Lydia vs. Harriet Bedell

We started Lent Madness 2014 with 32 saints and now we're down to four. The Faithful Four. Who will win the coveted Golden Halo? Only a few short days and your voting participation will give us the answer. But it's come down to this: Lydia, Harriet Bedell, Charles Wesley, and Phillips Brooks.

Today we begin the first of two Faithful Four match-ups as Lydia takes on Harriet Bedell. In this round we ask our Celebrity Bloggers to briefly answer one question: "Why should Saint XX win the Golden Halo?" Speaking of which, how about a round of applause for our fabulous CB's who toil away in the salt mines of Lent Madness without nearly enough recognition? They are truly the backbone of this operation and are worthy of our gratitude. Please do hound them for autographs when you spot them wearing sunglasses and baseball caps just trying to lead normal lives.

To make it to the Faithful Four, Lydia defeated Moses the Black, John of the Cross, and Basil the Great while Harriet turned back Joseph Schereschewsky, Thomas Gallaudet, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. (click on the names of defeated opponents to view previous match-ups and refresh your memory about these two saintly women).

And, in case you were wondering, we're tantalizingly close to our goal of 10,000 Facebook likes. Over 9,920! Encourage that freshly minted teenager who just became eligible for an account to like us. Compel your grandfather for whom you just did spend the last five hours setting up his new computer and teaching him how to use Facebook to join the Lent Madness party. We can do this!

Finally, here's the Archbishop's Update highlighting today's battle:


unnamedSt. Lydia, unlike other saints, stands in the shadows. No legends, no stories of miracles, no healings. She just shows up in Acts, does her thing, disappears again. Yet she has lasted. She is a saint of paradox, standing with feet in two worlds..

Her very name, in Acts, is a contradiction. She’s Lydia Thyatira, which indicates she is from Thyatira, a town known for its dyeworks, but she appears in Philippi of Macedonia. She must have moved her family from the small town to the more-bustling crossroads of Philippi at some point. She’s a transplant, at a time when people didn’t move from their hometowns. She’s from two places at once.

She’s a powerful business woman in her community and head of her own household. That’s rare in her time and place. While we have other examples of female heads-of-households during the Pax Romana, it wasn’t common, and Lydia running her own prosperous dye business would have raised a few eyebrows, and caused a few Roman patriarchs to despair for the soul of the Empire. A strong woman in a strongly patriarchal society, she would not have been the most popular person.


Paul and Lydia, Church in Philippi

When we meet her, she is praying with the Jewish community, but she hasn’t converted. And she’s not at the synagogue; she’s at the riverbank, with the other God-fearers. Even when it comes to matters of faith, she’s holding several things in tension.

And yet, when she meets Paul, she’s drawn to the Jesus that he preaches, to the Jesus that he describes. She is immediately baptized, along with her entire household. And her life is changed. From that moment on, the entirety of her wealth, her status and her resources are dedicated to starting and sheltering the Christian mission in Philippi.

It’s impossible to crawl in the mind of another person, so who knows what drew her that day by the river. But perhaps part of the attraction was her unique blend of paradoxes. Perhaps she recognized in Jesus a sort of kindred spirit, who held together in himself the ultimate tension of heaven and earth, God and humanity.

unnamedPerhaps she found in Paul a kindred spirit who recognized her full potential for, in the words of Paul himself, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, for all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Whatever the case, since then, she has been an inspiration for countless others to find their own voice in ministry. The ministries, the churches dedicated to Lydia testify to her enduring legacy. Even though not much is known about her, and even though the political whims of the later church never allowed for the popular devotion accorded to other saints, Lydia’s unique brand of dedication, perseverance, and faith have inspired many in their faith.

So who better to wear the Golden Halo than Lydia? Let’s give it to the woman who emerged from the shadows to lead the early church, and poured all she had, paradoxes and all, into the Gospel.

-- Megan Castellan

Harriet Bedell

unnamedLast summer the assignment of saints descended from the Supreme Executive Committee. I scanned the list for mine, pausing at Harriet Bedell. I had no idea who she was. These many months later, I am glad for the privilege to learn her story and to share it with you, the citizens of Lent Madness Nation.

(Oh, wait. That’s Red Sox talk best saved for tomorrow’s write-up on Phillips Brooks.)

Bedell’s story is infused with the stuff we associate with saintliness: charity, sacrifice, poverty, tenaciousness, courage, humility. The beauty of her story is also measured by the frailty that seeps through her narrative. In her early thirties, when she first arrived at the Oklahoma mission, she blanched at learning to ride a horse. Rather than embarrassing herself by asking tribal members to teach her, she took a horse out on the range and taught herself to ride in private. We can only imagine the bumps, bruises, and wounded pride she sustained in the process.

