- Associated Press - Sunday, July 29, 2018

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - On her way to a final vote for sainthood, the deaconess won Lent Madness in March.

Deaconess Anna Ellison Butler Alexander, born on St. Simons Island the year the Civil War ended, has been added to the Episcopal Church’s calendar of saints. The vote took place this month during the church’s General Convention in Austin, Texas.

She died in 1947 and, following the required minimum 50-year wait, was made a Saint of Georgia in 1998 because of her mission in life of educating emancipated slaves and the generations that followed, according to the Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary for the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia in Savannah.

“I rejoice with the entire Diocese of Georgia that Deaconess Alexander is now a saint of the whole Church,” said Bishop Scott Benhase, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. “Her life and witness is an inspiration to all who seek to follow Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life.”

Many at the convention remarked on Alexander’s holiness of life during her own lifetime as well as for the many lives she changed for the better in raising up the children of the Pennick Community through education, according to the local delegation.

Alexander was a little-known woman who worked largely in obscurity and is only being recognized now, Logue said. She started Good Shepherd Episcopal Church and its parochial school in Pennick, north of Brunswick. She also started St. Cyprian’s School at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church in Darien.

She might have had it easier than the others in getting the word out about what she did and how she did it, as the only African-American set aside in the order of deaconess in the Episcopal Church. It wasn’t until 1967 that the church allowed women to become ordained as deacons.

Logue and the Rev. Michael Chaney, who is a full-time SCAD film and television professor, created “Deaconess Alexander: A Life Beloved,” an 11-minute video.

“We had been working on it since last summer,” Logue said of the video. “It premiered to 1,300 people, then followed up in schools around Georgia.”

It gave a rising interest in support for Alexander during 2018 Lent Madness, he said. “It made her an interest. I interviewed students of hers who were still alive in 2011, some of whom have died. They appear in that film.”

Logue actually became aware of Alexander in 1998, when she was named a Saint of Georgia. He started a church in 2000 in Kingsland, about 30 minutes from Pennick.

After talking to people in her communities, Logue became involved in the resolutions and testifying on her involvement during the continuous process of her becoming a saint.

“People who knew of her in her lifetime remarked about her being a holy person. Separately, she was an African-American woman who started a church and school and transformed her community. She would start with children within walking distance of her school, going into the homes to convince the parents and caregivers to give them an education.

When they were older, she got them scholarships to attend historically black colleges, Logue said.

“There were people trapped in poverty in a rural area in Glynn County becoming nurses and teachers and in careers they could not have imagined because of her,” Logue said. “It was a thriving African-American community that she depopulated because they went and got jobs and didn’t return for the most part.”

Generations of schoolchildren learned to read and write in her two-room school, according to episcopalrevivalingeorgia2017.org.

“In addition to Good Shepherd, she traveled on foot for 15 miles and rowed a small boat on the Altamaha River to serve St. Cyprian’s in Darien. She taught her pupils about the world and Christian responsibility to all peoples. Proportionately, Good Shepherd gave more support to needy folk throughout the world than any church in the Diocese. When more than 200,000 people died during an earthquake that devastated Tokyo-Yokohama, Japan, in 1923, Deaconess Alexander’s mission diverted building funds to aid the victims. Sunday school pupils regularly contributed their pennies and nickels to victims of hunger and hardship.

“In 1998, she was named a Saint of Georgia by the Diocese of Georgia with a feast day of Sept. 24. In 2015, the Episcopal Church voted to include Deaconess Alexander in Holy Women, Holy Men at its General Convention in Salt Lake City, adding national recognition for this Saint of Georgia.”

Alexander received the coveted Golden Halo on March 28 during the final round of 2018 Lent Madness, a competitive bracket of saints similar to that of college basketball’s March Madness. That’s no joke; it turns out to be a fun and popular way to learn about all those saints.

“It’s a fun thing to do during Lent,” Logue said. “Lent can be a heavy season. People are giving up eating meat, drinking sodas.”

It’s perfectly OK to take on something, he said, and to learn. “Lent Madness is a way to learn about people in the history of the church and getting it right in learning about Jesus. We can’t take Lent Madness seriously. The learning is serious, but the match-ups are whimsical. Some lesser known people are now better known.”

Lent Madness was created in 2010 by basketball fan the Rev. Tim Schenck in Massachusetts. He was seeking a fun, engaging way for people to learn about the men and women comprising the church’s calendar of saints, according to clergyconfidential.com.

Schenck was joined in 2012 by the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement based in Cincinnati. They make up the two-member self-appointed Supreme Executive Committee of Lent Madness.

The first round consists of basic biographical information about each of 32 saints chosen for any given year’s Lent Madness. More information is provided as the saints climb the brackets when people vote for their favorites. There is the round of Saintly Sixteen, the Elate Eight, the Faithful Four, and finally the Championship round.

“Things get a bit more interesting in the subsequent rounds as we offer quotes and quirks, explore legends and even move into the area of saintly kitsch,” according to lentmadness.org.

When students show an interest in Lent Madness, their school becomes a team and the team can have one vote a day. Individuals who want to vote can do so once a day. Anyone can vote, no matter their religious denomination.

During the championship round, Alexander received 62 percent, or 4,676 votes, to win the 2018 Lent Madness.

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