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First female priest 'set example'
The first female Anglican priest was hailed as an "inspiration to women" today after a service to mark the 70th anniversary of her ordination was held in London.
Worshippers gathered at St Martin-in-the-Fields church to celebrate the life of Reverend Dr Florence Li Tim-Oi, who was ordained in China on January 25 1944.
She was appointed by Bishop Ronald Hall, the then Bishop of Victoria, Hong Kong, after making a hazardous journey through Japanese lines to meet him in part of China.
Her ordination was hugely controversial - it was not until 1971 that another woman was made an Anglican priest - and, under pressure from church authorities, she resigned her licence as a priest after the Second World War.
But she did not give up her holy orders and she was put in charge of a parish near the Vietnamese border, where she started a maternity home to ensure baby girls were not smothered and killed at birth.
The Reverend Clare Herbert, lecturer in inclusive theology at St Martin's, in Trafalgar Square, central London, said: "It is living history we have here, all the more so at the moment because the Church of England is entering the final stages towards the frocking of women as bishops.
"To be at this service today is very significant. She is a real inspiration to women in the church today."
Rev Herbert said it was crucial for the Church of England to start appointing female bishops to "provide icons" and leadership for women.
She said: "It is really important that we move towards the consecration of women as bishops as soon as possible.
"In their leadership, they are icons for women struggling - being females, mothers, daughters and sisters. But also, significantly, as leaders in the world alongside men.
"The world needs the icon of women and the leadership that brings."
She said Li Tim-Oi set a "powerful example" to others in the church as she endured decades of persecution in Maoist China, where religious figures faced harassment and maltreatment.
Li Tim-Oi eventually moved to Toronto, Canada, to be with other members of her family. She lived there until her death in 1992.
A foundation was set up in her name two years later to enable women to be trained for Christian work in their own countries.
It has given more than £750,000 in grants to over 350 women in countries including Brazil, Fiji, Kenya, Pakistan, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.