Saturday, May 12, 2007

It takes ONE woman

I spent Thursday evening in the Cathedral Chapter house, a chilly miracle of carved medieval stone - hearing Christina Rees speak about my sisters in ministry, African women who've trained thanks to grants from the Li Tim Oi Foundation (now relaunched as It takes ONE Woman). The foundation was set up in memory of Florence Li Tim Oi, the first woman ordained priest in the Anglican Communion, and it gives grants to train women in the developing world for ministry, lay and ordained.
I'd heard of its work before but Christina's talk gave it a new reality, as she spoke of a month spent visiting some of its beneficiaries in Kenya and Uganda.
She told us of Penninah, running 8 deeply rural parishes on her own, in a culture that traditionally discriminates against women, particularly the unmarried and childless. Educated to a professional level, she and her female colleagues find themselves too often ostracised by male clergy (their most likely potential allies and supporters) who are at best patronising, more often bullying...but the authority of their Orders and their huge personal integrity has won them the loving respect of their parishioners. Penninah will walk for hours to sit beside a dying parishioner (HIV/AIDS means that death is never far away). Her congregations cannot often raise their "parish share" - which means no stipend for the clergy...But somehow those same parishioners find the resources to share home grown produce to keep their priest alive.

Debates about parish share are the constant backdrop to PCC meetings in the Church of England, - but we haven't got a clue, really...Too often, a prudent church council sits on large sums, in case there is a "rainy day", and discusses endlessly how much the church can safely contribute to mutual support funds, or to mission beyond our walls, once our own immediate needs are met. Our hot issues are likely to reflect concern about ageing congregations, or more positively the new to reorder buildings to make them appropriate for the needs of this generation. We have so much, and we so seldom recognise this.

In contrast, Christina asked the "daughters of Li Tim Oi" what the hot issues were for them, those things that affected every aspect of life and ministry. Their list included

ignorance and illiteracy
discrimination against women
traditional/cultural values
domestic violence
child abuse and child sacrifice....

I wish I thought I could forget Christina's stories of the evil power of the witch doctors, which survives beneath a thin veneer of modernity. One day she stood looking at the skyline of Kampala with an African friend who explained.."Those low lying buildings will have needed the sacrifice of a chicken to ensure that all went well...The larger houses over there will have taken a goat or a cow, but the high rise office blocks demand the sacrifice of a child"

Against that backdrop, these strong, inspired and inspiring women work with God for the transformation of their communities, reflecting the wise words
"If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family"

Empowering God,
you chose one woman to be the mother of your Son
and another woman to witness his resurrection;
you chose your beloved daughter
Li Tim-Oi to be a priest in your church.
Where the need is greatest you now call women to be ministers of change in your church and their communities.
Enable the Li Tim-Oi Foundation to empower each of them to fulfil their vocation
that your kingdom may come and your will done on earth as in heaven
today and in days to come.'

Postscript: while I was writing, Lorna posted a link to another article here.

The Li Tim Oi centenary is producing lots of good takes one woman, after all...


Lorna (see through faith) said...

"If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family" was my grandmother's motto. She was as poor as a church mouse, but she raised five sons during WW2 - and of her nine children I was the only one to go on to university.

Her great grandchildren - both boys and girls - are going on to show that she educated her sons well, and that her own schooling (albeit limited) was not a waste at all!

Cal said...

Wow. Good stuff. Good to know there are such good women out there (and you are most definitely included as one of them!)

Rev Dr Mom said...

When I graduated from seminary two years ago, part of our class gift was an icon of Florience Li Tim Oi for the seminary chapel. And when I was ordained to the diaconate with two other women that year, we sent the offering from that service to the Li Tim Oi Foundation.

Thanks for writing about this.

Mother Laura said...

Yes, many thanks. I will post a link on my blog, and a better known one where I will be guest blogging next week, and try to get the word out a little more widely.

Jonathan Hunt said...

This quote:

"If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family"

Is true. But very sad that it is generally so. Too many fathers out there, not many 'Daddies'.