Remembering the Rev. Canon Dr. Alice Medcof

The Rev. Canon Alice Medcof
The Rev. Canon Alica Medcof Photo: Contributed

Anglicans in Canada and in many parts of the global Communion mourned the death in July 2023 of the Rev. Canon Dr. Alice Medcof, a beloved champion of women’s rights and leadership in the church, and one of the founders of the International Anglican Women’s Network (IAWN). 

I had the privilege of interviewing her about her ministry for an article in the Anglican Journal in 2014, which we have excerpted here with permission in tribute to her important contributions to the church and women:

Ordained as a deacon in 1979, and as a priest in the diocese of Toronto in 1980, Medcof was one of the pioneers breaking ground, and in some cases ice, with those in the church who had not yet accepted the idea that women could serve as priests.

She began by taking divinity courses at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College part-time. She would see her two children off to school, drive downtown to take a course in the morning, race home to give her children lunch and then return to the college to attend more classes in the afternoon. At the time, she was also worshipping and singing in the choir at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Toronto. The priest, Fr. M. Hutt, was one of the people who had written a manifesto against the ordination of women. Medcof thought it best to tell him what she was doing before he heard it through the “clergy grapevine,” she said. “There was nothing we could do but sit at opposite sides of the table and cry, because at this point, he, my pastor, was totally opposed to what I might become.”

She worked as an assistant curate at St. Paul’s Lorne Park in Mississauga, Ont. “We had to publish in the bulletin who was celebrating which service so people could [decide whether to] come,” she said.

Medcof says she did have strong support from a group of male priests, including Cyril Powles and Kenneth Fung, who sought out jobs for her; in fact, they found four possible positions. When she asked a pastoral professor at Trinity College for advice about which one to choose, she says he told her, “Alice, you don’t have a political bone in your body, but it is time you grew some…You go to Christ Church Deer Park because they have five members of diocesan synod and if you can convert them, just think what good you’ll do for the rest of the women.”

Later, she was appointed to her first position as an incumbent at Church of the Epiphany, Scarborough, which had, ironically, just become vacant when the Rev. Michael Bedford Jones, another one of the authors of the manifesto against the ordination of women, moved to another parish. The search committee had rejected three male priests whom they interviewed, and when the bishop told them there was no one else, a female warden, Virginia Finlay, who worked at the diocesan centre, said, “Yes, there is. There’s Alice Medcof.” Once hired, Medcof says, she found little resistance from parishioners, as long as she provided the 9 a.m. congregation with the full high-church service to which they were accustomed and the very different 11 a.m. congregation with a sermon that “preached the word” in 25 minutes.

In 1996, Medcof became one of the founders of the International Anglican Women’s Network, an official body of the Anglican Communion that reports to the Anglican Consultative Council on women’s issues. In 2003, she began what would be two terms as chair of the network, during which time she annually accompanied Canadian groups to UN headquarters in New York to participate in the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Their work contributed to votes by the Anglican Consultative Council, in both 2009 and 2012, to make the elimination of gender-based violence a priority. 

In recognition of her outstanding leadership in the Diocese of Toronto, she was named a Canon of St. James Cathedral in 1997, and in 2013, she received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Trinity College in Toronto, In later years, she worked on a campaign to raise awareness about human trafficking around the world.


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