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Saintly Smackdown: Lent Madness

What do you get when you combine a love of sports with a love of saints? Lent Madness, of course. A year after this unique online devotion went viral—with mentions in Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post, and many other media outlets, Lent Madness is back.

Based loosely on the wildly popular NCAA basketball tournament, Lent Madness pits 32 saints against one another in public voting as they compete for the coveted Golden Halo. But it is more than that: Lent Madness is really an online devotional tool designed to help people learn about saints. The competition begins on Thursday, Feb. 14 and takes place at www.lentmadness.org.

The creator of Lent Madness, the Rev. Tim Schenck, says, “Lent Madness is about getting people to connect with and be inspired by some amazing people who have come before us in the faith. Some are already household names and others are virtually unknown, but we can all learn something from the unique ways they followed God. Plus, there’s no rule that says Lenten disciplines have to be dreary.”

The format is straightforward: 32 saints are placed into a tournament-like single elimination bracket. Each pairing remains open for twenty-four hours, and people vote for their favorite saint. 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 2012 Lent Madness champion was Mary Magdalene.

Lent Madness began in 2010 as the brainchild of Schenck, an Episcopal priest and rector of St. John’s Church in Hingham, Massachusetts. In seeking a fun, engaging way for people to learn about the men and women comprising the church’s calendar of saints, Schenck came up with this unique Lenten devotion. Combining his love of sports with his passion for the lives of the saints, Lent Madness was born on his blog “Clergy Family Confidential.”

Starting in 2012, Schenck partnered with Forward Movement, a publisher and church vitality catalyst in the Episcopal Church. The Rev. Scott Gunn, blogger and executive director of Forward Movement, said, “Here is a chance to show that being a Christian, even during Lent, does not require us to give up our sense of humor. Too often, Christians seem dour and even uninspired.” Gunn added, “Last year we reached over 50,000 people with Lent Madness, and we hope to spread reckless joy and contagious discipleship with even more people this Lent.”

This year eight celebrity bloggers have been tapped to write for the project including the Rev. Laurie Brock of Lexington, KY; the Rev. Penny Nash of Williamsburg, VA; the Rev. Megan Castellan of Flagstaff, AZ; Canon Heidi Shott of Newcastle, ME; the Rev. David Sibley of Brooklyn, NY; the Rev. Laura Toepfer of San Francisco, CA; the Rev. Neil Alan Willard of Edina, MN; and the Rev. Chris Yaw of Southfield, MI. Information about each of the celebrity bloggers is available on the Lent Madness website.

This year’s heavyweights include John the Baptist, Martin Luther King, Hilda of Whitby, Luke, Dorothy Day, Benedict of Nursia, Martin Luther, and Harriet Tubman.

Christians around the world mark the season of Lent from Ash Wednesday to Easter. The 40-day period is a traditional time of penitence, self-denial, fasting, and preparation for the celebration of the Resurrection at Easter. It is modeled on the 40-day period of Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness, recorded in scripture in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Visit www.lentmadness.org to view the full bracket of saints, learn about the contributors, and, starting on February 14, to vote.

Forward Movement has worked since 1935 to bring vitality and spiritual health to the church. Based in Cincinnati, OH, Forward Movement is widely known for its daily devotional Forward Day by Day. Lent Madness is one of many ways that Forward Movement hopes to encourage people to live faithfully throughout their lives. Forward Movement is a ministry of The Episcopal Church.


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