By Neva Rae Fox
Harriet Tubman has earned her Golden Halo and has risen to become a member of the Communion of Saints… the ones honored through Lent Madness.
This was the 11th year of the popular program, which pits saint against saint in daily voting, starting the day after Ash Wednesday through to the Wednesday of Holy Week.
The brainchild of the Rev. Scott Gunn, executive director for Forward Movement, and the Rev. Tim Schenck of St. John The Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts, Lent Madness has steadily grown in popularity over the past decade.
Humorous and upbeat, but primarily educational, Lent Madness is designed for all ages and all denominations, not just Episcopalians.
“As an online devotion, Lent Madness was well-positioned to supplement people’s spiritual hunger and need for community,” Schenck explained. “Since we’ve been at this for 11 years now, Lent Madness was actually a source of stability and familiarity as we suddenly plunged into unprecedented online spiritual territory. As people’s personal Lenten devotions got flipped upside down, receiving that daily e-mail with the day’s matchup became a source of spiritual grounding for many. And if we helped people smile a bit in the midst of it all, the effort was well worth it.”
Gunn and Schenk use the Lent Madness website, Facebook, Twitter, and emails to spread the word and invite participants.
On her way to the Golden Halo, Harriet Tubman bested Joseph the husband of Mary, Hildegard of Bingen, Julie Billiart, and Herman of Alaska. Gunn commented, “I’m excited that Harriet Tubman won, and I hope her life and witness will inspire people today to work for justice. I’m grateful our church has recognized her in our official calendar of commemorations since 1997.”
“The witness of Golden Halo winner Harriet Tubman — both her powerful faith in Jesus and her ability to persevere — really resonated during these trying times,” Schenck said. “If there’s was ever a saint who helps point us beyond the current struggle, it’s Harriet.”
Harriet Tubman joins the previous Lent Madness Golden Halo winners: George Herbert, C.S. Lewis, Mary Magdalene, Frances Perkins, Charles Wesley, Francis of Assisi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Florence Nightingale, Anna Alexander, and Martha of Bethany.
The design of the program may sound a bit familiar. The two priests took a cue from March Madness, the annual college basketball event that – surprise surprise – coincides with Lent Madness. This year, with March Madness cancelled because of coronavirus, Lent Madness was the only game in town.
Gunn noted, “This was another successful Lent Madness, and I’m grateful that so many people have made the saints a part of their Lenten journey. When we get to know the saints, we find companions on our journey, witnesses who can pray for us and inspire us in our own journeys as disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Gunn won’t positively attribute its high numbers this year to coronavirus, but comments on the Lent Madness website point to the participants’ gratitude for this online community especially in these hard times.
“Many Lent Madness participants shared that the online community that pops up around this devotion meant something more this year,” Schenck. “That the light touch on the learning was particularly welcome, and that the inspiration of the saintly souls we highlighted offered hope in difficult times.”
Participation in Lent Madness stretched beyond the daily voting. Weekly Monday videos from Gunn and Schenck – self-named the Supreme Executive Committee – provided updates, insights, and encouragement.
The Cathedral of St. James in South Bend, in the Diocese of Northern Indiana, prepared delightful hand-painted dolls and entertaining videos.
There were daily memes from Michael Wachter. Sister Diana Doncaster of the Community of the Transfiguration in Cincinnati prepared daily hymns for each of the saints.
Nominations for Lent Madness 2021 will be accepted later in Eastertide, “in a safe and socially distant way,” Gunn promised.