written by Liz Goodyear
As a child, I had a set of books called My Book House, and in it was a painting of an amazing castle in the air. The castle and the clouds it rested on were peopled with all sorts of happy men and women and children. I was an only child whose father had died – I loved that picture so much, blue skies and pink clouds and castles with genuinely happy faces and families!
Sometime later I discovered, like an old dear friend, the scripture “We are surrounded by such a mighty cloud of witnesses…”. I knew exactly what that looked like.
When I was newly ordained in 1986, someone sent me a black and white photograph of Florence Li Tim-Oi, the first woman to be ordained as a priest in the Anglican communion. She was standing in a small group of Chinese people in her robes. The year on the picture was 1944. Today is her feast day. Florence Li Tim-Oi became my “mighty cloud” in those first challenging years. I kept her photo postcard on my desk and took heart from it often. You know, “if she could, I could…”
Later I discovered she’d been inspired at the ordination of Deaconess Lucy Vincent, when the preacher asked for women to give their lives to work for Christian ministry. Li Tim-Oi answered that call. When she was ordained by Bishop Ronald Hall, he explained to the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, that though he was not an advocate for the ordination of women, “I am determined that no prejudices should prevent the congregations committed to my care having the sacraments of the church.” In other words, ministry trumps prejudice!
Though I took a most circuitous route to my own ordination, I too was inspired by a preacher. I was 6; he was Billy Graham and the year was 1952. Walking home in the shadows of street lights on tree-lined streets and holding my Grandmother’s hand, I said, “Grandmother I want the whole world to know this. She said, “Of course!” and promptly joined the pantheon of my “mighty cloud of witnesses”.
One of my mentors, The Rev. John Claypool, called those witnesses, our “balcony people”; people who are watching over us, cheering us on. Look up in those stands, my colleagues. Be awake to those who came before you, surrounding you, sending you forth with courage and faith. Reach out your hands, dear friends, to those who will come after.
The Gospel is not a lonely land; it is peopled with friends and mentors and saints and family who came before. Take heart and thank you Li Tim-Oi.
The Rev. Liz Goodyear Jones spends her days as a retired priest and pastoral associate at St. Peter’s by the Sea, studying and sharing the Enneagram and Centering Prayer. She lives on the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast with her jazz musician husband and their two kitties, King Leo and Taj Mahal.
She is a lover of books, history and Winston Churchill.