Edward Thomas Demby vs. Dorothy Day

In the last battle before the Round of the Saintly Sixteen, we encounter two trailblazers. Edward Thomas Demby was the first African-American bishop ordained in the Episcopal Church and Dorothy Day was an important figure in the cause of social justice. Will Dorothy win the Day? Or will Edward Demby-onstrate the will to win? (sorry, couldn't come up with anything comparable for him). The winner will take on Benedict of Nursia in the next round.

In yesterday's action, Martha of Bethany trampled all over the "Little Flower," Thérèse of Lisieux. While we don't take sides, it's nice that we'll no longer have to search for those accents on Thérèse. Martha will face Harriet Tubman in what should prove to be a hotly contested battle.

Leadership_DembyEdward Thomas Demby

Edward Thomas Demby holds the distinction of being ordained the first African American bishop in the Episcopal Church. In 1918 he became the Suffragan Bishop for Colored Work in Arkansas and the Providence of the Southwest.

Bishop Demby, born in Wilmington, Delaware, and raised in Philadelphia, attended Howard University and Wilberforce University in Ohio. He then entered the academic world and from 1894 to 1896 was Dean of Students at Paul Quinn College in Texas. At this time he was confirmed in the Episcopal Church.

This is when Bishop John F. Spalding of Colorado took special interest in Demby. He went to work in the Diocese of Tennessee where he was ordained a deacon in 1898 and a priest the following year.

While in Tennessee, Demby served as rector at St. Paul’s Church in Mason as well as two posts in academic administration. Then, from 1900 to 1907 Demby ministered to parishes in Illinois, Missouri, and Florida.

Demby returned to Tennessee in 1907 to become rector of Emmanuel Church in Memphis. This is where he served as the Secretary of the segregated southern “colored convocations” and was the Archdeacon for Colored Work. It was while he was Archdeacon that he was elected the first African American suffragan bishop.

Demby's context was a segregated ministry, in which he worked tirelessly to establish black service institutions, like schools, hospitals and orphanages. Demby saw this as a way to build relationships with African Americans who, before emancipation, had understood the Episcopal Church as the faith community of their masters. However Demby’s witness, as a compassionate leader and committed Episcopalian, helped forge bonds that attracted many people and live on today.

For more than twenty years, Demby labored amidst white apathy, inconsistent funding, and the foggy commitment of his own denomination (not to mention the Great Depression) to build a ministry that would eventually evolve into desegregation.

Bishop Demby shares a feast day with the second African American bishop in the Episcopal Church, Henry Beard Delany, hence the wording of their Collect.

Collect for Edward Thomas Demby
Loving God, we thank you for the ministries of Edward Thomas Demby and Henry Beard Delany, bishops of your Church who, though limited by segregation, served faithfully to your honor and glory. Assist us, we pray, to break through the limitations of our own time, that we may minister in obedience to Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 -- Chris Yaw

dorothydayDorothy Day

Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, was born in Brooklyn in 1897. As a young girl, while living in San Francisco where her father was a journalist, she experienced the devastating earthquake of 1906. Her memory of the assistance people offered to those made homeless by the tragedy remained with her throughout her life.

Though her parents were not religious, her brothers were members of an Episcopal church choir and, from the age of ten, she attended services and became enamored of the liturgy and music. She was baptized and confirmed but continued to think of herself as an agnostic.

After dropping out of college, she lived a bohemian life in New York City. She wrote for socialist publications and immersed herself in the causes of pacifism and women’s suffrage. Gradually a spiritual awakening crystalized into a conversion to Christianity upon the birth of her daughter Tamar in 1927. She was received into the Roman Catholic Church and later became an Benedictine oblate.

In the midst of the Great Depression, with her friend and colleague Peter Maurin, Day founded the Catholic Worker movement. Their newspaper, the Catholic Worker, an immediate success, focused on promoting Catholic social teaching and offering a pacifist viewpoint in a period when international tensions increased around the world.

Implicit in the movement was the need to care for those in need. Houses of Hospitality were started first in New York to care for the needs of anyone who needed food, clothing, or shelter. Before long several farms were established to allow people to live in community and grow their own food. By the early 1940s, 30 Catholic Worker communities were established across the U.S. Today 100 communities serve people in ten countries.

Throughout her life, until her death in 1980, Day spoke of God’s love and the causes of peace and justice, even when she ran afoul of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. When broached by critics with Jesus’ words that the “poor shall always be with us,” she replied, "Yes, but we are not content that there should be so many of them.”

Novelist and theologian Frederick Buechner said, “Vocation is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Dorothy Day’s life bears witness to that definition; she remains an icon for those who would meld their Christian faith with the pursuit of social justice.

