Lent Madness Pyramid Scheme

February 8, 2012
Tim Schenck

Pyramids are an important part of the salvation story of Scripture. After all, if it wasn't for the cruel treatment at the hand of the Egyptian slave drivers forcing them to build pyramids for the pharaoh, the Israelites might never have risen up to cross the Red Sea. You could argue that Pharaoh's enslavement of Moses' people was the original "pyramid scheme."

As we await the start of Lent Madness with building anticipation, we're aware of at least one parish that is structuring their participation as a Bernie Madoff-like pyramid scheme. The Rev. Chris Arnold, Priest-in-Charge at St. Mary's in Middlesboro, Kentucky, is hoping the entire congregation plays along this Lent.

The rules are a bit complex but they involve money and strange numbers and someone actually wins (how cool would it be to brag at your Easter Sunday brunch that you "won" Lent?). Chris' instructions are here and I have no doubt that any parish that wants to participate in a similar way would be welcome to plagiarize (we've been talking about pyramid schemes after all, so what's a bit of plagiarism among friends?).

The basic gist of Chris' approach is this:

1. Pick up a pre-printed bracket sheet at church (or print it off the Lent Madness website).

2. Fill it out with your picks (be sure to put your name on top!) and submit it to the office.

3. There's an optional $2 donation being asked per bracket with the winner determining where the money goes. Well, he/she gets to pick from three diocesan charities so it's not as if you can use it at Home Depot. The winner also receives a copy of Hour by Hour, a small book of daily prayers published by Forward Movement (to keep Scott happy, I presume).

Chris has devised a scoring system that I'll have to put in his own words because I did horribly in high school algebra: "There are many different ways of scoring brackets. To strike a balance between correctly picking early rounds and correctly guessing the winner, we’ll award 2 points for first round picks, 3 for second round picks, then 5, 8, and 13. This gives a total of 105 possible points, and the possible points from each round are 32, 24, 20, 16, and 13. Don’t worry about the points, though. Fr Chris will track them and announce the rankings each week."

Perhaps you have a CPA in your parish that can administer the brackets. I'm just a simple country parson who went into the ministry because all I had to do was count to three (and only on Trinity Sunday).

So there you have it. A fun, fascinating approach to parish-wide Lent Madness participation.

If you have other ideas for congregational participation, please share them! I've heard of several parishes that will be blowing up the bracket onto poster board and posting it in the parish hall. And I could also see Lent Madness serving as the basis for a Sunday forum -- learn about the saints involved and discuss who you plan to vote for and why.

Oh, and don't forget to purchase a Lent Madness coffee mug. Coffee and Lent Madness go together like...St. Stephen and martyrdom.




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2 comments on “Lent Madness Pyramid Scheme”

  1. Thank you! I want to say a little bit about the scoring system, which is based on the Fibonacci sequence (you can wikipedia it if you like), which goes 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc. Each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers. Now it is important to give a different weight to each round, because as you go on in the tournament, there are fewer "games" per round. If you give every guess 1 point, then there's little point in paying attention after the first 2 rounds, because most of the games will have been played. But the further you go, the greater the glory should be, right? Anyway, I found this Fibonacci thingy here http://www.sportshistory.us/better-pool2.html if anyone cares about it. I didn't before today, because I grew up in Massachusetts and so I learned about era, rbi, slugging percentages, and the like. Now I live in Kentucky, where college basketball (and hence March Madness, and hence brackets) is king.

  2. I'm not a sports fan, so I don't really get all this "bracket" stuff... but in terms of congregational participation, if you have the liturgical freedom to do this in the Episcopal Church, a wonderful liturgical culmination would be to include these 32 saints in the eucharistic prayer during the Easter services.

    I've wanted for a long time to do a Lenten program on the saints that are named in the litany of the saints at Easter Vigil, and in the longer of our eucharistic prayers, so that people would actually know the stories behind the names. But since people will know the stories behind these saints, by all means include them in the Easter liturgies!