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. Wow!This is a tough one. They are both "giants" in the realm of saintdom. Although Lydia gave up her wealth and more than likely her stature in the community, to become a follower of Christ, I think Harriet Bedell was more Christ-like in her dealings with others. She came to serve and not to be served and serve she did! I think God would say with a resounding voice, "WELL DONE GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT!"

    2. Lydia is the ultimate Anglican, holding several opposites or impossibilities in tension. She gets my vote!

    3. Robyn: I agree. Lydia does rock.

      She had few role models in the Christian church. She IS the role model.

  1. It is with great trepidation that I cast my vote for Harriet. Not one person I have voted for has survived to the next round - in three Lents! I love her rules.

  2. Hi Molly,
    Thanks for posting the video!
    It was Harriet's rules of life that won me over, especially "don't do two things at once". I've tried to do two things at once, the result being that neither turned out very well....

    1. Me too, but I am conflicted. I'll be listening to the spirit today, and check in later.
      "and I, have finally, seen the light..." sigh.

  3. My vote is for Lydia, an amazing shadowy Christian Presence in the deep past. But Harriet rocks, too, and either will be a worthy foe for.........

  4. Harriet had me in the 1st round, with her re-visioning of Psalm 23 for her Native American mission community. Reading her 6 Rules for Life, she is brought right into my personal struggles of focus on listening and living in the present moment (I was breaking #5 as I listened to NPR while I read the write-up). I'm backing The Deaconess all the way! Thank you SEC and CB Shott for introducing Harriet Bedell to those of us who did not know of her, but needed to have her in the front row of our Cloud of Mighty Witnesses.

  5. Harriet was one if the heroines of my childhood growing up in the Diocese of South Florida. I heard about her work in my parish church for she was still actively involved in her mission in those days. I have a vague sense that she may have visited our church but, sadly, I can't say that for sure. I remember clearly the beautiful Seminole crafts that she helped to be developed. This personal connection makes it hard for me to choose today because I find Lydia full of Grace and have also long admired her leadership in the early church, a beacon through the ages for women to be able to finally be able to take their rightful position in all orders of ministry. She was the biblical forerunner of our beloved Presiding Bishop. So which to vote for? My heart says Lydia - without her witness we might never have had Harriet.

  6. Without Lydia there might not have been Harriet. I have great admiration for the early women who supported those on The Way.

  7. In Memory of all the Deconess of the past and the Sisters at St Hilda's Christ Church I vote for Harriet Bedell.

  8. Intended to vote for Lydia but hearing again about Harriet Bedell, and especially her Rules of Life (loved them!) had to change my mind. Harriet Bedell all the way!

  9. I thought I wanted Lydia to be the champ of them all, but Heidi's wonderful writing and Harriet's humble, determined life changed my mind. I like the old timey saints, but Harriet is a saint for any age. From the bruising horse pasture to the streets of New York to the bedside of the ill, she moved with grace and angelic beauty. Hooray for Harriet!

  10. I vote Harriet, but as already shared by others, this was a tough one. BTW, my thanks goes out to all who make. LM possible and to the those who share such interesting feedback.

  11. I still admire Lydia for her resourcefulness and dedication in supporting those going out to spread the Good News while always in danger from the authorities. Also, purple is my very favorite color. BUT, nobody can top the Deaconess for her utter devotion to God and God's people and foremost for her ability to truly" squeeze blood from a turnip." Just picture that tiny, frail-looking woman besting all those authorities whose fingers had a tight grip on all the funding available for ministries. She was fearless in forging ahead in the most brutal climatic extremes...Alaska to Florida, yet able to conquer her fears about mounting a horse! But she overcame and won that battle, too...scars, bumps, and bruises to boot! A true role model in serving God by serving God's people.

  12. Harriet again for me! Her kind of selfless service, so typical of the Deaconesses, is eminently Christlike and largely unsung. I have great admiration for Lydia, as well, but after all, she DID get a mention in the NT! Harriet should at least get a shot at a halo!

  13. Another tough call, but in the end, it came down to Lydia, the "both/and" gal to whom I relate more closely.

  14. I find it interesting that of those who have chosen to comment, so far. the men voted for Lydia and the women have all voted for Harriet. Something to ponder...I know it is very early in the day!

    1. Interesting observation. Let me be an exception. Deaconess Harriet Bedell has my vote. I think I see other exceptions below, of the "Without Lydia, could there have been a Harriet" type from women.

      I have my reservations -- possible pun? Did Harriet create enduring institutions, or just work very hard and very well only to see failure, abandonment or obsolescence in the end? Lydia's institution of female presiding of a apostolic-era congregation, though long abandoned, has made possible the blessings I and others find in our female clergy and episcopacy.

      Has something from the Deaconess days, having been abandoned, ready to revive?

      1. Last night my husband - that long-suffering CB-spouse who has listened to me babble "my" saints for the past three years - asked that very question. We know that Hurricane Donna knocked out the mission in 1960, but I feel persuaded that Bedell's 62 years of ministry had lasting and ripple-like effects in the lives of individuals and communities wherever she served, most of which are unknown to us. As a church we are, perhaps, too much in love with the notion that a sustained institution is a good measure of success in the Kingdom of God.

        As Bedell's 1928 BCP commended her, she faithfully did "all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in ." I'm not sure, in the day-to-day, if she was too much bothered about her legacy but rather left it up to God to sort out.

        1. Yes! She did small things with great love, and the light of her life continues to shine into hearts, in part thanks to this devotion we are blessed to share. And now, for a truly mangled reference: In time, the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble--they're only made of clay--but her love is here to stay.

  15. What a choice!!I have voted for both of these ladies during the first rounds. Now I have to choose one of them!! Can we claim half a vote for each?

  16. Both are certainly Saints, with a capital S! But it seems to me, there are many women in churches today, who are following in Lydia's footsteps, giving their wealth and support - without them, most churches could not survive, and I'm sure they will have halos in heaven. But Harriet's ministry was unique and certainly her life was Christlike, so she gets my vote.

  17. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Paul, who traveled the ancient world, endeavoring to spread the message of Christ in many hostile/indifferent lands. Lydia supported Paul's ministry, thus enabling us moderns to know Christ.

    My hat is off to both of our bloggers today. Their writing is nothing short of sublime.

  18. What a trip this has been and what a tough final four. I've been with Harriett all along and see no reason to change now. One vote from Mississippi for Harriett!

  19. Yes, I am also grateful to be introduced to Harriet Bedell. She was an amazing person. In addition to everything else, I am trying to wrap my head around someone who never owned a radio or a tv and lived until 1969. I don't think media is a bad influence, but I do marvel at her focus and concentration on her work and life. Talk about "a life undivided," as the current mantra labels it, that is Harriet. What a great example of holiness. Thanks. I still look forward to being "welcome in the Great Chickee," as Harriet translated the 23rd Psalm for the Seminoles at a funeral.