Nothing is wasted in God’s economy. Bedell’s experiences in Oklahoma paved the way for her years in Alaska just as those years prepared her for her unnamedlong ministry among the Seminole in Florida. “Miss Harriet Bedell, of long experience in Indian work...for three years past has lived of the most isolated spots in interior Alaska,” wrote Hudson Stuck, Archdeacon of the Yukon, in 1920. “Such a post requires a missionary entirely absorbed and happy in the work, and such a one is Miss Bedell.”

Her devotion to God and to the people she served may have been grounded in faith but its expression was always practical. The naturalist Thomas Barbour called her, “a hard-nosed realist.” And no account of Harriet Bedell would be complete without a listing of her no-nonsense “Rules of Life.”

  1. God is first.
  2. Don’t worry. Put all in the hands of God. Don’t think or talk about troubles.
  3. Don’t hurry.
  4. Don’t eat too much between meals.
  5. Don’t do two things at the same time.
  6. All life involves sacrifice.

unnamedThat sacrifice serves as a remarkable example. Bedell, who died in 1969, never saw a movie or owned a radio. She lived a life solely focused on her call from God. Marya Repko’s biography, Angel of the Everglades, records a letter from Bedell to Bishop John D. Wing of the Diocese of South Florida. She wrote, “Our days are very full and it is so impossible to work at letters. The care of the sick is an important part of our work. They send for us or bring their sick ones to the mission...In the glades visits we often find medicine-men caring for the sick. At first they were not friendly but going as we do with Indians they saw we wanted to help.”

Repko writes, “When an influenza epidemic broke out in 1937...she took the sufferers into her own home where she fed them soup and aspirin. Her efforts were appreciated by the Medicine Man who called her ‘sister.’ She was also known as “in-co-shopie,” the woman of God.”

Photos courtesy of Florida State Archives

-- Heidi Shott


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119 comments on “Lydia vs. Harriet Bedell”

  1. Both are marvelous women. Lydia gets my vote for her very real presence across the ages.

  2. Harriet gave her all to what she believed God wanted. I wonder if our other saintly people knew of Harriet. I'm glad I finally do.

  3. I just can't bring myself to vote for someone who threw John of the Cross off the bracket, even if it wasn't her own fault. Harriet Bedell for me, despite the fact that she was far from my original first choice. I'm putting the real money on tomorrow's smack-down however - Phillips Brooks all the way! BTW, don't any of you Lent Madness players even bother trying to bribe the SEC into skewing results your way - I have inside knowledge from an anonymous, but extremely reliable source, that it WILL NOT work and it could, potentially, have the OPPOSITE effect (see Charles Wesley v/s Thomas Merton).

  4. As wonderful as Lydia was, Harriet is our 'Mother Theresa'. Harriet gets my vote, again!

  5. Megan Castellan, I am curious about this line in Lydia's biography: "even though the political whims of the later church never allowed for the popular devotion accorded to other saints." Would you please explain? Thanks.

  6. Love Harriet's Rules of Life! I must try to follow them. Voted for both Ladies in the past but had to go with Lydia today because without her, there would probably not been a Harriet. And besides, she got a bad deal with those snails.
    Not to flaunt a seminary education, but my favorite biblical archeologist and scholar, Dr.. Jim Fleming, at a recent conference on woman and the Bible, told us that the language says "slave nor free, etc. BUT "male AND female".

  7. Once again, wonderful write-ups. My heart goes with Lydia, but I am truly amazed at Harriet Bedell's life and accomplishments. What a ministry her entire life was! She gets my vote today. Thanks to all for the LM journey - I've really enjoyed it - and LEARNED A LOT!

  8. While Lydia certainly helped Paul's ministry, Harriet seems to me the one who truly followed in his footsteps, bringing the Gospel and God's compassionate love to all peoples of the earth. She is the "sleeper" of this year's Lent Madness!

  9. Lydia!
    What faith & courage to serve Jesus and the church as it was beginning!
    What an example to be present and help in ministry!

  10. It is wonderful that the wealthy give to support the Church . . . it is something else, altogether, to give it your whole life. From one born a few years too late to be a deaconess, my vote goes to Harriet.

    1. Thank you Sister Mary for putting that thought into words. Harriet gave her whole life. Harriet!

  11. lydia for me! i agree with the earlier comments about the important work of women in the infant church. (my less-than-smart phone does provide upper case letters. no disrespect intended.)

  12. Harriet Bedell's rules for life win my vote. I'm not a very good multi-tasker, though I often do housework while listening to classical music. That hardly seems like multi-tasking, though, as the one doesn't interfere with the other; the music makes the housework go better. Still, let's hear it for concentration on the task at hand!

