Jackson Kemper vs. Margery Kempe

Kemper vs. Kempe. Sometimes matchups exist solely because the SEC likes the names involved. Sure, there's always prayerful discernment that takes place in the formation of the bracket. But still, how could we not pair these two against one another? Only a single "r" separates Jackson Kemper and Margery Kempe, missionary bishop and 15th century mystic. Who will ride on? Who will be left in a vale of tears? That, dear friends, is up to you.

Yesterday, Brigid of Kildare soundly defeated Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist 68% to 32%. Fortunately, no silver platters were involved.

In case you missed it, we offered everyone a brief peek behind the Purple Curtain of Lent Madness, sharing some insights into how the annual bracket is formulated. A rare glimpse into the mind of the SEC.

unnamedJackson Kemper

The seemingly inexhaustible Jackson Kemper served as the first missionary bishop in The Episcopal Church,working over the course of a thirty-five-year ministry in such untamed wilderness territories as Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and especially Wisconsin, where he established the Nashotah House seminary and eventually made his home.

Born in 1789, Kemper served as a priest for many years in Philadelphia until the deaths of his wife and his mother led him to new fields of service. In 1834, Kemper traveled to Green Bay, Wisconsin. At the same time, a committee of bishops was considering how to approach the western frontier. In 1835, General Convention appointed Kemper as missionary bishop of Indiana and Missouri (with Wisconsin and Iowa thrown in for good measure) and assigned him the tasks of establishing and organizing parishes, recruiting clergy, and fundraising, all at a time when travel was daunting and communication was spotty.

Kemper was up to the challenge due to his “indefatigable zeal and amiable manners,” adding to his portfolio the establishment of schools to train young men and clergy, since he found that many Eastern-trained priests weren’t able to hack it in the harsh midwestern climate. In his spare time, he expanded his Missionary See to more distant territories such as Minnesota, Nebraska, and even further west, making regular visits to parishes and clergy throughout much of this vast region.

Notably, Kemper ceded power and oversight as dioceses became established, turning over territory to duly-elected diocesan bishops in Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Kansas, and declining numerous offers of more comfortable episcopacies elsewhere.

He was also famously generous. His biographer wrote, “so simple were his tastes and so perfect was his economy that out of his annual missionary stipend of fifteen hundred dollars, he was able to give largely to struggling missions in his field; there was probably no one in the church who gave away more in proportion to his income than he.”

After twenty-four years as a missionary bishop, Kemper retired at the age of sixty-nine in 1859, only to take up the role of diocesan bishop of Wisconsin. He continued to make regular visitations within the diocese and further afield for another decade, when failing health forced him to stay near the Nashotah community where he had resided for many years. At the age of eighty, his final episcopal act was a confirmation near his home in April 1870. He continued official duties with the aid of a secretary until days before his death on May 24, 1870.

Collect for Jackson Kemper

Lord God, in whose providence Jackson Kemper was chosen first missionary bishop in this land, and by his arduous labor and travel established congregations in scattered settlements of the West: Grant that the Church may always be faithful to its mission, and have the vision, courage, and perseverance to make known to all peoples the Good News of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Laura Darling

unnamedMargery Kempe

The first autobiography written in English is something of a mystical revelation, travel diary, opinion essay, theological discourse, and personal diary all in one. Margery Kempe, who lived in the late-fourteenth to early-fifteenth century, was a middle-class woman living in Norfolk in eastern England.

She began The Book of Margery Kempe recalling a series of crises during and after her pregnancy. She felt tempted by the devil not to confess her sins. In response, she fasted, performed acts of charity, and devoutly prayed, to no avail. She eventually sent for her confessor and confessed sins from “her whole lifetime.” After her confession (of which she was not complimentary of the pastoral skills of the priest), she was disturbed and tormented for almost a year by visions of devils. In a moment of great crisis, she had a vision of Christ but did not fully embrace her mystical deliverance. Only after several business failures did Kempe surrender to a life of mysticism and Christian devotion.

Kempe experienced the gift of tears — frequent sobbing, weeping, and wailing at the sight of the Blessed Sacrament, while engaged in prayer and meditation, or engaged in other acts of devotion. Throughout her book, Kempe remarked at the discomfort others had at her expression of this holy gift. She shared her thoughts and visions of heaven freely, as well as her conversations and visions with our Lord. Kempe, like many medieval mystics, was attached to meditations on the events of Christ’s life and had many visions associated with these events. She also found sexual relations with her husband disgusting and eventually took vows of chastity, after giving birth to fourteen children.

Kempe then began a series of pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Assisi, Rome, and Santiago de Compostela, as well as several holy sites in England. She wrote of her encounters with several historical figures, including the Archbishop of York — who questioned her as a heretic, found her unorthodox, and told her to leave York and never return. She spoke with Julian of Norwich. She called out the Archbishop of Canterbury for the behavior of his clergy. Perhaps in a related story, she was almost burned as a heretic while in Canterbury.

Kempe, who likely dictated her book to a scribe, wrote with a mystical stream of consciousness. She was not concerned with narrative timelines; she did not write a text primarily concerned with intricate depictions of her mystical experiences. She wrote about the exhausting attitudes of others who criticized her life and expression of faith and of moments where she was vindicated for being true to herself. She shared the raw (sometimes outrageous) aspects of all that was her life.

An admission to the Guild of the Trinity at Lynn in 1438 is the final historical mention of Kempe. Her book, known only in excerpts until a manuscript was found in a private collection in the twentieth century, has become a key reflection on the life and spirituality of a middle-class woman in the Middle Ages.

Collect for Margery Kempe

Gracious God, we give you thanks for the life and work of Margery Kempe, hermit and mystic, who, passing through the cloud of unknowing, beheld your glory. Help us, after her example, to see you more clearly and love you more dearly, in the Name of Jesus Christ our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Laurie Brock


Jackson Kemper vs. Margery Kempe

  • Jackson Kemper (74%, 5,058 Votes)
  • Margery Kempe (26%, 1,811 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,869

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220 comments on “Jackson Kemper vs. Margery Kempe”

    1. I'm with you, Ann! Green Bay! Good on ya', Jackson, you must have been a cheese-head, in addition to all your other fine qualities.

  1. Kempe has also been a missionary to ordinary people through the centuries, and has my vote today

    1. I wasn't thrilled with Jackson — wasn't unthrilled either and looked to Kempe as my passion for the day. And so it turned out to be. Another sobbing weeping woman with a "gift of tears" Dear Lord deliver us! And who won't be turned way off of sex after 14 children? Many years in Kansas gave me a love of that country and so unexpectedly — Jackson it is.

      1. I like Kemper he sounds like a no nonsense kind of saint. I have and had two friends with the gift of tears. One is holy the other could turn on and off the water works like a bratty child.

        1. I think both of today's saints are amazing, but I had to vote for Kempe. I have been plagued by whole life by crying and sobbing in church, while reading scripture, etc. At times I am so embarassed that I have stayed away from public worship because I did not want to disturb, upset, or distract my fellow congregants. It is very reassuring and edifying to me to know that this may just be 'the gift of tears' and I should accept it as part of my worship. So I have to vote for Margery Kempe for her encouragement.

          1. I too find myself full of emotion when reading or listening to scripture. Therefore I embraced Kempe. Tears are good!

    1. Now, Davis, just because she cried a lot, doesn't make her "demented". I often weep during hymns at St. John's

    2. As a middle class woman myself, I have liked Mistress Kempe since I first met her, a number of years ago. After 14 children, I sympathize with her choice to remain chaste. She inspires humor in her distaste for her confessor (what did he know about having 14 children?) and how about all that travel? In the Middle Ages no less? I'm sure Mr. Kemper was a nice guy, but I stand with middle class women everywhere!

    3. How "middle class" could she be to afford to go on all those pilgrimages?

      1. Perhaps she was funded by the people she encountered? Seems to me that a chap named Jesus told his followers to take nothing with them...

    4. David Dassori,

      Your comment and its ramifications are precisely why I voted for Kempe.

    5. I am wondering if Margery Kempe suffered, in part, due to post-partum depression. Although many women had many children, 14 sure is a lot if one is already having some 'devil' issues! We don't know what sins she confessed, but hopefully isn't wasn't harming her children! And, though I get emotional easily, I feel very happy and blessed; I went with Kemper as he amazed me!

  2. This Nashotah House student just has to vote for Bishop Kemper. He and others have left us a glorious place. Poor Margery though-14 children in that day and age, whew!

      1. As a "lurker" and a Nashotah House alum I would be disloyal if I didn't cast my vote for Jackson Kemper. My wife and I spent idyllic three years in Wisconsin on that beautiful campus.

  3. Growing up near Kemper arena, I'm conditioned to vote for a Kemper, even if there's no connection. Still, a missionary to the frozen chosen of the Midwest has to win over tears.

  4. Although I am a "Flatlander"( Illinois native) I cast my vote for Bishop Kemper one cool "Cheesehead"

    1. I had forgotten that I was confirmed by a former bishop of Iowa. All the more reason to root for Kemper!

  5. My vote goes to Kemper, the hard working, thrifty fellow Midwesterner. Kempe was a little too out there for me. I also can't pretend that I see declaring a vow of celibacy after giving birth to 14 children as an act of particular holiness. The poor woman was probably just tired!

  6. Today i was compelled to vote for Margery Kempe in thanksgiving for all the crazy church ladies I've known. God Love em every one.

  7. Again, a comparison of apples and oranges......the contemplative versus the active but in the spirit of mysticism which I have had some experience with I vote for Margery today. I can't wait to read her documents. Perhaps Kemper is a descendent of one of those 14 children she bore.....I mean there must be some relation there!

    1. Who wouldn't be brought to tears with 14 children running around during the Middle Ages

  8. Goodness! I had to pull out my own Holy Women, Holy Men and see what I missed on September 28 (Margery's day). The "tears" and "14 children" is absent from the official account, thank goodness, and she's not given even given her own day! That Julian of Norwich was a contemporary and encouraged her is food for thought. However, a missionary bishop to the wilds of the High Plains of these United States must always get this family's vote!

  9. The Missionary Bishop of the Whole Northwest (everything northwest of Philadelphia, that is) Jackson Kemper gets my vote today.

    He's one of the "local saints" so beloved here in Wisconsin, along with Charles Chapman Grafton, James DeKoven, and James Lloyd Breck.

  10. Poor Margery deserved sainthood if for no other reason than giving birth to 14 children! But I had to vote for the Bishop who gave of his life so freely and seems to have been a little more amiable than poor Margery - although she no doubt had earned the right to be weepy and less amiable.

  11. I am wondering about the proportion of male versus female saints - not just in the Madness, but overall. It does seem as though the female saints are getting the short shrift in these votes. I also voted for Jackson Kemper since Kempe really does sound a little batty and self-absorbed, but still . . .

  12. Margery Kempe's Book is remarkable precisely because of its grit and diversity -- rather than a carefully edited spiritual memoir (like even Augustine's Confessions), its mosaic of everyday life speaks much more directly to the reality of the ups and downs of Christian discipleship. An edition (with teaching notes) is available online: http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/publication/staley-the-book-of-margery-kempe

    (Personally, my favorite of her encounters was her pilgrimage to Norwich to visit and interview Julian late in the Visionary of Divine Love's life, when her revision of her original visions into the Long Text of her revelations was likely almost or already complete. One can spend many hours imagining the meeting between these two remarkable women.)

    1. Thank you for the link, Nathaniel! I have read excerpts from Margery Kempe, but look forward to dipping into the larger work. And while I'm a big fan of vigorous activity in service of the Lord, I'm voting for Margery, because without the everyday mystics, the church as an institution might survive, but the deep practice of life lived in communion with the Divine might not!

  13. No disrespect to Bishop Kemper, but what about Philander Chase! Wasn't he the first missionary Bishop of the Episcopal Church, founding the great diocese of Ohio a few decades before Bp. Kemper came on the scene, and the diocese of Illinois a little later? I did cast my vote for Bp. Kemper, so no hard feelings on my part.

    1. Thanks for your reference to Phil. It was in reading about Phil that I discovered Kemper

  14. Yes, Bp. Kemper did exemplary work, but Margery is a delightful companion on the journey. Think how much fun it must have been to be on those pilgrimages with her! She gets my vote --

  15. I'm devoted to Dame Julian of Norwich (even read her Revelations aloud on tape for students using Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic -- and in Middle English, God help me!, as I am not a Middle English scholar); I have made four pilgrimages to the site of her cell. Through her I discovered Margery Kempe. And I admire contemplatives, so my eleventh "losing" vote in a row goes to Margery. (Yes, I vote before looking at the results.)

  16. It is snowing in Kansas as I write (so a bit frozen), though as a lifelong Diocese of Kansan I chafe a bit against the frozen chosen moniker, but without hesitation Kemper it is. Selfless service and humility in difficult times. What is not to honor about that?

  17. I read the Book of Margery Kemp some 20-30 years ago and found it an interesting document, but the woman was somewhat demented and very difficult. She was angry with everyone around her and told everyone off. She was not a pleasant traveling companion, what with the weeping and the constant finding of fault in others. I did not feel at all spiritually uplifted by reading her book, it was kind of like watching the curmudgeon in "The Man Who Came to Dinner". My vote goes to the Bishop!

    1. "She was angry with everyone around her and told everyone off." Possibly because they kept patronizing her? Possibly because she knew she could be so much more than her class station? It's not likely a "middle class" woman in the 14th century could read or write, or was taught what we would consider "critical thinking." And we don't know what her priest said to her, of course, but early 15th century priests were not known for sympathy towards a woman who had unorthodox opinions. A lot of rage and frustration there, I think. And of course, no reliable birth control, and a husband who called the shots in bed and out. No wonder she cried.

  18. Even though I love the phrase "gift of tears" and will totally use it the next time I cry in church (every Baptism, at least every other children's sermon, and on and on), I had to go with the Bishop. Kempe seemed a bit too dramatic for me - and that is saying something coming from this dramatic middle-class housewife!

  19. St. Margery has some appeal, but on the whole seems a bit self-centered to me. On the other hand St. Jackson is remarkably selfless, brave, and hard-working. I'm for the ones who strive humbly to follow God's Word!

  20. This was impossible! Two stellar candidates! I will explore more about both. I voted for Kemper because I thought Episcopalians waited for Pullman cars.

    1. My sentiments exactly! My father-in-law used to joke that his family waited and went West on the train with the Episcopal clergy. I didn't know Episcopalians were enduring hardship to preach in what was then a vast wilderness. And I was born in Wisconsin, so Bishop Kemper gets my vote.