Walking the Kingdom Near

January 22, 2017

By Barb Ballenger

Ordination of Florence Li Tim-Oi

First Woman Priest in the Anglican Communion, 1944

Read this week’s Lectionary Readings here.

Or Read Below

Walking the Kingdom Near
January 23, 2017 by Barb Ballenger

I drew quite a day on the sermon rotation, with the challenge of preaching on an inaugural weekend that also held the largest nationwide protests in U.S. history. The Scriptures are from the Feastday liturgy of Florence Li Tim-Oi, which we celebrated a little early this week: Jeremiah 17:14-18a; Galatians 3:23-28, and Luke 10: 1-9.

Well friends, we’ve had quite a weekend. On Friday we had the inauguration of our 45th president, Donald J. Trump. In his inaugural address, he said: “What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.”

“Everyone is listening to you now,” he told the American people.

Then Saturday, women picked up the microphone. And they lifted up a particular vision for what must come first in the strongest and most powerful country in the world — they called for a country that upholds human rights and dignity, protects vulnerable and marginalized people, safeguards children and their future, stewards the earth and its climate and condemns violence of all kinds.

Not everyone out there, or even in here, might agree on how that should be done. But yesterday, millions of people throughout our country and the world marched and held rallies insisting it must be done.

The question for today is how are we going to live into that vision, and the reality that we face? Where is Jesus going to take us?

Today we have the help of an extraordinary Anglican woman – The Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi – the first woman to be ordained a priest in the Anglican Communion. (Read more here and here ) St. Martin’s is celebrating her feast day today.

Her story has a particular resonance right now.

Florence Li Tim-Oi was a native of Hong Kong who was ordained a priest by her bishop in 1944. At the time she was a deaconess serving an Anglican congregation in the region of Macau, ministering to war refugees from China. Because Japan invaded the region, priests couldn’t get to Macau to celebrate the Eucharist, so Deaconess Tim-Oi had been working under a special license to offer the sacraments. Then in 1944 the Anglican Bishop of Hong Kong ordained her a priest, putting holy orders on the sacramental work that she was already doing.

Which was OK during war time, in an emergency. But after World War II, when the dust had settled, the Anglican Communion was not so pleased to have a woman priest that it hadn’t authorized. Conflict ensued. And Florence Li Tim-Oi voluntarily surrendered her priest’s license, until such time as the church would recognize women’s ordination. But she did not surrender her Holy Orders.

With the blessing of her bishop she continued to do pastoral work. She continued to do that work when Communists came to power in China in 1949. When China closed its churches about a decade later, her pastoral work earned her the label of counter-revolutionary, and she was forced to endure re-education. Rev. Tim-Oi had to cut up her vestments with a scissors in the presence of the Chinese Red Guard. She would pray on a mountain alone in order not to implicate her other Christian friends. She worked on a farm and then a factory until the churches reopened in the late 1970s. Then she went back to her ministry.

On a visit to family in Canada in 1981 she was licensed as a priest in the diocese of Montreal, when women’s ordination had been finally recognized in the Anglican Communion. Rev. Tim-Oi eventually settled in the Diocese of Toronto where she worked as a priest until her death in 1992. The church observes the feast of her Ordination on January 24 each year – this Thursday.

The Scriptures we heard today are those assigned to her feast day. So it makes sense that we listen to Jeremiah as he says, “I have not run away from being a shepherd in your service, nor have I desired the fatal day. You know what came from my lips;
it was before your face.”

The Gospel for her feast is an interesting one. Luke’s version of the commissioning of the 70 disciples to be Jesus’ advance team is one of the great success stories of Jesus’ ministry. In the passage we heard today, we just get the instructions, which were similar to ones he gave to the 12 apostles the chapter before. They are to go out to the area village by two’s, dress light (no backpacks), depend upon the hospitality of the people that welcome them. Wherever they stay they are to heal the sick and assure their hosts that the Kingdom of God has come near. Don’t go from house to house, trading your good news for a better meal. Stay put, eat what you’re given, let your blessing abide there.

What we don’t hear today, is the part where it works. The 70 come back to Jesus and they are elated. They had even cast out demons! And Jesus is beside himself. “I saw Satan falling from the sky” he declares and he praises God and he pays his followers a rare compliment. It’s a spiritual slam dunk.

Often this is how people end up in ministry.

Nearly 30 years ago, when my husband and I attended a dynamic urban Catholic Church in New York, my role models were women who preached regularly, who were in parish leadership and who lead ministry in a poverty-stricken community – not unlike the work that Florence Li Tim-Oi did. Some of those roles and those outreaches were outside of official church sanction. But the ministry at Corpus Christ parish was so effective, and the sense of church community and mutuality was glorious! I thought, if this is what the church can be like, this is what I want to do.

Following Jesus, however, doesn’t allow us to linger long at the site of the big win. To follow Jesus is to be constantly on the march through a world that sometimes opens its doors to love and sometimes closes them.

Jesus’ followers would experience the harsh pushback of both Jewish and Roman authorities. Rev. Tim-Oi’s ministry would endure the vice-grip of Communist rule and the rejection of the Anglican Communion. Six years after we moved away from Rochester, the staff and congregation of Corpus Christi Parish would be excommunicated by the Vatican for violating church teachings.

When Jesus said to those first apostles “Come Follow Me,” he never said where to. Their life with Jesus was a life on the move. In fact the first full stop that Jesus’ followers made on their journey of discipleship was at the cross. And Jesus rose before they did. According to Luke, Jesus’ disciples did not get up and follow again until Pentecost, when they were filled with the Holy Spirit, a manifestation of divine presence so complete that it drove them straight to the street to begin preaching the Gospel.

From that moment onward, that was the walk that disciples chose when they responded to Jesus’ invitation to “follow me.” Not a walk to the cross. But a victory walk, a resurrection walk that would bring life and transformation ever more fully into the world, to any who would open their door it.

Rev. Florence Li Tim Oi walked that same Easter walk, and so her work of faith never came to a full stop – even when they shut the churches and made her cut up her vestments. Sometimes she got to stay and do the work that God had for her to do. And sometimes she was forced to shake the dust from her shoes. But the walk and the work always seemed to find her again.

Likewise the people of Corpus Christi Church picked up their ministries and their liturgy, hired back their staff and renamed themselves Spiritus Christi. They continue to this day, a Catholic community that is no longer Roman.

Jesus doesn’t say “follow me” only at the beginning of our ministries. But he says it over and over, at every pause and every turn in the road – even when we seem to have hit a dead end.

Our job is to take the Holy Spirit to the streets, to activate God’s love wherever we find ourselves, and to walk the kingdom near.


Regular Sunday Schedule

8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist
9:15 a.m. worship.together (Eucharist for preschool families)
9:15 a.m. Parish Forum & Christian Education (Kairos)
10:30 a.m. Choral Eucharist

Other Days

Morning prayer is offered at 7:30 a.m. weekdays, in the Mary Chapel.

Silent morning meditation is offered at 8:15 a.m. weekdays, in the Mary Chapel.

Mid-week Eucharist is offered at 12:15 p.m. Wednesdays, in the Mary Chapel.

Compline is offered at 7:00 p.m. on 2nd & 4th Wednesdays, in the Church.

Choral Evensong is offered at 5:00 p.m. on 1st Sundays, Oct.-June, in the Church.

We would love to have you join us.


This Episcopal church is located in the heart of the historic neighborhood of Chestnut Hill, five blocks west of Germantown Avenue at the corner of St. Martin’s Lane and West Willow Grove Avenue.

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