A priest and performer considers religion, the arts, and the often thin space between sacred and secular, church and culture, pulpit and pew.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


It all began innocently enough, I suppose. Two years ago my friend and seminary classmate the Rev. Tim Schenck thought it would be both fun and educational to put the Church’s saints in competition with one another for the coveted (may we say that about saints? he did) Golden Halo, and to set up said competition in a single-elimination bracket a la the NCAA basketball championship tournament “March Madness”, which as any good churchgoer knows always manages to occupy Lent no matter what the date of Easter. Add a thorough search through the heavenly roster of the communion of saints for the first set of 32 candidates, and “Lent Madness” was born. Votes were cast via Tim’s blog, “ClergyFamily Confidential”; the winner was George Herbert, the 17th century English priest and poet. Building on his success in the 2010 competition, Tim offered it again last year, but with a whole new collection of saints. (Unlike Duke and the University of Kentucky, to name a few, I don’t recall any repeats in this “Madness” from year to year – so far. And if, as I recommend, the recent publication Holy Women, Holy Men becomes the resource of choice for the so-called “saintly smackdown” - I think we’re mixing sports metaphors here - there won’t need to be any until long after the “Table to Find Easter Day” in the back of The Book of Common Prayer runs out in 2089, the same year my younger child turns 100. But, I digress.) Last year’s winner was C. S. Lewis. I see a pattern already.

And now, as if the Anglican Communion wasn’t fractured enough, and less than one week after the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, this rivalry in religion has hit the big time. Tim is partnering with Forward Movement Publications and its Executive Director, the Rev. Scott Gunn, to take Lent Madness to the masses (of people). Frs. Gunn and Schenck have given the competition its own website, invited celebrity bloggers to weigh in, and are featuring a weekly video “Monday Madness”.
It’s an impressive list of contestants this year, including several Archbishops of Canterbury. Augustine of Hippo, evidently having listened closely to Jesus, goes up against his mother, Monnica (nice touch, guys). Will Paul of Tarsus, not running aimlessly, defeat Theodore of Tarsus in the first round and, being all things to all people go all the way? How far will Philander Chase the Golden Halo? Will Brigid lose out to Rose of Lima? And what about Rose of Sharon?
Seriously, Lent Madness is an impressive piece of work. It’s fun, it’s clever, and it really does fulfill its mission to educate about that vast “cloud of witnesses” in a way that’s entertaining and engaging. It’s also a much healthier mix of religion and sports than the Sunday morning youth athletics vs. church attendance that most of us face in our parishes. Who says a Lenten discipline can’t be enjoyable? Some, I suppose, but I’m not one of them. So, “I heartily endorse this game” and urge you to give it a try. Two years ago I followed the saintly Mr. Herbert all the way to victory, and it was tremendously rewarding.
The contest begins on Thursday, February 23 with daily match-ups until the winner is, um, elected. “Forward Day by Day” suddenly has a whole new meaning.
P.S. On the Lent Madness website we’ve been warned to vote only once per match-up because “this isn’t Chicago”. Actually, Tim, for some of us it is.


  1. Nicely written, Cynthia, and thanks for the Lent Madness love! I'm diggin' the Philander Chase line.

    1. Thank you! If it helps promote the cause, feel free to use it.