Collect for Dorothy Day
Merciful God, you called your servant  Dorothy Day to show us the face of Jesus in the poor and forsaken. By constant practice of the works of mercy, she embraced poverty and witnessed steadfastly to justice and peace. Count her among your saints and lead us all to become friends of the poor ones of the earth, and to recognize you in them. We ask this through your Son Jesus Christ, bringer of good news to the poor. Amen.

 -- Heidi Shott


Edward Thomas Demby vs. Dorothy Day

  • Dorothy Day (58%, 2,181 Votes)
  • Edward Thomas Demby (42%, 1,557 Votes)

Total Voters: 3,737

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117 comments on “Edward Thomas Demby vs. Dorothy Day”

  1. Dear Dorothy is the embodiment of the spirit of San Francisco. Once you've lived there it never leaves you.

  2. Good grief! The church that sponsored me for ordination was a small African-American mission, where I learned to honor the lost stories of faithful saints of color who strove mightily in the face of many, many obstaclles to keep the faith...and I love Dorothy Day, too! I suspect that DD will win the day, so am casting my vote for Bishop Demby, with thanksgiving!

    1. You took the words out of my mouth, Nancy. I wish I could have given half a vote to each candidate!

  3. One of my formative experiences was being part of a Catholic Worker community in Chicago in the late 1970's. Dorothy visited us, and one of the folks made the mistake of calling her a living saint. Her response, also used in other contexts was " don't say that-- it lets everyone else off the hook!" Despite that, and maybe because of it, I know her to be a saint, and I humbly cast my vote for Saint Dorothy.

  4. Bishop Demby is great but I have to go with Dorothy Day as I think she did more for the poor.

  5. Both had hearts for social justice issues, and while I like DD's social consciousness, I like Bp Demby's glasses a lot better.

    1. Oh, that explains why I was drawn to Demby! That and his work in Tennessee, my home state.

  6. A tough choice: both worked for social justice in different ways. I'm voting for Bishop Demby because everyone knows DD but almost no one knows about this valiant man who LIVED segregation even within the church and still persisted in faithful service.

  7. Ok - I'm not voting yet and may not. As I've gone through these pairings I keep being struck by the powerful witness each of these people has provided, and how diverse their ministries were. I'm uncomfortable, even within the confines of bracketology, to say one is more deserving than the other. I don't even know what that means. I'm thinking that I may simply confine myself to reading the bios and feeling inspired in various ways by the lives of these marvelous saints, I do not feel curmudgeonly about this - only offering how I am being affected by what I see.

      1. Yes, I voted for Bishop Demby. Living in Virginia, for more than twenty years even if not continuously, and having been privileged to have been a part of a historically black Episcopal church that intentionally integrated, I have a greater understanding of Bishop Demby's struggles. I wish that the biography had been written by someone who had more of an understanding for what Bishop Demby faced. Episcopalians do not often talk in an honest way about he genuine personal struggles of Black people in this church. I wish it were otherwise. Yes, I know, there are periodic events in which the national church does something like commemorate Emancipation Day, but those acknowledgements don't really admit how hard it has been for Black Episcopalians to follow the cross in this church. I don't mean to disrespect Chris Yaw, but that bio doesn't give Demby his due.

        1. Oof. Thanks for this. Now I wish I could recast my vote. But seems they're keeping an eye out for double-voting...

  8. A pacifist with an unflinching devotion to the poor. How can I not vote for Dorothy? “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”

  9. I am in awe of Dorothy Day’s life and work. The Buechner quote was like a Siren’s song ... but in the end I must vote for Demby. His perseverance, steadfast quiet war with apathy and resistance is humbling. He faced unimaginable negative societal forces from the time he woke until he went to sleep – everyday of his life. He had no "movement”. Still he answered the call of ministry and helped change the church and history. ETD for me.

  10. Both worked against the injustices of their times, but Dorothy Day was a firecracker who lived the idea of "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable." She gets my vote.

    (Great blogging by Heidi Shott yet again. These go a long way into influencing people's choices!)

  11. I have always adored Dorothy Day, but I never heard of Thomas Demby.We are too quick to dismiss the amazing leadership in segregated times, so my vote goes to him.

  12. I agree with Bill. I cast a vote today but I can not say it has any meaning. But I love reading about people who did God's will. I love that I have not heard of some of these wonderful people before. It helps me get my ego out of the way as I try to follow God's path for me. So many wonderful people living a life of love.

  13. I was surprised to see that Dorothy Day was "received" into the RC church. Does that mean that they accepted DD's Episcopal confirmation? I have observed many RCs who have been received into TEC as members and priests, but I have not seen the RC "return the favor." So why was DD received? What made this different from their usual practice of re-confirmation and/or re-ordination?

    1. I believe that Dorothy Day was conditionally baptized when she became a Roman Catholic.

      1. It was not her Baptism I asked about as RCs generally recognize most non-RC Baptisms. It was her Episcopal Confirmation I was asking about and her RC reception as they, as i understand it re-comfim and re-ordain those going to Rome while those going to Canterbury are received.

