Amidst the gloom of COVID-19, Grace Church on-the-Hill in Toronto has found a beautiful way to let the light in.
On Sept. 27, the church dedicated a new stained-glass window that depicts two prominent figures of the Anglican Communion – Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi.
The life-sized window, located high in the chancel, casts a blue light on the floor as the sun moves across the southern sky.
“It is wonderful to be worshipping together again with these two heroes of faith shining down upon us, calling us courageously to live up to our Christian ideals in these turbulent times,” says the Rev. Canon Peter Walker, incumbent.
The windows are a gift from parishioners Bettie and Mark Tullis. In the spring of 2019, they approached Canon Walker with the idea of a new stained-glass window that would depict people of faith who were not White.
“We looked around our church and saw a lot of White faces in the windows,” recalls Canon Walker. “That’s not unusual for a lot of churches in Toronto. But that’s not our context anymore. There is incredible diversity and multiculturalism in this city, our neighbourhood and our parish as well, and we wanted to reflect that.”
It didn’t take long for the church to choose Archbishop Tutu and the Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi for the window. “These are two people who changed our Church globally,” he says.
Born in 1907, the Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi served the Anglican community in Hong Kong during the Second World War. She became the first woman to be ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Communion on Jan. 25, 1944. Her ordination sparked outrage in the Church and she later resigned her licence though not her priest’s orders.
After the war, she studied theology in Beijing, but all churches in China were closed from 1958 to 1974 and she was deemed a counterrevolutionary. She was forced to work on a farm, then in a factory and undergo political re-education. In retirement, she immigrated to Canada and served as an assistant priest in the Diocese of Toronto, where she spent the remainder of her life. Trinity College awarded her an honorary doctorate degree in 1991. She died the following year at the age of 84 and is memorialized in the Church’s liturgical calendar on Feb. 26, the date of her death.
Archbishop Tutu, the former Archbishop of Cape Town, was one of the leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and was later appointed by President Nelson Mandela to preside over the country’s historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission, investigating human rights abuses. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
The window at Grace Church was made by Robt. McCausland Ltd. of Toronto, which has been making stained-glass windows since 1857. The company’s windows are in many churches in the diocese.
Canon Walker says most of the stained-glass windows in Grace Church were made by the company, but the latest one is extra special. “This one stands out, particularly now, for it signals a new and deeper consciousness of our story as Anglican Christians, reminding us of the breadth of diversity and inclusivity of our spiritual tradition. It’s not another image of Christ or the apostles or the biblical saints. This window shows two contemporary saints and two heroes of the Anglican pantheon – both trailblazers.”
Archbishop Tutu and the Li Tim Oi Foundation wrote to the church to express their thanks.
Archbishop Tutu wrote: “Leah and I are honoured and humbled that you should go to all the work of creating a beautiful stainedglass window of me. It is a double honour to be standing next to the Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi, a true pioneer and contemporary saint in our Anglican Communion history. It is clear that you got my nose exactly right! I hope and pray these windows will be a blessing to you and your wonderful congregation in Toronto and a witness to peace and harmony in your neighbourhood. Thank you, thank you, for all you and your team did to make this come about. Leah and I give thanks for you and pray for you in your ministry at Grace Church on-the-Hill.”
The Rev. Margaret Sentamu, chair of the Li Tim Oi Foundation, wrote: “The trustees of the Li Tim Oi Foundation are thrilled to see the beautiful stained-glass window of the Rev. Dr. Florence Li Tim Oi. It is wonderful that Grace Church on-the-Hill is honouring her in this way – and alongside Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, both faithful and inspiring disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“In 1994, Tim Oi’s sister, Rita Lee Chui, and Canon Christopher Hall, son of Bishop R. O. Hall, who ordained Tim Oi in 1944, set up the foundation that bears her name, in order to enable Anglican women in the Two Thirds World to be trained for ordained and lay ministries and for other positions of leadership in their churches, diocese and communities.
“Over the past 26 years, the foundation has given grants to over 500 women, who now call themselves the Daughters of Li Tim Oi. This stained-glass window stands as a testament to her enduring witness of courage, faithfulness and hope against all the odds, and to the grace of God, who brought her through many years of hardship, danger and suffering.”
The dedication ceremony at Grace Church included the Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi’s niece and the Rev. Canon Edmund Der, a retired priest of the diocese. Canon Der met the Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi as a boy in Hong Kong during the Second World War and celebrated the Eucharist at her bedside the night before she died in Toronto.
Bishop Andrew Asbil, who took part in the ceremony, gave this prayer: “Dear friends in Christ, remember before God with thanksgiving our forebears in faith. Remember those who by their courageous and faithful ministry have inspired and transformed our church worldwide. Remember those who by their patient struggle for justice and freedom prepared the way for liberation, social reform, and renewal. Remember those nourished by Christ’s teaching to recognize and value the equal dignity of all God’s children. Remember those who set for us a fearless example of unwavering perseverance and commitment to Christ even in the face of political oppression. Remember those who have suffered persecution and imprisonment for their faith. Remember those who have led us into a deeper, costlier understanding of God’s gift of reconciliation and peace. Remember those who by their office and ministry have inspired women and men of every language, race, and culture to serve God’s church in ordained and lay vocations.”
To view the window, visit Grace Church on-the-Hill, 300 Lonsdale Rd., Toronto.
God’s richest blessings for the year ahead