LENT is months away, but fans of Lent Madness are peering at their tablets and scrutinising the roster of 32 saints, released yesterday, who will compete for the 2017 Golden Halo.
If this sounds more like an FA Cup elimination play-off than a religious observance, that is partly intentional.
“Lent Madness was modelled on a popular US college basketball tournament known as March Madness, which usually coincides with the season of Lent,” the Rector of St John the Evangelist, Hingham, near Boston, Massachusetts, the Revd Tim Schenck, says. “I started thinking: ‘Why should college basketball fans have all the fun while we’re sitting around giving up chocolate?’”
That was in 2010. Six years later, Lent Madness has amassed an international community of more than 100,000. Each morning during Lent, devotees log on to read biographies of two saints, and vote for their favourite. Votes are tabulated later on in the day.
It is an eclectic mix of biblical, modern, ecclesiastical, and monastic saints. More obscure saints are included “to spice things up”.
Winners from each bracket compete until two saints are left in the Saintly Smackdown, from which the winner of the Golden Halo emerges by Good Friday.
The gimmick has a serious purpose. A co-founder, the Revd Scott Gunn, of the Ohio-based Forward Movement, says: “The key to celebrating the saints is to see them not as perfect people, but rather as imperfect people through whom God’s love has shone in extraordinary ways. If God can work through a messed-up person like a biblical saint or a modern martyr, then God can work through my life, too.
“Our followers gain inspiration about how God might work in our lives. Obviously, we hope it leads them to a deeper Lenten discipline, but every journey has to start somewhere.”
Next year’s roster will include St Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, Florence Nightingale, St Stephen the Martyr, and the Hebrew matriarch Sarah, with an eagerly awaited head-to-head between St Augustine of Hippo and St Augustine of Canterbury.