The Windsor Report mentions her ordination briefly as “background” to what it wanted to have us reflect upon, namely the decision making processes involved. Bishop Ann Tottenham would later say of this section of the Windsor Report that it “is a breath-taking re-writing of Anglican history that few women would recognize.”
In remembering The Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi, priest of the church, we remember a woman whose story was considered even in the recent past (2004) as secondary to the story of Anglican decision making processes. We must remember her as a woman whose vocation and ministry were severely curtailed and dismissed by the Communion, held in scorn by her government, and went unrecognized as a priest by the rest of the Communion until in the first flood of ordinations of women to the priesthood she was licensed in
Here is what the Windsor Report had to say about the matter:
“(par) 12. The story of ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate provides us with a recent example of mutual discernment and decision-making within the Anglican Communion.
“13. The background to the story was a period of debate and disagreement both before and after the ordination to the priesthood of Florence Li Tim-Oi in 1944. The story gathered pace in 1968, when the Diocese of Hong Kong & Macao brought the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood to the Lambeth Conference. The Conference was not ready to respond because, as it stated in Resolution 34, “The Conference affirms its opinion that the theological arguments as at present presented for and against the ordination of women to the priesthood are inconclusive”. The Conference recommended that before any regional or national church or province made a final decision to ordain women to the priesthood they should consider carefully the advice of the Anglican Consultative Council.
“14. The Bishop of Hong Kong & Macao sought out the advice of the Anglican Consultative Council at its first meeting (in
Communion to continue in communion with that Diocese. The resolution passed (for: 24; against: 22).
“15. What needs to be noted is that
“Section A (of the Windsor Report) deals with background material and sets the scene for the principles and recommendations which follow. One of the topics, "Recent mutual discernment within the Communion" is presented to show that the Anglican Communion has dealt successfully in the past with controversial issues. Its thesis is that existing Anglican Communion "Instruments of Unity"- the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates' Meeting - provide the structure for dealing with major changes in the Anglican tradition.
“The story of the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate provides us with a recent example of mutual discernment and decision-making within the Anglican Communion." (WR A.12) In fact, this section is a breath-taking re-writing of Anglican history that few women would recognize as either helpful or appropriate.
The story begins with the ordination of Florence Li Tim Oi in
It should be noted that Bishop Hall was in no position to consult any of the "Instruments of Unity" before making this decision and, in fact, was later roundly condemned by them. After the war, despite censure and pressure from the 1948 Lambeth Conference and two successive Archbishops of Canterbury, Bishop Hall did not require Tim Oi to renounce her ordination. She surrendered her licence to practise as a priest and continued her faithful service to the church in
Finally, in 1971 the newly formed Anglican Consultative Council, which included lay people as well as priests and bishops, met in
The real lesson which Anglicans can learn from the on-going struggle over the ordination of women is not the one cited in the Windsor Report (A.21) which says that "decision-making in the Communion on serious and contentious issues has been, and can be, carried out without division, despite a measure of impairment". The real lesson derived from the story of the ordination of women is that when unity and fellowship become the first priority for the Church the result is the endless postponement of decision-making and the inequitable treatment of those most closely involved with the issue.”
Bishop Tottenham is right. So let us remember the story of this Priest, The Rev. Florence Li Tim Oi, and remember too the lesson of injustice, of “endless postponement and inequitable treatment that it contains.”