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. As a priest and bishop in the Diocese of Toronto I had the privlege of meeting Florence and her sister a number of times. After her death the diocese honours her at a special service on or around January 24th. I enjoyed many meals after these services at a Chinese Banquet hall with her sister and her Canadaian friends. Florence was a remarkable saint and her feast day is now included in the Anglican Church of Canada calendar.

  2. I’d like to vote for both, but went with Florence, less well known to me, but as deserving as Nicholas.

  3. I didn't know about Nicolas von Zinzendorf, and love his story. I had no idea that we Episcopalians have had a special relationship with the Moravian Church, but fondly remember Easter sunrise services there at one when I lived in Winston-Salem as a child. I work towards allowing my daily activities to be a form of worship. I hope Nicolas returns again in Lent Madness against someone who wasn't a trailblazer for women and the Church who suffered mightily for her faith.

    1. This is actually already his second appearance in Lent Madness. I agree -- too bad he was put up against such a strong competitor.

      1. "In terms of our physiognomy, the most significant mark Zinzendorf argued that distinguishes us from all others is not skin color, or gender, but the mark of the thorns on the brow." We could still use von Zed's witness today!

    1. He did have a different attitude from other missionaries. Still.
      A Quote from him... Show a happy and lively spirit and in external matters, do not rule over the heathen in the slightest fashion, but rather gain respect among them through the strength of your spirit, and in external matters humble yourself below them as much as possible.

  4. This was a tough choice. I admire both for their contributions. John Cabot keep the limericks coming I love them.

  5. As a clergywoman, I needed to vote for my sister in faith, Florence Li Tim-Oi. As a United Methodist, though, I need to give a shout out to Nicholas von Zindendorf. His ministry and influence was a great encouragement to John Wesley as Wesley was going through the spiritual renaissance that culminated in the Methodist movement. Heartfelt thanks to both of these saints!

  6. This one was brutal! As a female priest in the church, how could I not vote for Florence?? But Nicholaus...wrote Jesus letters as a kid!! And met with indigenous leaders. And reminds me to consider all my tedious chores (which I hate) as liturgy (which I love.). My solution? I voted for Nicholaus and made my daughter log on to a different device and vote for Florence.

    1. Did you get any advice on voting? On my iPad, at least, I have to tap and tap and tap until it registers. If I get tired of tapping, I reload the page, or close the page and start over, and tap and tap and tap…don’t give up!

  7. Regret that von Zindendorf had such an overwhelming opponent. I am glad to learn about him.

  8. If these two were lined up against others, rather than against each other, they both would win. As it is, I will vote for Florence Li Im-

  9. I found Li-Tim Oi an inspiring saint for our pandemic times when a stained glass window depicting her was installed in our church in Toronto ON Canada in 2020. Churches were basically closed in Ontario, with only very limited attendance allowed. Her story, of bringing God's love and sacraments to war-torn people, was relevant as churches struggled to bring that same message to comparably frightened and isolated people. Her courage and dedication to spreading God's love was a beacon for all of us. Photos of the window (also depicting Desmond Tutu) can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/268038243370669/posts/our-new-stained-glass-window-depicting-bishop-desmond-tutu-and-rev-florence-li-t/1535399493301198/

    1. Thank you for sharing this link for the stained glass window. It is lovely and portrays that our faith isn't just an ancient relic, but a living breathing modern faith as well

  10. This was hard. Although my vote finally landed on Florence I truly loved the quote from Nicolaus….All of life becomes a liturgy.

  11. A tough choice - wish that both Saints had been paired with yesterday's candidates, so that both of today's candidates could move forward to the next round. I had to go with the inspiring Florence Li Tim-Oi.

  12. Li Tim-Oi gets my vote today. I am happy to support such a strong, devoted woman who did what needed to be done in such a hard time and place. Go Florence!

  13. What a glorious start to my day (and a refreshing change from reading today's news) to learn for the first time about these two wonderful saints. Mother Florence has my vote! What an inspiring life.

  14. Li Tim-Oi gets my vote today. I am happy to support such a strong, devoted woman who did what needed to be done in such a hard time and place. Go Florence! First ordained woman. That is a pioneer!

  15. This was a hard one. I need to re-think my strategy. Maybe, knowing who will win should cause me to vote for the underdog—hmm. Win, win.

  16. I am so grateful to have been introduced to Nicolaus von Zinzendorf-what a fabulous man! His love for and dedication to Jesus is inspiring.

  17. Count Zinzendorf, a noble soul,
    was holy, man and boy -
    but taking matters on the whole,
    I'll vote for Li Tim-Oi.

  18. I had to vote for Florence Li Tim-Oi whom I met at a party at EDS the night before the consecration of Barbara Harris. She was "holding court" being surrounded by many of the Philidelphia Eleven. It was so special to be that close to the woman who "opened the door to the priesthood"
    for women who followed.

    1. I attended the consecration of Barbara Harris so Sr. Florence must have been in the room that day! I did not know of her then, but now have learned of her remarkable life. What courage and perserverance she had. She is my choice for the Golden Halo this year.

  19. Well, Kiss my Grits! If von Z had come up with the recipe for Moravian cookies, he might’ve got my vote, however the lady gets it for being twice ordained. Li Tim-Oi persevered through controversy & prevailed!

  20. Today's match is sponsored by the letter "O." I really wanted to vote for Nic von Zed, as "life as liturgy" and meeting with indigenous leaders are both highly compelling factors in his favor. But I voted for the first woman priest. I was curious what "a neutral location" in China might be. According to the all-knowing Internet, she was ordained in the "Free China village" of Shui Hing. "Shui" means "water," and the Shui people are an ethnic minority who "aren't very good at growing vegetables." If it's on the internet, it must be true! But a beloved Chinese daughter who was in the right place and the right time to become an ordained priest seems like a fortuitous model for today. There are Asian women serving in today's church, and we should recognize their contributions, including, doubtless, an ability to grow and cook vegetables. I cast my vote for Li Tim-Oi in honor of Shana and Diana.

  21. Many people would throw in the towel after being persecuted and forced to destroy their vestments but St Florence Li Tim Oi did not. She honored her call and continued to serve God and God’s children. A worthy example to all of us who face deep discouragement in our lives.

  22. Today's pairing is a feast compared to yesterday's famine!
    Having lived in eastern Pennsylvania for over 15 years now, I have great admiration for Zinzendorf and the Moravian Church (and who cannot love a church which serves coffee and sweet rolls as part of their worship?).
    But having now been a priest for more than twice that long, it's Florence Li Tim-Oi for me, perhaps all the way to the Golden Halo! She was the first among so many sister priests who paved the way for me, in much more divided times than I experienced. Thank you, my sister.

  23. Born in May, died in May, and my longest known friend was Lutheran. You have to choose somehow and that was the method to my madness today 🙂 One more count for the Count.

    Lovely, it is, to learn about two more of this year's 32 amazing people.