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Episcopal saint Jonathan Daniels tops whimsical ‘Lent Madness’ contest

By Neva Rae Fox

Civil rights martyr Jonathan Myrick Daniels received the most votes to win the “Golden Halo” in the 14th edition of the Episcopal online competition Lent Madness.

Modeled on the college basketball competition known as March Madness and shepherded by two Episcopal priests, Tim Schenck and Scott Gunn, Lent Madness is a Lenten devotional that pits nominated saints against each other in progressive brackets similar to the sports contest. Participants read profiles of the candidates written by “celebrity bloggers” and vote for their favorites.

“Of course the entire notion of placing saints in a bracket is absurd — each ‘contestant’ has already earned a crown of righteousness in addition to a ‘golden halo.’ But at the heart of Lent Madness is the abiding conviction that encountering those who have come before us in the faith enriches and enlivens our own walk with the risen Christ,” wrote Schenck and Gunn in a commentary on the website.

In the final round, Daniels received 4,987 votes, vs Joanna the Myrrhbearer, who received 3,977 votes. Daniels was murdered in Haynesville, Ala. in 1965 as he was working with the civil rights movement. Joanna, who is mentioned in the gospels, brought spices to anoint Jesus’ body, only to find the tomb empty.

Schenck is the rector of the Episcopal Church of Bethesda by the Sea, Palm Beach, Fla., and Gunn is executive director of the publisher Forward Movement.

Schenck started Lent Madness so participants could learn about the lives of the saints; create an educational experience for Sunday schools, individuals, adult forums, and anyone who wants to learn; promote an avenue for community, both online and in-person; and add an element of whimsy during Lent.

The contest has gained in popularity over the years, with people voting worldwide. “According to Google Analytics, there were 99,844 unique users this year on Lent Madness, if you look at the whole season. Each day of Lent Madness we were visited by around 10,000 unique visitors,” Gunn reported.

Starting the day after Ash Wednesday, Lent Madness began this year on Feb. 27 with 32 saints. Each day one saint is pitted against another. There are four rounds: Round of 32: Saintly 16; Elate 8; and Faithful 4. The winner is announced on Maundy Thursday during Holy Week.

In the 2023, the saints were delegated to particular categories:

Ancient and Apostolic: Augustine of Hippo, Blandina, David of Wales, Hippolytus of Rome, Joanna the Myrrhbearer, Monica, Simeon Bachos, Brendan of Clonfert.

Mostly Monastics: J.S Bach, Cuthmann of Steyning, Richard Hooker, Leoba, Martin de Porres, Maximus the Confessor, Harriet Monsell, Scholastica.

Royals Roundup: Bertha of Kent, Botulph, Juan Diego, John Donne, Edmund, Olga of Kiev, Chief Seattle, Stanislaus the Martyr.

Modern Mayhem: Josephine Bakhita, Jonathan Daniels, Enmegahbowh, Rutilio Grande, Florence Li Tim-Oi, Eric Liddell, Dorothy L. Sayers, Nicolaus von Zinzendorf.

Previous Golden Halo winners were: George Herbert (2010), C.S. Lewis (2011), Mary Magdalene (2012), Frances Perkins (2013), Charles Wesley (2014), Francis of Assisi (2015), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (2016), Florence Nightingale (2017), Anna Alexander (2018), Martha of Bethany (2019), Harriet Tubman (2020), Absalom Jones (2021), and José Hernández (2022).

Celebratory bloggers were the Rev. Laurie Brock, the Rev. Megan Castellan, Anna Fitch Courie, Dr. David Creech, Neva Rae Fox, the Rev. David Hansen, Heidi Haverkamp, Miriam Willard McKenney, Emily McFarlan Miller, the Rev. David Sibley, and the Rev. Eva Suarez plus Bracket Czar the Rev. Adam Thomas.

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