Walk down the long hallway between the nave and the hall at All Saints, Collingwood, or go to any other church where photos of past clergy are displayed, and starting in the 1970s and 1980s you will see the faces of women deacons and priests. Indeed, walk into any parish in our Diocese, and chances are good the celebrant and/or preacher will be a woman. It seems normal to us now, but it was made possible in part because of the life and witness of Florence Li Tim-Oi.
Florence’s call to Christ was made possible by the work of missionaries who took the gospel to Asia in the 1700 and 1800s. History as we now understand it tries to acknowledge the greed, racism, and violence of imperialism, but as Christians we believe that God works in human history, and the growth of the church in China and Japan is part of God’s work. Taking the name Florence from her hero, Florence Nightingale, Tim-Oi began her ministry amidst another terrible phase of history, the wars between China and imperial Japan.
Because of the war, the Anglican Bishop of Hong Kong decided to ordain her to do the work of a priest where the male clergy had been killed or rounded up. Florence carried out her incredibly demanding ministry amidst hunger, fear, and the brutal Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and the surrounding regions. Often she had to journey in disguise as an old woman to go unnoticed by Japanese soldiers. There is an inspiring account of her wartime ministry, in her own words, here: https://montrealdio.ca/li-tim-oi/
I’m not sure what was worse, the attempts of the Chinese Communists after the war to deny her vocation (she was made to cut up her vestments) or the efforts of the Anglican church to deny her ordination to the priesthood. Florence endured both with patience and humility, and was duly honoured by the church in later life. Canada was honoured that she chose to end her days in our country and in our church.
Compared to this humble and heroic life, I feel a bit sorry for the odds against poor Nicholaus von Zinzendorf. As a Count and a German nobleman, he could have had a pretty comfortable life, dressing well, hunting, dancing, consuming copious amounts of schnapps and snuff and whatever else German aristocrats did in those days.
Instead, Nicholas fell in love with Jesus, and devoted his life to living in community with German settlers in North America. His heart went out to slaves and indigenous peoples, and he lived out his belief, as he said in a sermon, that “There can be no Christianity without community”.
Nicholaus thus reached beyond the Lutheran church of his ordination to serve the German protestant churches in North America known as Moravians. The Moravian Church is one of the oldest protestant churches, committed to the common good, suspicious of wealth and capitalism, and deeply intentional about a common discipleship regardless of race, and it survives here, especially in western Canada. There is a wonderful statement about Moravian beliefs here: https://www.rioterracechurch.org/who-are-moravians-
I doubt that Nicholaus will go on to the Saintly Sixteen, especially with Canadian Anglicans whose hearts and votes will likely go to Florence. But, you know what? Nicolaus would be ok with that. As he said in one of his sermons, “Preach the gospel, die and be forgotten. ”
Blessed be their memories.
You can vote here: https://www.lentmadness.org/2023/02/florence-v-nicolaus/
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