Eighty years ago, in the early years of World War II, the Holy Spirit needed seminary-trained Florence Li Tim-Oi to administer Holy Eucharist to Anglicans in neutral Macao. Bucking tradition, and earning the ire of his colleagues around the world, including the archbishop of Canterbury, a bishop in Hong Kong heard the voice of God in the wilderness and ordained her.
In bad times, society needs everyone. Think of women, often confined to domesticity by the prejudices of their time, entering the workforce in record numbers during World War II. During COVID, undocumented workers of color, denied basic rights by our sinful immigration system, were instantly elevated to essential worker status so they could put themselves at risk, enabling me to stay home with my laptop and Zoom.
In quieter times, it’s sad to think how long it takes us to figure out that all people are entitled to full standing and equal rights. In crisis, we are one. So too in Christ, and yet Christ’s church still struggles to see. It took a generation after Florence for the church to lift the ban on women as priests, though it persists in three of the communion’s 38 provinces.
To help us see the progress we’ve made and the work yet to do, this weekend The Church of Our Saviour in San Gabriel celebrated the Lunar New Year with a full-on fiesta for Florence presided over by the rector, the Rev. Jeffrey Stoller Thornberg, and his colleagues at the parish and in Chinese ministry leadership.
On Sunday afternoon, at a Holy Eucharist service offered by lay and ordained women, our preacher, former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, offered moving insights about Florence’s life and vocation. The Rev. Katherine Feng and the Rev. Anne Stoller Thornberg celebrated. The Rev. Dr. Thomas Ni, COS’s associate for Chinese ministry, told me the magnificent all-woman choir comprised both Buddhists and Christians, some from evangelical traditions in which women still neither preside nor preach.
On Saturday, Bishop Katherine joined the Rev. Canon Melissa McCarthy and the Rev. Dr. Fennie Hsin-Fen Chang and the Rev. Mary Tororeiy for a lively panel discussion moderated by the Rev. Canon Susan Russell. The speakers discussed how they managed to hear God’s invitation to priesthood through the static of cultural and social sin. I was along to say a few words of welcome and offer a closing prayer of thanksgiving for them and the work we share, making a church that expresses the magnificent diversity of the face of God.