Thomas vs. Enmegahbowh

For the second straight day we get a man named Thomas opposed by a saint with a fantastic name. In 24 hours we've gone from Merton to the Apostle; from Philander to Enmegahbowh. But, of course, in Lent Madness saints don't emerge victorious by fanciful names alone. Otherwise Engelbert Humperdinck would be canonized and win the Golden Halo.

Bracket Buster Alert! In one of the most hotly-contested battles to date, Philander Chase stormed past Thomas Merton late yesterday afternoon and never looked back. Despite a late surge by Merton, Chase held on to win 52% to 48% in record voting (2,711 votes cast) and commenting (142 comments). Spurred on by an army of Kenyon College alumni, this may go down as one of the greatest upsets in Lent Madness history.

Check in with the updated bracket and view the calendar of upcoming battles as we mark one full week of Lent Madness action.

Thomas, aka “Doubting” Thomas, aka “Didymus,” aka “The Twin,” is best known for wanting something more than his fellow-apostles’ word that Jesus had appeared to them in the flesh after he had been crucified. It could also be noted that Thomas was the only apostle to leave the house after Jesus’ crucifixion when everyone else was waiting inside with the doors locked out of fear. When Jesus returned to the house a second time, Thomas, despite his stated demands for hands-on proof, did not hesitate to call the resurrected Jesus “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas does not appear often in the gospels, but his few recorded words speak of someone willing to follow Jesus wherever he may go no matter the cost. When Jesus decided to visit Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus, despite the danger to himself, it is Thomas who says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” When Jesus tells the disciples during the Last Supper that he “will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going,” it is Thomas who says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

After the resurrection, Thomas’ willingness to follow Jesus evidently did not flag. Legend has it that he went to India where, after converting many people (and baptizing the three kings of the Nativity story), he was martyred by an angry king who had him run through with a sword. The church in India claims Thomas as its founder and patron saint to this day.

Collect for Thomas: Almighty and everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with sure and certain faith in your Son's resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- Laura Toepfer

Called the “Providential Man” by church historian Theodore Holcombe, Enmegahbowh, or John Johnson as he was known at his baptism, was the first Native American to be ordained a deacon and priest. Born about a day’s journey north of Toronto in c. 1820 Enmegahbowh, the son of a chief, was set apart as a healer from childhood. Indeed, his name means “the man who stands by his people.”

He learned to speak English when he journeyed to Minnesota as a translator for Methodist missionaries. However, like many of us, he was wooed to the Episcopal Church by the language after a chaplain at Fort Snelling presented him with a copy of the Book of Common Prayer.  He began a correspondence with the missionary priest Dr. James Lloyd Breck and invited him to establish a mission in Gull Lake. Upon his arrival Enmegahbowh was baptized and, in 1859, he was ordained as a deacon. In these years he maintained a peaceful and courageous presence at the St. Columba’s Mission in the midst of great turmoil and violence among the white settlers and local Chippewa people.

In 1867 Bishop Henry Whipple ordained him to the priesthood and a year later he and his remarkable wife Biwabiko-geshig-equay (stay tuned for more on her in the next round if Enmegahbowh advances) moved - at the invitation of more than 100 chiefs and principal men of the tribe - to serve the people of the White Earth reservation. He died there after nearly 40 years of quiet ministry on June 12, 1902.

A tower of strength, constancy, and patience, “Enmegahbowh was a herald of all our Indian work;” wrote Holcombe in his 1902 biography of Breck. [He was] “the man who cried from the wilderness, ‘Come over and help us’, the man who opened the door for all that has since followed of God’s work for the Indians, even to the Pacific Coast.”

A Collect for Enmegahbowh: Almighty God, you led your pilgrim people of old with fire and cloud: Grant that the ministers of your Church, following the example of blessed Enmegahbowh, may stand before your holy people, leading them with fiery zeal and gentle humility. This we ask through Jesus, the Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen.

-- Heidi Shott


[poll id="12"]


* indicates required

Recent Posts



118 comments on “Thomas vs. Enmegahbowh”

  1. Very clever, Heidi, to offer us an incentive to vote for Enmegahbowh so we can find out more about his remarkable wife Biwabiko-geshig-equay in the next round!

  2. I have great respect for Enmegahbowh, but Thomas is my man! Thomas and his need for evidence together with Peter and his constant screw-ups are my "patrons" among the Twelve. I am more like them than I would like to admit.

