The Rev. Canon Alice Medcof is one of 52 women profiled in the 2015 edition of Herstory: The Canadian Women’s Calendar.
The calendar, created by the Saskatchewan Women’s Calendar Collective “as a weekly celebration of incredible women, past and present, who have shaped our country,” has been published annually (with the exception of two years) since 1974.
“I was alive and active when Herstory was first dreamed up,” said Medcof in an interview with the Anglican Journal. “What I saw in Herstory was capturing the history of women. To be part of that was absolutely astonishing.”
Medcof said she is proud to be a part of the book that also featured the women of Oka, Que. (who became leaders and voices for their Mohawk community during a 1990 conflict with the government) and others “who would not have been featured in the first five or six years of Herstory, but now in retrospect have become recognized [for their role] as turning points in the lives of First Nations women.”
The calendar’s profile of Medcof follows an article on the ordination of women in the Anglican Church of Canada, which was approved by General Synod in 1976. Looking at that, Medcof said she thought, “Isn’t this wonderful, because I do have some pieces to say,” particularly about the history of women in the church.
Ordained as a deacon in 1979, and as a priest in the diocese of Toronto in 1980, Medcof was one of the pioneers breaking ground, and in some cases ice, with those in the church who had not yet accepted the idea that women could serve as priests.
She began by taking divinity courses at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College part-time. She would see her two children off to school, drive downtown to take a course in the morning, race home to give her children lunch and then return to the college to attend more classes in the afternoon. At the time, she was also worshipping and singing in the choir at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Toronto. The priest, Fr. M. Hutt, was one of the people who had written a manifesto against the ordination of women. Medcof thought it best to tell him what she was doing before he heard it through the “clergy grapevine,” she said. “There was nothing we could do but sit at opposite sides of the table and cry, because at this point, he, my pastor, was totally opposed to what I might become.”
She worked as an assistant curate at St. Paul’s Lorne Park in Mississauga, Ont. “We had to publish in the bulletin who was celebrating which service so people could [decide whether to] come,” she said.
Medcof says she did have strong support from a group of male priests, including Cyril Powles and Kenneth Fung, who sought out jobs for her; in fact, they found four possible positions. When she asked a pastoral professor at Trinity College for advice about which one to choose, she says he told her, “Alice, you don’t have a political bone in your body, but it is time you grew some…You go to Christ Church Deer Park because they have five members of diocesan synod and if you can convert them, just think what good you’ll do for the rest of the women.”
Later, she was appointed to her first position as an incumbent at Church of the Epiphany, Scarborough, which had, ironically, just become vacant when the Rev. Michael Bedford Jones, another one of the authors of the manifesto against the ordination of women, moved to another parish. The search committee had rejected three male priests whom they interviewed, and when the bishop told them there was no one else, a female warden, Virginia Finlay, who worked at the diocesan centre, said, “Yes, there is. There’s Alice Medcof.” Once hired, Medcof says, she found little resistance from parishioners, as long as she provided the 9 a.m. congregation with the full high-church service to which they were accustomed and the very different 11 a.m. congregation with a sermon that “preached the word” in 25 minutes.
In 1996, Medcof became one of the founders of the International Anglican Women’s Network, an official body of the Anglican Communion that reports to the Anglican Consultative Council on women’s issues. In 2003, she began what would be two terms as chair of the network, during which time she annually accompanied Canadian groups to UN headquarters in New York to participate in the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Their work contributed to votes by the Anglican Consultative Council, in both 2009 and 2012, to make the elimination of gender-based violence a priority.
Medcof continues to focus on issues of women’s rights within the church and in the world. Currently, she is working on a campaign raising awareness about the scourge of human trafficking around the world. “The goal is that every single parish knows about human trafficking,” she says.