong as a priest. She moved to Canada where she lived until her death in 1992.

Today, in the Episcopal Church, there is no lack of women in leadership positions... starting with our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Her presence, and that of others, stands as a testament that at least in this pocket of the Anglican Communion, those who lived in a land of deep darkness now are bathed in light. As our Church continues to follow how the Holy Spirit is moving and guiding us, I believe we will be a people brightly shining for many outside our Church as they go seeking a community in which to worship God. I believe there will be more women, more ethnic minorities, and--yes--more openly gay bishops, priests and deacons. The more light that shines in--and out--of our stained glass, ritualistic, body of Christ... the more we will reflect God's bright future laid out before us.

"For the yoke of their burden, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian."--Isaiah 9:4


Phoebe said...

I was privileged to meet Florence Li Tim-Oi when she visited GTS. A most Godly woman who in every challenge did 'what Jesus would do'.

Malcolm+ said...

I knew Florence Li Tim-Oi when I was in college - although for the longest time I though of her as merely that nice old Chinese lady who came to chapel.

In Canada, we remember her on te anniversary of her death rather than the anniversary of her ordination, so I thank my American friends for reminding me of the significance of this anniversary.

SCG said...

Phoebe and Malcolm+: Wow! Isn't it something when we meet these pioneers and stained-glass ceiling breakers, and discover that what makes them radical is that they are authentically, quietly, comfortable in their own skin. That seems the hallmark of so many of our saints.

Anonymous said...

Good Postings from both Phoebe and Malcolm and the Saints keep marching home.