Florence Li Tim-Oi v. Nicolaus von Zinzendorf

Congratulations! You survived the first battle of Lent Madness 2023. Of course, the same cannot be said for Hippolytus of Rome who was trounced by Augustine of Hippo 80% to 20%, to become the first saint to punch his ticket to the Saintly Sixteen.

Today in Lent Madness action it's Florence Li Tim-Oi, the first woman to be ordained a priest in the Anglican Communion, facing off against Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, a Moravian whose name is just too fun to say.

And don't forget, tomorrow is the ONE AND ONLY Saturday matchup of Lent Madness, as Olga of Kiev takes on Bertha of Kent.

Finally, if you want to find out when your favorite saint will be up in the bracket, click (and maybe even print out) this year's Matchup Calendar.

Now go vote!

Florence Li Tim-Oi

Florence Li Tim-Oi (last name Li, given name Tim-Oi, chosen name Florence) was the first woman priest ordained in the Anglican Communion. When she was born in Hong Kong in 1907, people generally preferred sons over daughters, but her parents gave her a name meaning “much-beloved daughter.” Li Tim-Oi joined the Anglican church and chose the name Florence at her baptism in honor of Florence Nightingale. Like her namesake, Florence Li Tim-Oi provided care and healing to many through her ministry.

Florence studied at Union Theological College in what is now known as Guangzhou, China. While attending an English woman’s ordination as a deaconess, Florence felt a call and prayed to God that she also be ordained. Ordained a deaconess in 1941, Florence was sent to an Anglican church in Macau, a Portuguese territory with many Chinese refugees from the second Sino-Japanese war. Although she was not allowed to celebrate the eucharist, she ministered to the surrounding community in every other way: performing marriages, baptisms, and funerals, feeding the hungry, counseling the lost, and offering encouragement and hope through their shared faith.

Seeing a situation that called for a radical solution, Hong Kong Bishop Ronald Hall ordained Florence to the priesthood in 1944 in a neutral location in China. Although Bishop Hall is quoted as saying that Florence had developed a man-like charism for the priesthood, the fact remains that he ordained her. As was and is often the case, women get opportunities when men cannot be present. The result is that Florence was an ordained priest 50 years before the Anglican Communion recognized women priests.

After World War II ended and controversy around her ordination ensued, Florence decided not to exercise her priesthood until the Anglican Communion recognized her ordination. When Maoism rose in China, churches closed. Florence was persecuted, forced to cut up her vestments, and sent for “re-education” and work on a farm. Eventually, she was able to leave China and moved to Canada in 1983 to be an honorary assistant at St. John’s Chinese congregation and St. Matthew’s in Toronto. Since the Anglican Church of Canada allowed the ordination of women, Li’s ordination was reinstated in 1984, 40 years after the original date. We celebrate the feast of Florence on January 24, the eve of her ordination.

Collect for Florence Li Tim-Oi
Almighty God, who pours out your Spirit upon your sons and daughters: Grant that we, following the example of your servant Florence Li Tim-Oi, chosen priest in your church, may with faithfulness, patience, and tenacity proclaim your holy gospel to all the nations, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Miriam Willard McKenney

Nicolaus von Zinzendorf

While his name may not roll off the lips of American Protestants, Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf is a key religious figure who engaged in strong missionary work to the enslaved, Indigenous peoples, and German-speaking emigrants. Nicolaus was an author, a leader in the ecumenical movement, and a prolific hymnist, with many of his 2,000 hymns translated into other languages and still sung today. He is a renewer of the Moravian Church, which is in full communion with the Episcopal Church.

Nicolaus was born May 26, 1700, in Dresden, Germany, to a titled and wealthy life. His spirituality was apparent early on; as a youngster, he wrote letters to Jesus. In 1716, while studying law at the University of Wittenberg, Zinzendorf was inspired by Domenico Feti’s painting Ecce Homo, depicting Christ crucified. “I have loved him for a long time, but I have never actually done anything for him,” he expressed. “From now on I will do whatever he leads me to do.”

