College award honors first woman priest

Published April 1, 2002

Florence Li Tim-Oi at a 1987 service on her 80th birthday.

Renison College at the University of Waterloo, has created an award in memory of one of the Anglican church’s true pioneers: Florence Li Tim-Oi – the first woman to be ordained in the Anglican Communion.

She began her ordained ministry in 1944, in Hong Kong, and spent the last decade of her life in Canada. The Florence Li Tim-Oi Memorial Award is a full tuition award for a student of high academic achievement who is entering the college’s bachelor of social work program, has shown an interest in working with the elderly, and is active in a faith community. It was created through the generosity of Rita Lee-Chui, Ms. Li’s sister, and Rita’s husband, Siu Ting Chui.

Renison has also announced that its current building campaign, started in June 2001, will include the construction of the Florence Li Tim-Oi Memorial Resource Centre and Archives.

This centre will provide the college, a leader in the teaching of East Asian language and culture, with its first proper archival and rare books facility and will house Ms. Li’s personal papers and other materials related to her life and work. In connection with these events, a special service commemorating the life of Ms. Li will be held on Sunday May 5, 2002 at All Saints Anglican Church, Markham, Ont. It will be followed by a fundraising dinner. (For more information, see the Calendar section.)

In 1944, faced with a situation in the diocese of Hong Kong that called for pastoral care, Bishop Ronald Hall ordained Ms. Li to the priesthood. Although this action was well received in the diocese, it caused a storm of protest in the wider communion and pressure was brought to bear on the bishop, requesting that she relinquish the title and role of a priest.

When Ms. Li became aware of the concern of the wider church and of the pressure on Bishop Hall, she did not get angry and leave the church but made the decision to resign the exercise of her ministry in 1946. For the next 39 years, she served faithfully under very difficult circumstances, particularly after the Communists took over mainland China.

In 1983, arrangements were made for her to come to Canada where she was appointed as an honorary assistant at St. John’s Chinese congregation and St. Matthew’s parish in Toronto.

The Anglican Church of Canada had by this time approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and in 1984, the 40th anniversary of her ordination; Ms. Li was, with great joy and thanksgiving, reinstated as a priest.

This event was celebrated not only in Canada but also at Westminster Abbey and at Sheffield in England even though the Church of England had not yet approved the ordination of women.

From that date until her death in 1992, she exercised her priesthood with such faithfulness and quiet dignity that she won tremendous respect for herself and increasing support for other women seeking ordination.

The very quality of Ms. Li’s ministry in China and in Canada and the grace with which she exercised her priesthood helped convince many people through the communion and beyond that the Holy Spirit was certainly working in and through women priests. Her contribution to the church far exceeded the expectations of those involved in her ordination in 1944.

Archbishop Edward W. Scott served as primate of the Anglican Church of Canada from 1971 to 1986.


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