Lent Madness and St. Swithin

One of the great American church historians, Martin Marty, once described Christians as a “serious merry people.” If that is true for all Christians, it’s especially true for Episcopalians.

by the Rev. Pam Hunter

One of the great American church historians, Martin Marty, once described Christians as a “serious merry people.” If that is true for all Christians, it’s especially true for Episcopalians. Think about the word “Lent” and ask yourself if you think of anything silly about that season of the church year.

You might even have gone out of your way to find a church that didn’t celebrate Lent because your associations with that season are ones of gloom in the gloomy, rainy time of year here in Forks.

Well … two Episcopal priests who loved March Madness (one lives within 200 miles of University of Connecticut … need I say more?) decided that the church could use a little madness during Lent.

So, they invented Lent Madness. Instead of basketball teams winning games and ascending to the great playoffs, they set saints up in competing brackets and, over the weeks of Lent, two saints ascend (yes, ascend!) to the top bracket where one will win the golden halo.

This year St. Swithin is in the running for the golden halo!

Did you know that our own St. Swithin’s Episcopal Mission is the only St. Swithin’s congregation in the United States? There are lots of them in England, one or two in Canada, and a scattering of them where Anglicans had missions in rainy climates around the globe.

But, we not only have logging, fishing, Twilight, Mick Dodge and one of the most stunningly beautiful environments in the United States, we are uniquely gifted with a St. Swithin’s congregation that is living into the character of its namesake.

St. Swithin, born in 800 A.D., was a priest in England in the 9th century, who went on to be bishop of what we now know as Winchester Cathedral in England. He was a very humble man who never forgot or looked down on the poor.

When he gave a feast, he invited the poorer members of his parish to his house … not the wealthy or the powerful in the church. When a poor woman was roughed up on her way to market and her basket of eggs thrown to the ground and broken, Bishop Swithin restored her basket of eggs so that she could earn money to feed her family. The restoration of the basket of eggs is his first miracle!

When Swithin died, he asked to be buried with his people where the rain could fall on him and people could walk over his grave. Well, 90 years later, when some young upstart of a bishop decided to expand the cathedral, he decided to have Swithin reburied in a special spot by the new altar.

As the workmen began to dig up Swithin’s grave, it began to rain and continued raining for 40 days! He was, shall we say, mildly displeased that his wishes were being overturned … along with his grave!

From that time on it was said that “If it rains on St. Swithin’s day, it will rain for 40 days!” Since his Saint’s day is July 15, it might matter to us how we remember Swithin! Let it rain until the Fourth of July, but we want sun on the 5th and for sure on the 15th!

Our St. Swithin’s congregation makes sure that the people of LongTerm Care have a weekly worship service that includes communion. They do this on Sunday mornings when the people who can no longer live on their own would be accustomed to attending church. They are remembering and honoring the poor among us.

Well, we can do something fun for them. We can vote For St. Swithin’s on Feb. 21, on the Lent Madness website at www.lentmadness.org and if he ascends to a higher level, vote each week that he remains in the running.

You can do this via e-mail or Facebook. If you really get into it, you also can buy a booklet with stories of all the saints being considered! If he wins, let’s have a party! Since it will be Easter season by then, of course on a rainy day!