        1. John, I am probably a bit older than thou for I can remember when conditional rebaptism of converts was standard RC practice -- the general acceptance of other churches' baptisms was a result of Vatican II. The whole rite (plus reconfirmation when applicable) was commonly referred to as a reception of converts and I suspect that this was the case with DD.

  14. Because I am 75 years young, I know fellow Episcopalians who remember those who were disciples and beneficiaries of Bishop Demby and his ministries in a largely unappreciative Church. That many of us remained in this Church is still testimony to an abiding faith that one day.....because of Demby and Delany and countless other black priests who kept the faith in a Church reflective of a society that tried to keep us down. But as Mother Maya wrote: "And still we rise....." Thanks, Bishop Demby.

  15. Vote is for Denby today. Segregation was more insidious and emotional than any disaffection for the poor. And it was unclear as to Church doctrine and practice for too long.

  16. This is not fair. You cannot put a person who left the Episcopal Church to compete with a person so committed to the Episcopal Church that even put aside issues of racism and ostracism and did everything to draw a segment of the segregated population to our church. I feel this a biased competition.

    1. Biased toward those who follow Jesus no matter what brand of church, perhaps? (says the Presbyterian who is faithfully following Lent Madness!)

      1. Hooray for ecumenicity! (There's got to be a pun in there someplace about the City of God.)

  17. As in other matches, I thought I knew who I was going to vote for, and then I read the bios. Twenty eight years a priest, pious layman before that, and I'm embarrassed to say I've not heard of Edward Demby. Thank you. The intensity of faithfulness to rise day after day and serve God and his people in the world in which the good bishop lived both amazes and humbles me.

  18. Much to learn and ponder in these two. I knew DD's name, of course, though knew only a little about her; but Demby was a revelation. Oh, how much we have to repent of! Thanks, CB's both, for enlightenment (at least in this small window). I vote for the Bishop.

  19. Wow. I voted for DD, because I have been strongly drawn to the Catholic Worker movement in my life. But once again I'm glad that these votes have no real meaning, because I have a strong vision of Bp Demby and Dorothy Day rejoicing together in heaven, and that's exactly as it should be.

  20. I voted based on my readings of the bios (and my leftist leanings) then read the comments. Can I change my vote?

    I learn so much from Lent Madness - truly inspiring.

  21. Had to vote for DD,of course. Her diaries, edited by Bob Ellsberg, are right up with Augustine's Confessions as a testimony to how the wellsprings of social ministry lie in deep faith and constant prayer.The famous photo of her seated in the sun in delano with the farm workers shows her grit and serenity. Even Spellman admired her, said he didntveant to gobdown

  22. Wow. Even as an ordained priest, I am humbled by the lives of those who have gone before us. Lent Madness is so crucial - not for the competition, which is really meaningless (Each of these people resides in the presence of God equally) but because it helps to remind us that we, each one of us, has a calling to be saintly. In fact, in the 2113 edition of Lent Madness, it may be your name up there inspiring others to come closer to God.

  23. Spellman said he didnt want to be remembered as the bishop who persecuted Dorothy , so he is remembered for going to drag balls with j edgar hoover and pressuring kennedy to support the Diem family

  24. I voted for Edward Thomas Denby, because that is what Dorothy would have wanted. Dorothy would probably have wanted us to vote for whoever the greats minds of Lent Madness has put up against, because how could heaven refuse hospitality to whomsoever is crowned with the golden halo and after all, what else do we do in this life but seek opportunities to be hospitable and open the gates of heaven to all in need of God's grace.

  25. I am so glad to be introduced to both these people. Today I really did have to toss a coin--a Lincoln penny, since he was so wise. Either outcome would feel right. (But I did two tosses out of the three, just to be sure.) The great thing about Lent Madness is getting acquainted with the saints (and bloggers and commenters) and knowing that I will find out even more about the remarkable people who advance toward the golden circle. In the process, I'll enjoy every opportunity to laugh, think, explore, and share in this marvelous LM community.

  26. The intro says that Bishop Denby was "the first bishop ordained in the Episcopal Church...." Shouldn't that be the first "African-American bishop"? Surely we were ordaining bishops in the early 1800's. (Not enough coffee, Fr. Tim??)

    I'll have to have my coffee before I vote.

  27. As frequently happens during Lent Madness, this was a tough choice. It made me think deeply about the gifts each saint brought to improve the lives of the people and live out Jesus' calling to care for "the least of these." In the end, I felt a greater kinship with Dorothy Day, possibly because I knew of her directly during my lifetime. But my vote for Day in no way lessens my admiration for and appreciation of Bishop Denby. God be thanked for these saints who still inspire us.