  3. Thomas vs. Enmegahbowh: I love them both. Thomas questioned yet acted, doubted yet believed. Emmegahbowh believed and acted. Both are role models ... but Thomas got my vote in the end. Because of him, I ate pansies in the pulpit. Acting when you are certain whether and what you believe equals faith.

    1. Lauren - I think that last sentence needs a rewrite! 8^)

      I confess I had never heard of Emmegahbowh before the other day when I looked at the bracket, and I expect it will be quite a while before I spell his name with confidence.

      One of the great values of this silly tapas sanctoral-education experiment.

  4. Thomas has his own day - in December and always gets the Second Sunday of Easter- how much more attention does he need? Emmegahbowh- his pastoral work and his connection with Breck (and SWTS alums out there remember the Breck Missionary Society?) and the promise of hearing about his wife- he's the one to go with.

  5. I can relate best with Thomas. As I see him, he is evidence based and a little jaded, imperfect and yet Jesus values him. It give me hope in my own imperfection that I can honor and serve "just as I am".

    1. Agreed! I have often found many in the Bible hard to emulate, but Thomas is a man after my own skeptical heart!

  6. I voted for Thomas, but now I want to know more about Enmeagabow`s wife. How will you tell us more about her if Thomas wins?

  7. Give the Indians....or to be PC..native Americans...a break and let them win for once without the Lone Ranger charging in. He's no Tonto and God was on his side and his obviously fabulous wife who, by the by, should be able to make it on her own merits, not as if she were joined at the hip to and dependent on him. But that's another story for another day. Let her stand on her own no matter the outcome of his battle with a saint.

  8. I completed a project on Enmegahbowh in divinity school. The choice is between a gnostic gospeler who doubted Jesus (frankly an overexposed individual if you ask me) and an Episcopal priest and deacon. As a cradle Epsicopalian I couldn't vote against Enmegahbowh, a man of high moral charcter who opened up the Church to first nations peoples.

    1. I'm sorry... you believe Thomas wrote the Gospel of Thomas? He certainly deserves a Golden Halo for being fantastically long-lived then...

  9. Thomas has long been a comfort to me--I was born asking questions! His feast day was the day of my ordination to the priesthood, too, so I really must vote for him. Emmegahbowh's life of service is also an inspiration--the hardest part of this Lenten challenge is feeling like I'm letting the "other candidate" down by not voting for her or him!

  10. "wooed to the Episcopal Church by the language ... of the Book of Common Prayer."
    "strength, constancy and patience" - I've found a new model! I know Thomas but I want to know more about this man. As someone said, "Go, Enmegahbowh!"

  11. This was definitely a touch call. Thomas vs. Enmegahbowh: I too love them both. But it was Thomas' ability to question and then believe and act that has always made him a favorite with me. Yet, while I read Enmegahbowh's bio, I couldn't help but be struck by the line that said he was "wooed into the EC by the language of the BCP." So many have said that is what drew them into our church. Why then do we feel the need to move away from that beautiful language? Just me pondering....

  12. I have just become a fan of the man who stands by his people! I know of Thomas, and I too have had doubts from time to time...but I must vote for this outstanding fellow who demonstrated such faith and led so many to Jesus. Go Go Go ST. Enmegahbowh!!!

  13. I've lways felt Thomas misunderstood and misrepresented. He was not doubting Jesus; he was doubting his fellow apostles. Likely he thought them somewhat crazed by grief and confusion, and resorting to wishful thinking. He was unwilling to accept rumor and hearsay. A wise man, Thomas!

  14. OK folks. Thomas already has his red letter day, and also gets the benefit of being highlighted the Sunday after Easter. I don*t care if it is Low Sunday. Enmegahbowh was the forerunner to the EC work with the Native Americans all the way West. Come on, Seabury folk. I know you are out there. The Seabury part of Seabury-Western was originally in Faribault, MN: Whipple and Breck-land. GO GO GO ST. Enmegahbowh!

  15. This is a no-lose vote either way. Thomas is a role model for the depth and sincerity of his embodied, engaged, active faith. The world needs more people who are bold in their questioning and faithful in their action. Still, I voted for Enmegahbowh. I'm always suspicious when institutions of a dominant/imperial culture praise a "peace-making" member of a subjugated one, so I did a web-search on him to quell my concerns. Enmegahbowh was neither a tool nor a pawn. He was an impassioned and powerful advocate who sought peaceful solutions for the most difficult, painful conflicts around him...and I can't wait to learn more about his wife!