Nicolaus was ordained in the Lutheran church but always strove for an ecumenical, Protestant movement. During this time, the Moravian Church, Unitas Fratrum (United Brethren), experienced a rebirth among the exiled community, and Nicolaus began his leadership of the church. By 1732, his Moravian settlement had grown to more than 600 members.

Throughout his life, Nicolaus promoted personal relationships with God and believed that all tasks, no matter how routine or dull, are a form of worship. “All of life becomes a liturgy,” Nicolaus said. Under Nicolaus, the Moravians focused on missionary work, starting in the Caribbean and then Africa, Asia, and South America. In 1739, he joined the missionaries in the Caribbean. From there, he traveled to the United States, meeting with Benjamin Franklin and leaders of the Delaware, Shawnee, Iroquois, and Mohican nations, the only European nobleman known to expressly meet with Indigenous chiefs.

In 1741, Nicolaus visited Pennsylvania, arriving on Christmas Day, inspiring the group to name the area “Bethlehem.” After years of dedicated missionary work, Nicolaus returned to Germany in 1749. He died on May 9, 1760. His feast day is May 9 in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Collect for Nicolaus von Zinzendorf
Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints, and who raised up your servant Nicolas to be a light in the world: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Neva Rae Fox


Florence Li Tim-Oi: Wikimedia Commons

Nicolaus von Zinzendorf: Balthasar Denner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


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163 comments on “Florence Li Tim-Oi v. Nicolaus von Zinzendorf”

  1. “The sacraments must be maintained,”
    To his boss Bishop Hall had explained;
    “Since male priests have been banned,
    Let Tim-Oi lend a hand.”
    You could say that she was preordained.

    1. Bravo! It's so good to have your Limericks back. You knocked it out of the park today with this one for the first woman to be ordained in the Anglican church.

  2. In 2013, I enjoyed learning about Florence Li Tim-Oi during Lent Madness (she got to the Elate Eight then), and glad to support her again. She may go "all the way" to the Golden Halo this year!

    1. 2013: the year of my all-time favorite Golden Halo winner -- Frances Perkins! She was tough competition for everyone that year (and, yes, I have the Frances Perkins Golden Halo mug!).

  3. I’ve been using the Moravian Holy Week devotional for years, so I have to count me in for Zinsendorf.

    1. I too, follow every morning the Moravian Daily Text (this year 2023), bible reading, prayers, and music.

  4. Nicholas Von Zinzendorf was a trailblazer and the founder of the Moravian Church - along with Bethlehem PA. A great person.

      1. Exactly! A very tough choice today. As a nurse, I am voting for Florence, who honored Florence Nightingale by choosing her name, but I will be fine with either of them progressing to the next round.

      2. I agree! I'd love to have voted for him, if it hadn't meant voting against Florence Li Tim-Oi! They're both such worthy candidates.

  5. Although I supposedly have Moravian ancestors, I had to vote for Florence Li Tim-Oi. She did what was needed.

  6. This was a tough one! I went to a Moravian high school, so the needle moved toward Zinzendorf, who was a truly dedicated servant of God (and very interesting individual besides). One of those days I'm sorry I can't split my vote in two. Florence Li Tim-Oi is right up there with Pauli Murray, hope she wins big today!

  7. I find I'm usually pulled to one individual or the other after reading their story,but this was one was definitely tougher with both leading very unique lives and vocations!

  8. I chose Florence as she had the faith in her calling to walk with Jesus, and the courage to actively serve even when persecuted.

  9. One of my favorite icons is of Florence Li Tim-Oi. She has been special to me for over 40 years when I first learned of her witness and ministry as an ordained woman-(the first!) . I learned of her in the Women of Vision Program through the National Episcopal Church. Florence is an example of all that people of faith should strive for.

    1. What a happy memories I have of Women of Vision! Here’s to Ann Smith who developed it and Sr. Helena Marie, the Rev. Canon Ginny Doctor and Ana Hernandez who helped lead our retreat. What a team!

  10. All honor to Nicholaus von Zindendorf, but I had to go with Mother Florence. Our parish in Dallas, Transfiguration, was the first in the Diocese of Dallas to ordain a woman to the priesthood. Our Rector at the time and now our Rector Emeritus, the Rev. Terence C. Roper, said, when interviewed about the Rev. Gwen Buehrens' upcoming ordination, "We are simply going back to the Gospel." He was right, and we've been going forward ever since.

