The Reverend Florence Li Tim-Oi was made a priest in the Diocese of Hong Kong and South China on January 25, 1944, almost thirty years before any other woman would be ordained in the Anglican Communion.
It was the church’s need that led to her ordination. In the Sino-Japanese war people could not easily travel through occupied Japanese territory, and the parish she served was isolated. As a deacon and the only clergy person in her community she was already performing most of the duties of a priest. But her bishop went beyond the simple recognition of this fact to an understanding that she was at heart a priest.
This was Bishop R. O. Hall of Hong Kong. He compared the ordination to the priesthood of Reverend Tim-Oi with the baptism by St. Peter of the first Gentile, Cornelius. He said that in the same way St. Peter saw that Cornelius had already, at God’s hand, received the baptismal gift of the Spirit, he perceived that Florence Li Tim-Oi had already received the gift of priestly ministry.
Reverend Tim-Oi listened to her heart and to God and understood that she was called to the ordained ministry of the church. Bishop Hall looked with the eyes of the heart and understood that she was a priest. Both reached beyond the mindset of their culture to hear God’s dream and make it a reality.
It was an experience of naming. There were four parties involved: the woman who knew her calling and yearned for it to be recognized, the bishop who did recognize and understand it, a supportive and welcoming community, and God. Her true name included this fact: that she was a priest in God’s church.
Sometimes God’s desires for us are scandalizing to those around us. They don’t fit with the general understandings of who we are supposed to be. It is difficult in those situations to listen well and honestly, to countenance the strange impulses that rise up in us. It is hard to recognize them as part of our God-given name.
It is even more demanding to manifest them in our lives. Then it is literally a Godsend to have someone who can validate what we know to be true and a welcoming community in which to bring what we know to birth. Every act within the church which has been a breakthrough to a deeper level of understanding has had all four of these elements. They have been communal responses to a name that God has already given.
Where do you see God moving you or your faith community to the cutting edge of new understanding? Are there people in your midst who embody this? Let us pray for the wisdom to see what is true in God’s eyes and for the courage to stand by it, bring it to birth and speak aloud its name.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado