Dorcas vs. Frederick Douglass

Occasionally the SEC adds matchups based on little more than (deeply prayerful) whim. This isn't such a case, mind you, but we do sometimes get jazzed by things like alliteration. Thus, today it's Dorcas vs. Douglass. That has a certain saintly ring to it, don't you think? The winner faces Juan Diego in the Saintly Sixteen.

Yesterday, Cuthbert sent the Venerable Bede packing with a veritable Bede-down of his medieval contemporary, 63% to 37%. He'll next square off against Molly Brant.

Don't forget that our Bracket Czar updates the online Bracket each day. Scroll down to see the corresponding Matchup Calendar and learn the precise date when your favorite saint will be locking horns (not that saints have horns) with his or her next saintly rival.

After today's competition, we will be exactly halfway through the first round. Remember, no voting takes place over the weekend so the next matchup will be Francis of Assisi vs. John Wycliffe on Monday morning. Now go vote!


Dorcas, which is not as bad a name as it sounds (it translates into Tabitha in Aramaic and Gazelle in English), made her first and only appearance in scripture after she had already died.

A lay leader of the early church in the port city of Joppa (now Tel Aviv-Yafo), Dorcas is known only by what was reported about her in Acts 9:36-42. She was described first as a disciple, and then as a person “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” After Dorcas’ death from an unnamed illness, the church in Joppa sent two men to get Peter, who was visiting in nearby Lydda. When Peter arrived, he was taken to see the body by a group of widows, who wept as they showed some of the garments Dorcas had made for them. Peter cleared the room, prayed, and said, “Tabitha, rise,” at which point she returned from the dead, presumably to continue in her ministr y.

Reading between the lines, it seems likely that Dorcas was young and her death untimely. Although it’s easy to infer that her good works were the sewing of “tunics and other garments,” there is nothing to say that Dorcas’ charity stopped there. It is likely they were only the outward and visible signs of a life devoted to charity.

In these visible signs, Dorcas shows us that charity is eminently practical and involves providing things for people close at hand. However, charity also involves the heart and spirit. Had these practical gifts been given with a condescending attitude or unkind heart, would she have been mourned to the point of two men traveling to another town to get Peter?

In the Episcopal Church, Dorcas is remembered along with Lydia, the dealer of purple cloth who was converted by Paul, and Phoebe, a church leader mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Although understandable, it is perhaps unfortunate that these three are grouped; it seems to suggest that being a woman was the distinctive role each brought to the early church as opposed to her charity, her faith, or her leadership. In Dorcas’ case, it is easy to focus on her sewing instead of the bigger picture of her deeply rooted charity. But in Acts, the fact that Dorcas was a woman is, at best, a secondary consideration. She was first a disciple, full stop.

Even in the very brief passage in which she appears (during which she was dead most of the time), Dorcas comes across as loving, pragmatic, and well-respected — a worthy model of charity for all of us.

Collect for Dorcas

Almighty God, you raised to life again your servant Dorcas. Grant, that like her, we may always seek to weave your love into every fiber of ourselves, clothing those we love and care for in the raiment of your mercy and kindness. May we, like Dorcas, rise up from the impossible places in our lives, praising you and emboldened to continue the ministries to which you have called us. Amen.

-Laura Darling

Frederick_Douglass_c1860sFrederick Douglass

Many people are familiar with Frederick Douglass’ work as an abolitionist in the nineteenth century. What is not as well-known is the depth of Douglass’ Christian faith. Douglass’ love of scripture and his fascination with the apocalyptic writing of Revelation was a guidepost in his quest for personal holiness and social transformation.

Born to an enslaved woman and a white slave owner in 1818 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Douglass was sent to work for a Baltimore shipbuilder following his mother’s death when he was seven years old. Over the course of the next eight years, Douglass learned to read and write and developed a love of the Bible. His affinity for the Bible served as a catalyst for his conversion to the Christian faith when he was thirteen. In his well-known autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he recalled that after being sent back to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, he continued to have abiding hope in God’s promises and established a Sunday school for other enslaved men and women.

While on the Eastern Shore, Douglass was subjected to numerous whippings and beatings from the plantation’s overseer, which left permanent scars on his body. These violent beatings and Douglass’ prophetic reading of scripture led him to plan his escape to freedom. Although his first attempt was not a success, in 1838 Douglass finally fled to safety in New York, before settling in New Bedford, Massachusetts, with his wife. Together, they had five children.

In New Bedford, Douglass joined an abolitionist society and an A.M.E. Zion church, where he assumed leadership as the church’s preacher. By 1841 Douglass was traveling across Canada and the northern United States rallying support against slavery. Douglass believed that individual holiness was essential to the reformation of society’s morals and the work of abolitionists. To this end, Douglass refused to drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, or engage in any other behavior he felt threatened the Christian’s call to righteousness.

After the Civil War ended, Douglass continued advocating for equality — not only on behalf of African Americans, but Native Americans and women. For Douglass, God’s justice would not be complete until all were treated with dignity. Douglass published more than ten books and speeches, including the conscience- raising, “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?” He died at his Washington, D.C., home in 1895 and was buried in Rochester, New York. His Washington home is currently a national landmark, housing Douglass’ collection of Bibles, religious books, and angel depictions.

Collect for  Frederick Douglass

Almighty God, whose truth makes us free: We bless your Name for the witness of Frederick Douglass, whose impassioned and reasonable speech moved the hearts of a president and a people to a deeper obedience to Christ. Strengthen us also to be outspoken on behalf of those in captivity and tribulation, continuing in the Word of Jesus Christ our Liberator; who with you and the Holy Spirit dwells in glory everlasting. Amen.

-Maria Kane


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192 comments on “Dorcas vs. Frederick Douglass”

    1. I too had trouble. I think you can only vote using the same computer (IP address) and not just any computer. I think it may help prevent multiple votes on the same day??? I managed to vote from my home computer rather than the computer at work. Try that. I made a similar plea but received no reply.

          1. Certainly a conundrum. All I know is that the vote button and View Results do not work when I access from my work computer. I'll just have to wait until I am home to vote, as I did yesterday.

      1. It may not be the computer, but the source. I can't vote from the Facebook link, but can vote from any browser. (Safari, Firefox, etc. )

      2. It may also depend on which browser you are trying to use: I.E., Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc. Some can be real boogers for the odd website.

  1. We have so few named women among the early Christians, yet I have to vote for Douglass. The choice was much easier than yesterday.

    1. As did the Democrats, you present the hard choice of female vs black. And with male insensitivity, you put down the importance of providing raiment. (ILGWU rise up in protest) The importance of women in the early church as well as in institutional religion ever since cannot be allowed to continue. Who forms the young; who "bends the twig so the tree will grow"? So here'a a vote for the underdog.

      1. I felt this was more of a Mary vs. Martha matchup. What initially catches the attention is two groups that have not been given full leadership access in society and church over time. However, that is not the only difference.
        I find that this difference in ministerial gifts and offerings is often treated as the Mary Martha conflict when Jesus came to visit.

    2. I have been conflicted on many of the votes, especially when the candidates time and place in life is so vastly different. I voted for Frederick Douglass, but I have printed out the Collect for Dorcas, and posted it to say every day during Lent. She embodies the qualities of charity that I most admire.

      1. I feel the same as you. It is hard to choose when they are from different times. I also think the writer sometimes influences our votes by their subtle personal comments. Still, I am learning about so many historical, influential people and enjoying the diversity of all these personalities.

    1. That Wilde quotation should totally be the tagline in the next Lent Madness Super Bowl ad.

    2. "Horn thing"??? Do you mean the horns of a dilemma? In which case you are absolutely correct!
      And I third the suggestion about using the Oscar Wilde quote.

  2. I see that, once again, the male candidate is winning. Douglas' story is pretty amazing, I must agree, and I found it interesting, new information for me, that he advocated for Native Americans and women, as well as African Americans. However, I must stay loyal to sweet Dorcas, another of the great women, hidden in the mist of male dominance, who was not given the credit she was due, not even her own name day! Hooray for Dorcas!

    1. Well said! I too have been dismayed at the matchups this Lent madness that is pitting wonderful women whose stories have gone untold against male "saints" whose stories are well known, and have placed those women in a position that is subjective.

      1. I'll defend the Lent Madness writers; I think they did a good job of writing about how compelling a story Dorcas has, based on very little real information about her. I voted for Dorcas.

        1. I agree with John that the SEC wove an interesting story about Dorcas with what appears to be scant information. Most of these narratives leave me with questions, which is a very good thing. I am enjoying being introduced to so many new stories. While I am glad to have made Dorcas' acquaintance, I have long been an admirer of Frederick Douglass.

    2. I agree with Millie, but I still felt compelled to vote for Douglass. I don't feel this was a very fair matchup, as there is so little known about Dorcas. I suppose she was lucky to even be allowed naming in the Bible! Hard choice for me.

    3. Oh, please do not play "the Woman Card!" In San Diego, we have a deep affection for Dorcas where we sponsor "Dorcas House," a home for orphans and children of parents incarcerated in the T.J. jail system. She is a wonderful inspiration to us us... however, in the voting for today, I just realized the impact Douglass had on the awareness and justice of all people with his Christian attitude and actions.

  3. I have especially admired Douglass for the way he criticized badly educated clergy in his day and the damage they did to their credulous flocks. An educated clergy is one of the best things about the Episcopal church and the Anglican church.

  4. I went with Dorcas today. She was a disciple. She made clothing and gave it away. She got sick and it distressed her friends so that they sent for Peter. It doesn't seem to compare with Douglas teaching and working for equality for all but there is something very compelling to me about living a simple life of charity and love. Perhaps it speaks to me because I am retired.

  5. Thus was no contest, living in Maryland, not to mention Fredrick Douglass's role as an American hero.

  6. Re: the horns: Recall that in the Vulgate, the description of Moses coming down from Sinai with beams of light radiating from his head (Exodus 34:29) was translated as: "Cumque descenderet Moyses de monte Sinai, tenebat duas tabulas testimonii, et ignorabat quod cornuta esset facies sua ex consortio sermonis Domini." (And when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he held the two tablets of testimony, and did not know that his faced was horned from his conversation with the Lord.)

    It is that description of Moses as "horned" (cornuta) that led to the standard iconography of the lawgiver -- you can see the horns, for example, on Michaelangelo's sculpture of Moses on the tomb of Pope Julius II in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome.

    1. The statue of Moses among all the (unfortunately all male) saints that surround the chancel of our Cathedral has those rays or horns coming out of his head. I always smile, as it looks to me like someone is standing behind him making "rabbit ears" with their fingers for a photo. (did he have a little brother? Maybe it was Aaron...). I think we need a statue of Dorcas to insert in the chancel line-up! I'm voting for her.

      1. It all started with the SEC intro today, preceding the bios. Look for "(not that saints have horns)".

  7. On an extended tour of Great Britain, Frederick Douglass so impressed and inspired those who heard him that a group of people raised the funds to buy his freedom - he was still considered "property" after his escape. He returned to the US a free man to inspire us all even further.

  8. My mother was a passionate needlewoman, taking classes throughout her life to learn new techniques. She did everything from making all her own clothes to counted cross stitch to beautiful metal thread embroideries. Her local chapter of the Embroiderers Guild of America had a project of making lovely smocked and embroidered baby gowns that they gave to a hospital in Tucson to give to people whose babies were born dead or died soon after birth, so they would have something beautiful in which to bury their babies. She became the leader of this group, almost certainly influenced by her own child who died within a day of his birth.

    Before she died, my mother told my husband that she wanted him to conduct her funeral. When the time came, he was putting things together, and read me a high-falutin' reading from Revelations to see if I liked it. I said, "There's a passage in Acts about a woman named Dorcas who sewed cloths for poor people. Please find that." And I read it at her funeral.

    So how could I not vote for Dorcas?

    1. That is a lovely story. Thank you. My mother was a talented sewer, knitter, quilter, needle point and crewel worker and I am voting for Dorcas. The sentiment expressed in the comments would lead one to believe Dorcas had the match sewn up but it is Frederick Douglass who has pulled way ahead.

    2. Thank you so much. Beautiful story of another wat to serve. My Presbyterian friend in N M is a leader of a "Comfort and Joy" group of women who make prayer shawls for the elderly, sick, and dying. As a former teacher, I assisted my special ed students each year in making flannel baby wraps for newborn homeless babies at Christmas. Who says we cannot teach our faith in public schools, simply by the way we live. Have to vote for Dorcas. My quiet, humble maternal grandmother, Elizabeth, was also a seamstress.

  9. No contest here, either. I would have a hard time picking anyone over Douglass! If you doubt, read his Autobiography.

  10. As a Rochester, NY resident I have to go with Frederick Douglass.
    He was a pioneer in so many ways - political, social, racial, and religious.

  11. Much as I admire Douglass, I vote for Dorcas as representative of all the anonymous saintly women who have been forgotten. Douglass is recent, so we know what he did. We know almost nothing about Dorcas, or about the other women who led house churches in the early history of the church. Lydia, as a dealer in very valuable purple cloth, would have been rich and influential. What do we know about her except that Paul converted her? Did she sell all she owned? We don't know. What else did Dorcas do? The author(s) of Acts don't tell us.

  12. Voting for Dorcas!! I was in a group of women in college named for Dorcas. Our sole purpose was to do acts of charity for others in secret, so that our good works were never to bring us credit. We also prayed together and for our community and were very close. In short, we tried to pattern our young lives after this great woman.

    She's not an in an American ethnic minority; there's no modern-day photograph to make her more compelling. But she was a saintly soul. That her name would be revered--even mentioned at all--in our sacred stories is proof that she made a Big Impression in her day

    Besides, I'm a big fan of the TV series "Bewitched". This is a vote for Tabitha as well!

  13. Douglass is such an amazing man! I feel moved to read his autobiography now. However, my sympathy vote goes to Dorcas. If the writers of her biography above hadn't commented that her name "isn't as bad as it sounds", I could have sent it to my friend Dorcas. When she found out that I was playing Lent Madness, she commented "We don't have saints"...It is great to hear about lesser known saints who are equally holy in their unique way.

  14. I think Laura Darling had a nearly impossible job trying to recreate Dorcas from the little that is recorded about her in Acts! Lots of worthy comments, but my vote is with Douglass today.

  15. I had to go with Dorcas, and I think it would be wise to look at clothing others, in that time, as an act of extreme generosity as well as charity. I have been reading about the current cheap clothing industry that gives us such an excess of inexpensive clothing today, making clothing the poor something we can do by merely setting aside some of our own over abundance. I was reminded of the differences when reading an article describing the expense of clothing in earlier times, giving the equivalent cost of a single shirt as around $2000 in today's dollars. To make and give clothes to others in need was no small act in Dorcas' day.

  16. For me, the choice had to do with timing, not gender. So many of the saints we know are from Biblical stories. It's almost as if Christianity jumps from Bible times to contemporary life. So I had to go with Douglass, a 19th century saint. Dorcas is already in my heart.

  17. I too am a sewer, and have seen how the simple gift of tshirt and pillowcase dresses helps thousands of children to have pretty clothing and their parents to have dignity. The dresses are sent with missions throughout the world and provide a ministry in themselves. I understand the sewers ministry and am compelled to vote for Dorcas.

  18. Love the story of Dorcas and feel bad for not voting for her, but Frederick Douglass is inspirational; to work not only for his own people, but for the freedom of Native Americans. And besides, living in Britain, I am pleased that this land had some small part to play in his story.

    1. I think if I were to ask Frederick Douglass in the next life about your comment, he would say something to the effect that all people were his people. His inspiration was why I voted for him.

  19. I am with Fred, but I was much taken with the very interesting Prayer for Dorcas- "seek to weave your love into every fiber of ourselves, clothing those we love and care for in the raiment of your mercy and kindness." Given that Dorcas had a ministry using cloth the wording hits the target so well. Thank you Laura!

    1. Laura's write up and the prayer sway me to vote for Dorcas. The modern fellow will probably win, but Dorcas's story has inspired multitudes of good works done in secret, across the Kingdom.

  20. Douglass seems to have an Old Testament flavor..and his triumph over adversity coupled with his deep faith creates a powerful picture

  21. As a young girl growing up in Alberta, I witnessed the involvement of our Anglican congregation (then St Martin's) in the creation of a beautiful hooked carpet for the entire sanctuary of our new church building. It was designed by my father, the Rector, and several other creative parishioners. In addition, there was an extraordinary group of women needle crafters (including my mother) who made the vestments & liturgical hangings. They collectively called themselves the Dorcus Guild.
    I have been a needlecrafter (embroidery, needlepoint, crochet & knitting) all my life. So Dorcus has woven her way through my life. This little known, barely mentioned faithful woman referenced in Acts has informed my life and ministry. I have made over 2 dozen prayer shawls given to others in need and have been blessed a thousand times over for it.
    While I have tremendous respect & admiration for Frederick Douglass, had he not been pitted against so mighty a simple, faithful woman, I would surely have voted for him!

  22. I really need to read Douglass' writings, I see now. An amazing man who definitely gets my vote today.