For the eighth year running, people worldwide are gearing up for Lent Madness, the “saintly smackdown” in which thirty-two saints do battle to win the coveted Golden Halo. Calling itself the world’s most popular online Lenten devotion, Lent Madness brings together cut-throat competition, the lives of the saints, humor, and the chance to see how God works in the lives of women and men across all walks of life.
The creator of Lent Madness, the Rev. Tim Schenck, sees much timeliness in this year’s edition. “During a time of great division and stress in our country, people are actively seeking role models who exemplify hope in a broken world.” Schenck, who is rector of St. John’s Church in Hingham, Massachusetts, continues, “The saints aren’t just distant figures trapped in stained glass windows. They were real people God used in inspiring ways, often during difficult times in human history. These are stories we need now more than ever.”
Lent Madness began on Schenck’s blog in 2010 as he sought a way to combine his love of sports with his passion for the lives of saints. Starting in 2012, he partnered with Forward Movement, an official ministry of the Episcopal Church, to bring Lent Madness to the masses.
The Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, Schenck’s Lent Madness co-conspirator, says, “As we see the ways Christ’s love burns brightly in a great variety of women and men, we see the possibility that Christ’s love can burn brightly in our own hearts.” Gunn, who is executive director of Forward Movement in Cincinnati, Ohio, adds, “It’s fun to build a competition around saints in all their diversity, but what they hold in common is a fierce determination to follow Jesus. There are no saints of the status quo.”
Schenck and Gunn believe the world needs hopeful, forward-looking, inspirational role models now more than ever, and the saints of the church provide that. As a way of poking fun at church hierarchies and committees, they form the self-appointed Supreme Executive Committee, a more-or-less benevolent dictatorship that runs the entire operation.
Here’s how it works: on the weekdays of Lent, information is posted here about two different saints. Each pairing remains open for 24 hours as participants read about and then vote to determine which saint moves on to the next round. Sixteen saints make it to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen; eight advance to the Round of the Elate Eight; four make it to the Faithful Four; two to the Championship; and the winner is awarded the Golden Halo.
The first round consists of basic biographical information about each of the 32 saints. Things get a bit more interesting in the subsequent rounds as we offer quotes and quirks, explore legends, and even move into the area of saintly kitsch.
This year Lent Madness features an intriguing slate of saints ancient and modern, Biblical and ecclesiastical. 2017 heavyweights include Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, Florence Nightingale, Stephen the Martyr, and Sarah the Matriarch. It also includes several intriguing matchups including Augustine of Hippo vs. Augustine of Canterbury (All-Augustine Anarchy); Fanny Crosby vs. G.F. Handel (Battle of the Bands); and Joseph Schereschewsky vs. Nikolaus von Zinzendorf (Clash of the Consonants).
This all kicks off on “Ash Thursday,” March 2. To participate, the public can visit the Lent Madness website, where participants can also print out a bracket for free to see how they fare or “compete” against friends and family members. Like that other March tournament, there will be drama and intrigue, upsets and thrashings, last-minute victories and Cinderellas. Unlike professional and collegiate sporting events, there is no admission cost for Lent Madness, but souvenirs and study aids are available in the “Lentorium” section of the Lent Madness website.
Eleven “celebrity bloggers” from across the country have been tapped to write for the project: the Rev. Amber Belldene of San Francisco, California; the Rev. Laurie Brock of Lexington, Kentucky; Anna Fitch Courie of Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas; David Creech of Moorhead, Minnesota; the Rev. Megan Castellan of Kansas City, Missouri; Neva Rae Fox of Somerville, New Jersey; the Rev. David Hansen of Woodlands, Texas; Beth Lewis of Minneapolis, Minnesota; Hugo Olaiz of Cincinnati, Ohio; Derek Olsen of Baltimore, Maryland; and the Rev. David Sibley of Manhasset, New York. Information about each of the celebrity bloggers and the rest of the team is available on the Lent Madness website.
This year’s Golden Halo winner will join illustrious company. Previous winners were George Herbert, 17th century English poet, 2010; C. S. Lewis, 20th century British writer and theologian, 2011; Mary Magdalene, disciple of Jesus, 2012; Frances Perkins, 20th century American public servant, 2013; Charles Wesley, 18th century English preacher and hymn writer, 2014; Francis of Assisi, 13th century monastic and advocate for the poor, 2015; and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th century German theologian and activist who was killed by the Nazis, 2016.
People looking for a Lenten discipline that is fun, educational, occasionally goofy, and always joyful, are invited to join in the Lent Madness journey.
Lent Madness is sponsored by Forward Movement, whose mission is to inspire disciples and empower evangelists. With offices in Cincinnati since 1935, Forward Movement is an official ministry of the Episcopal Church producing resources to support Christians in their daily lives. Learn more at www.forwardmovement.org.