  11. I loved reading about Nicholas. Such a wonderful story. I wanted to vote for him BUT, as a woman and priest, I have to vote for Florence. Her faithfulness to her calling at a time when it seemed impossible, will always inspire me.

  12. I am grateful that Mother Tim-Oi survived the Cultural Revolution (many did not), and I grieve with her that the Red Guards forced her to cut up her vestments, although I would imagine that she took it humbly. May all be made whole in heaven. Her service during a time of war and occupation was glorious.

  13. Although my membership is at Trinity Episcopal Church in the diocese of North Carolina, for the last 20+ years in Nicaragua I have participated in the Central Moravian Church of Managua, so I had to vote for our Count Zinzendorf. I may be poaching on Neva Rae Fox’s quotes and quips if Zinzendorf advances, but I wanted to share that he was a prolific writer of hymns. Here’s one appropriate for our Saintly Smackdown (we sing it to the tune Bedford):

    Glory to God, whose witness-train, those heroes bold in faith,
    Could smile on poverty and pain and triumph e’en in death.

    Scorned and reviled, as was their Head, when walking here below,
    Thus in this evil world they led a life of pain and woe.

    God, Whom we serve, our God can save, can damp the scorching flame,
    Can build an ark, or smooth a wave for such as fear His Name.

    If but His arm support us still, is but His joy our strength,
    We shall ascend the rugged hill and conquerors prove at length.

    But I think my personal favorite of his hymns is O Thou to Whose All-Searching Sight. Here is a beautiful rendition of that hymn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcTywObI6_0

    1. Kathy, so glad to see you back in Lent Madness. I always look for your thoughtful comments and today's was especially great.

  14. For the first time in all those years I may not cast a vote, for both candidates are so close to my heart. Von Zinsendorf's United Brethren (I knew them as "Bohemian Brethren ", from the region of Bohemia) made significant contributions to Lutheran church music, btw. And Florence Li's ministry happened to be in times of unimaginable danger and hardship which can't be underestimated although sadly they are almost forgotten nowadays. Whoever wins will get my vote in the next round!

  15. As a Lutheran (currently worshipping as a Methodist, I really wanted to vote for Nicolaus, but Florence's story was just so compelling, I had to cast my vote for her.

  16. Who couldn't honor the first ordained woman to the Anglican church? In honor of my wonderful female rector, I cast my vote for Florence.

  17. This is a hard one for me. Pitting two heroes against one another! but I guess that is the story of Lent Madness.
    I will vote for Florence as a Favorite for this year's Golden Halo. On her day this year, I learned she served at table with Barbara Harris, our first woman bishop. WOW! Can you imagine the joyfulness of that day???? You can google images of them together.
    Still, Count von Zinzendorf is a hero to my husband's family, who were pioneer Moravian settlers of Winston-Salem NC. Our Moravian star and beeswax candles, and years of family heritage, make me feel rude not to vote for him, so I have to say a word in his favor, even while voting for Florence, our Anglican pioneer and hero of the faith.

  18. Went with Count Z since the Moravians encouraged women's education and work as missionaries. The Moravian settlement in Bethlehem was light years ahead of its time encouraging women to go out into the world to teach and spread the light of Christ.

  19. I realize I am in the Lutheran minority here as I thank you for lifting up the memory of von Zinzendorf.

  20. Why couldn't we have one of these two worthies in the first day's match, instead of those two lame hippos? Both are worth my vote; but I think Florence Li Tim-Oi is worth even more. I think she deserves the golden halo!

  21. Two worthy saints today. I first encountered the priestly ministry of women whilst I was doing short term missionary work in Hong Kong and it was there I received my call to the priesthood. In Thanksgiving for all the women who have responded to God's call, my vote goes to Florence Li Tim-Oi.

  22. Mother Florence. Persecution for being a woman, undeterred from her path despite the injustice, Florence Nightingale, and Toronto Canada, the city of my birth. The daily struggle of beloved Madness has started for me VERY early; despite all the above I took my time on this one. But…