  16. I'm still licking my wounds over Merton's loss to a man with perhaps the worst first name in history. Sorry Kenyon alums, I don't get it. I will be reading Merton for years and years to come. Seriously Tim, why not let Chase and Lenyon alums duke it out with JH Hobart and Hobart College alums rather than THE modern mystic. Where are the ex-Romans when we need them. It is sort of like Northern Iowa being allowed to play in the tourney and upsetting Kansas. Just. Plain. Wrong. And not to be outdone we have today's wonky matchup with the ever unpronounceable "Enmegabowh." I get it.. it's likely "En- Mega-Bow," but seriously, what good Episcopalian could stand with the saint with questions named Thomas. Besides, he starred in R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" video. That's star power.

    Tongue firmly planted in cheek,


    1. Heidi: gorgeous almost haiku defense (unless -ed becomes a syllable sung as it is in some hymns) here. I am in total agreement. Enmegahbow had to sacrifice his beloved wife and sons to save settlers,I think. The pain of that must have been excruciating. I vote for Enmehgahbow.

  17. This was a difficult vote for me. Enmeagabow is an amazing individual but Thomas has held a place in my heart since I was a teenager and stuggling with my faith.
    In the early 1990's, when I was 12 or 13, I admitted to my mother I was unsure and having trouble understanding the mysteries of Christianity (and also the church's stance on certain social issues). My mother called me a "doubting Thomas" and said I did not have faith. It wounded me. I continued to attend church but my heart was no longer in it. I was angry that I was told I could never question any part of what I was being taught. To do so lessened my commitment to Christ somehow.
    I relayed what happened to a friend of mine and she told her that her father (who was the spiritual guide of her family) encouraged her questions and doubts because, he said, they had the power to strenthen her faith. He did not want her to blindly follow a religion just to follow it--or because it was her family's tradition.
    I believe this is why the principles of Scripture, Tradition and Reason of the Episcopal Church were so important to me when I left church of my youth and was searching for a spiritual home. There is was, simply stated: God gave you a brain and you can use it. To me, Thomas represents the individual who questions but who's faith is strengthen by the answers.

    1. This is exactly why I voted for Thomas. Well said Mary. I was raised Catholic in Latin America, which meant that questioning any aspect of the faith, the church's dictums or the church itself was a quick trip to damnation. That spiritual straighjacket was one reason that drove me away from the church for years. By contrast, I greatly value the openness of the Episcopal church to reason and to question as an avenue to strengthen your faith. That's what Thomas teached us, and why he got my vote.

  18. I am wondering if it was John Johnson vs. Thomas if the current vote split would be different. With that said, I'm voting for the cool name.

  19. Thomas gave us the enduring image: "Let me put my hands in your side!" How that has impacted many of us. He converted all of India. And he is in the Episcopal tradition. Vote for him.

  20. I voted for Thomas but I must admit, this was one hard contest. I feel this will be a close call because both men are so deserving.

  21. This was a tough one! Thomas is my patron saint, as I have always forged my faith in a crucible of doubt. But I so appreciate the trailblazing that Enmegahbowh embodies, his unsung ministry speaks to me of all the quiet faith enacting in places far from bishops' seats. And I know first-hand the powerful impact of seeing someone who looks like you up at the altar, so I imagine it must have been poignant for his Native American congregants to have him as their spiritual leader. That, in seeing him, they felt seen. So, this year at least, my vote is for the E-Man.

  22. Thomas is a wonderful icon; however, as many note, he is already clearly recognized multiple times on our calendar. I learned about Enmagahbowh much later, but his story is also worth retelling. And I really do want to know more about his wife.

    P.S. The name is pronounced very close to its spelling, with the accent on the third syllable: En-meh-GAH-bo.

  23. First of all, ugh & tarnation, I missed my chance to vote for Merton yesterday because I could not use my laptop! AHHHH! Fine, temper tantrum done. Mostly.
    Now, Thomas or Enmegahbowh: both are faith personified, just arrived at by different tracks. I'm intrigued by the teaser about Enmegahbowh's wife, but having been a doubter myself, Thomas has my vote. Plus his name is Thomas, symbolic of Merton. Now my tantrum is done.

  24. About Enmeagabowh: How can we hope to understand a person with not one mention of what he said or wrote?

    I'm stuck thinking that reading about Enmegahbowh here is a little like reading about Bonhoeffer with just a sentence about his having been from Germany. What exatly did a "peaceful and courageous presence" look like when Indians were being slaughtered and moved around like pawns?

  25. Oh, my goodness! They're tied right now! My vote is for Thomas. He gives us the reassurance that it's okay to ask the questions and still believe in and be loved by Jesus.