Lent Madness 2014–Part 1

I’m in the midst of following my tournament bracket—not the March Madness of the NCAA, but the LentMadness.org selections leading to the Golden Ring crown.

This morning I chose Simeon (of the Gospel of Luke and the Nunc Dimittis of Evening Prayer) over Phillips Brooks (19th-century Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts and long-time rector of Trinity Church in Boston, popularly known for penning the Christmas hymn, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”).

Unless one knows of the Forward Movement [www.forwardmovement.org], a devotional (Forward Day by Day) and publishing arm of the Episcopal Church operated in Cincinnati, Ohio, LentMadness.org is a stranger. For about five years two priests of the church, the Rev. Tim Schenck and the Rev. Scott Gunn, have been running this tournament of spiritual champions during the days of Lent. They see it as a fun and educational way of providing Episcopalians (and others who enter) a casual means of getting to know some of the saints.

In the Episcopal Church, saints have been honored and recorded in a volume known as Lesser Feasts and Fasts, edited and reissued every three years, and most recently revised, reedited, and published as Holy Women, Holy Men.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church has no formal process of canonization of saints so the General Convention, which meets triennially, decides who gets into the publication and is honored with a commemorative feast day in the church’s calendar.

The Revs. Schenck and Gunn, both avid basketball fans, grasped the idea of the NCAA’s March Madness and turned it into a tournament game featuring stars such as Alcuin, John of the Cross, Anna Cooper, Thomas Gallaudet, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nicholas Ridley, Johann Sebastian Bach, and John and Charles Wesley. Schenck and Gunn act as a selection committee and set up the brackets with 64 chosen saints. Those who sign up vote on a daily basis to determine a victor, who is crowned as the Golden Halo Winner during Holy Week. Throughout Lent, the tournament goes through a Round of 32; a round of the Saintly 16; a round of the Elate 8 (that’s not a typo; look up the word elate); and a Faithful 4.

To date, more than 5,000 voters have made daily selections in the 2014 tournament by clicking on a winner after reading informative and educational biographies of each competing saint. Many of those who sign-up also post comments on why they voted as they did; why they think a certain person should have been included; or why some other’s choice is unwise. Buried in the comments are lots of theological, worship, and social justice debates. (By the way, nothing bars one from entering the tournament at any time and voting in the remaining rounds.)

For me, this Lent Madness tournament coincides with my own developing interest in knowing more about the saints.

As one baptized a Methodist (as an infant) and a Baptist (as a teenager) and confirmed an Episcopalian (as a young adult), I’ll discuss my discovery and growing interest in the saints of the church in Part II.


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