Friday, June 20, 2008


I am the first to admit it: There’s more that I don’t know about Anglicanism than I do or should know. In fact, the more time I spend in Anglican-land, the less that I want to know about the upper-inner administrative workings of this branch of the Christian faith tree. In this case, perhaps, ignorance is bliss.

For example, saints. Last week, I learned about the Episcopal Church in America saint, Enmegehbowh. St. James’ unofficial but brilliant reference doctor, Joyce Banks, quickly brought my attention to the Anglican Church of Canada saint, Henry Budd; the first Anglican Church of Canada Native Canadian ordained priest.

Saints have become a focus for my current spiritual growth. Specifically, I am interested in worthy notables, those modern saints without extraordinary miracles. Everyday people that give me insights into the ‘journey’ with their lives well lived. Like Evelyn Underhill, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or the most recent addition to the Canadian church’s listing, the 1992 addition of Florence Li Tim Oi, the first woman ordained into the priesthood, 25 January 1944 by the Bishop of Hong Kong. She died in Toronto in 1992; hence, her Canadian link.

Reviewing the life of an ancient saint can be equally beneficial. When I read about women such as Julian of Norwich, Hildegard von Bingen or Etheldreda, I am reminded of the courage and brilliance of the early women church builders.

What is interesting about Florence Li Tim Oi is the journey of her ordination. Although she was ordained in 1944, she resigned her license in 1946 to defuse the post-war storm of controversy her priesthood had created. The 1948 Lambeth Conference officially sealed the female ordination door closed with Resolutions 113-116 setting out that a woman’s work within the hierarchy of the church should remain as a deacon. Lambeth 1978, Resolution 21 – Women in the Priesthood: basically acknowledged that the American, Canadian, Hong Kong and New Zealand churches had admitted women priests to the presbyterate and seemingly saying ‘the world had not stopped spinning so we should just maybe get on with business and accept this radical change’. Lambeth 1988, Resolution 1 – The ordination and consecration of women to the episcopate: seems to be saying ‘that not only do we have female priests but now there are female bishops and the world had not stopped spinning so we should just maybe get on with business and accept this radical change’.

And in the end, Florence was given back her priest license, continued to practice her Holy Orders (which she never did stop doing sans licence) and received Doctorates of Divinity from General Theological Seminary in New York and Trinity College in Toronto. The world continues to revolve and women continue to contribute to the building of the church.

The study of this one Anglican saint’s life gave me an insight, in a general basis, into the complexity of Anglicanism. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, where the Pope is the CEO and everybody reports to the CEO and, where every saint is venerated as a saint by everybody, the Anglican church seems to me to be the largest sitting committee in Christendom. In an organization where there is an implied super ‘first amongst equals’ (the Archbishop of Canterbury) and then there are implied sub ‘first amongst equals’ (the remaining primates of the worldwide communion), it doesn’t surprise me that events like the once-a-decade Lambeth gathering of ‘equals amongst equals’ (unless of course you are not invited, like Bishop Gene Robinson of the American branch of the Anglican Communion) are complicated events.

What is surprising and disappointing, in a gathering of equals, is that there are ‘unequals’ like Robinson. It is even more discouraging that there are equals who are declining to sit with their equals because they consecrated Robinson.

Equally confusing is the GAFCON gathering in Jerusalem which will precede the Lambeth gathering and will include Bishop Don Harvey from Canada, Archbishop Peter Jensen from Sydney Australia, Archbishop Greg Venables, and a host of African and South Asian bishops; all of whom were invited to but will not be attending Lambeth. I understand that Bishop Gene Robinson was not invited to this gathering, as well.

On the GAFCON website, one of the ‘frequently asked questions’ is: Is this all over a gay Bishop? The answer posted is:

No. GAFCON is about churches being grouped by what they have in common. We’re for growth, we’re passionate about the truth. We want to look to the future. That’s what the conference is about-Global Anglican Future.

Another FAQ from the website: Aren’t you splitting the church? GAFCON’s answer to this question:

No. Communion depends on having something in common. Churches in the Global South are growing. They’re passionate about the truth and their faith. We are building on this strength. As the Anglican Communion develops, some of the old bonds are loosening, some new bonds are being formed. That’s a good thing. These bonds involve churches which are growing, and which have something distinctive to say to the world. GAFCON is enthusiastic about mission. Its focus is the future.

As I read that last answer, the 'old bonds that are loosening' are to the Anglican worldwide communion that is gathering for the Lambeth conference. The 'good thing', the new bonds, is gathering in Jerusalem for the GAFCON conference.

Which conference would Jesus attend? Isn’t Jesus a powerful and significant enough ‘something in common’ in the Anglican communion? Isn’t the commandment that Jesus gave us: Love one another? What is the truth? Too many questions.

Back to the saints, ignorance and bliss. Some sixty years after her ordination, Florence Li Tim Oi is a saint in the Canadian and American branches of the Anglican Communion, and women priests and bishops are a reality within the Communion. It only took the Lambeth Conference sixty years to officially catch up with the reality of its laity and clergy.

Maybe I will just put all the lists of Anglican saints on one global, universal, all-inclusive calendar, for my own sake and purposes. My present focus for spiritual growth will be the past. There is so much to learn from these lives.

As for a sixty year wait on the current reality check for the Communion and at my age, I don’t think I have time; is ignorance bliss?

The Web Scribe


bob said...

I enjoyed your entry on "St. Florence," and happily join your call that we uphold Christ as the highest and best commonality for bonding us all in the Church.

General Theological Seminary, where I am now preparing for Holy Orders, dedicated an icon to Florence in our Chapel of the Good Shepherd this spring.

The ceremony was hosted by the Society of St. Blandina, a student group at General that upholds women in the priesthood.

You may already be familiar with Blandina. Among the Martyrs of Lyons, Blandina stands out as one of the earliest women in whom the image of Christ was recognized. This recognizable image of Christ in Blandina makes her an important link from the early Church to women as priests today. She is remembered in the US Episcopal Church calendar on June 2.

Web Scribe said...


Thank you for the feedback. Is there any way of viewing the St Florence icon, short of a trip to NYC?

St Blandina is new to me; I appreciate you sharing this information and will certainly become familiar with her life.

bob said...

The icon of Florence Li Tim Oi displayed in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at General Theological Seminary in New York was written by The Rev. Ellen Francis Poisson, OSH and dedicated in early 2008. The icon may be seen on the Episcopal Church and Visual Arts website at

I'm biased of course, but I think Florence is best experienced in person, in the splendor of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, by visiting General. We would be glad to welcome you.