For Lent, engage in a Saintly Smackdown

The Rev. Linda Birchall is the pastor at St. Mark United Methodist Church in Augusta, Ga. MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF

Each year, I try to find a new-to-me Lenten practice that will help me grow in my faith journey while reminding me of all that Jesus did for me.


Lent, to me, is a time for soul-searching, and also for learning. I hope it is for you as well.

This year, I invite you all to participate with me in what is actually a lot of fun, while also providing opportunities to learn more about the people of our faith. It’s done with some tongue-in-cheek humor, but at the same time, it’s quite educational.

It’s called Lent Madness.

You’ve probably heard of March Madness, which is all about college basketball, complete with playoff brackets. Well, Lent Madness has brackets, too, and it is also a “playoff” of sorts. It’s just that it’s a playoff between saints and mothers and fathers of the Church universal.

It starts on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday with the round of 32, followed by the Saintly 16, the Elate 8, the Faithful 4, and ultimately, the winner is awarded the Golden Halo on Spy Wednesday, which is the day before Maundy Thursday.

They call it the Saintly Smackdown.

Past winners have included Charles Wesley, Mary Magdalene and Florence Nightingale.

Why do this, you ask?

Several reasons.

1) It’s fun. Much of Lent is seen as some sort of dark season of the soul. But it really doesn’t have to be. There can be joy, too. In fact, there should be joy! Because Lent is also supposed to be a time of renewal!

2) It’s educational . You’ll learn about people you never knew, or you’ll learn new and interesting things about people you DO know.

3) It keeps us engaged during Lent. And that may be the best point. It’s hard to find renewal without engagement.

I invite you to play along. Every weekday (and also the first Saturday in Lent), two saints/people will square off. You can learn about them and vote on the one you’d like to see advance. There are two online ways to do this. One way is on the website and the other is through the Facebook page, which is (or find it by typing in “lent madness”).

In addition to Lent Madness, I am starting a morning study called “40 Days With Wesley,” to be held at 10 a.m. Monday-Thursday during Lent at St. Mark United Methodist Church, 2367 Washington Road. Call (706) 736-8185 for more information.

Whatever you decide to do about Lent, I hope you’ll join me in faithful practice, no matter what it is. May this be a meaningful Lenten season, one in which we grow closer to God and to each other, and may it be a time of strengthening our faith for us all.


The Rev. Linda Birchall is pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church.