  13. I'm another Lydia voter thinking that but for Lydia, there would have been fewer Harriets. I've had my feminist issues with St Paul, God knows, and his relationship to Lydia is an invitation to think and study more deeply.

  14. So pleased to have met Harriet, but voting for Lydia, and all those living with paradox and so often in the shadows.

  15. I had never heard of Harriet Bedell before this year's Lent Madness. When I was a very young girl back in the 1940's my grandparents, returning from a Florida vacation, brought me back a little Seminole Indian doll. It looks just like the ones pictured in Harriet's "kitsch" photos. I always kept the doll, and was fascinated to learn in later years that I am part Seminole Indian, according to my grandmother. I feel so happy to know about Harriet now, and feel sure she had some sort of distant influence on the formation of my faith. Whether she continues on after today's vote or not, I have met a new saintly friend! She has my vote grateful vote again today.

  16. Hooray for Harriet! FSU and the Seminole Nation rally for our very own! Let's make it a Seminole Trifecta: The Heismann Trophy, the BCS Nat'l Championship, and the Golden Halo! Wonder what sort of odds the Seminole Tribe is giving at their Casinos? And will there be a big party at the Hollywood, Fla., Seminole Casino when she takes the coveted prize? We can only hope!

  17. I'm all in with Harriet. There's no speculation about her; it's all documented. And it's just coincidental that I live in south Florida!

  18. I would have loved to live in the times of Harriet and followed in her footsteps...another So Cal for Harriet!

  19. As appealing as Harriet's ministry and“Rules of Life” are, in the end I can't cast my vote for her. "All life involves sacrifice" but.."that sacrifice serves as a remarkable example. Bedell..never saw a movie or owned a radio. She lived a life solely focused on her call from God." Harriet's devotion to the work is wonderful, but I believe God also wants us to enjoy the many good things in this world. Lydia seemed to know how to balance all things. As we enter Holy Week and the way of the cross, my vote goes to Lydia’s "unique brand of dedication, perseverance, and faith", doing good works at the Cross-road(s).

  20. As a no-nonsense woman, I have to admire both of these no-nonsense women of faith. But the image of Harriet teaching herself to ride a horse along with her great works finally sold me. She's got the right stuff.

    Great but surprising final four. I was sure Bach and Merton would have gone further. But I'll be happy with any of the final four winning the halo.

  21. Like many I'm sure, I don't vote for who's "worthiest", as if we could know such a thing. I vote for the one I need today to look up to, the one that I can identify with, the one who sparks something in me. Today, that's Lydia. And props to Megan for an exquisitely written post, working imaginatively and empathetically with very little material.

    "Even when it comes to matters of faith, she’s holding several things in tension." I, too, am transplanted both physically and spiritually, and I, too, feel I must hold several things in tension at times.

    "Whatever the case, since then, she has been an inspiration for countless others to find their own voice in ministry." To finding our own voice, paradoxes and all, and to remembering those in the shadows, which is most of us, whose stories will not be told in any great detail in future generations. And yet what we do, how we live, it matters.

    Thank you, Lydia.

    1. Thank you, Lydia...and thank you, Megan, for illuminating her. LYDIA even this late!

  22. 1. Lydia made an awesome choice.
    Lydia had already achieved success in running both a business and a household. Instead of resting on her laurels, she completely changed the direction of her life by embracing Christianity and building the church.

    2. Lydia made a commitment.
    Neither Lydia nor Bedell were young when they began to serve the Christian church. Bedell was 30. Lydia's age was unknown, but she had already established a full life for herself when she heard Paul preach in Philippi. Yet Lydia made a choice to devote the rest of her life to Christianity.

    3. Lydia's work made Bedell's service possible.
    Lydia also has inspired countless other women to adopt active roles in the church.

    4. Lydia had charisma, self discipline and tenacity.
    And all of the other talents and character traits that are needed to build a church from scratch. A church is not merely a building that needs good architectural plans. A church is a community of people who commit themselves to supporting each other in their spiritual journeys. Lydia had to be an amazingly wise, trustworthy, and passionate leader to call a Christian church into existence where there had been none before in Philippi.

    As Robyn, the first commenter of the day, says: Lydia rocks!

  23. As glad as I am to have learned about Harriet, her openness, and her witness, Lydia's ability to live in paradox won me over today. As someone commented, she's a prototype of us Anglicans (in the original sense), those with a foot in both worlds.

  24. Thanks and blessings to the CB's who have done a wonderful job!! Each and everyone of them also deserves a golden quill.