Today, James Theodore Holly, the first African American bishop in the Episcopal Church faces the Biblical Lydia of Thyatira. Some fascinating saintly info in this matchup!
In yesterday's battle, Teresa of Avila swept past Crispin 61% to 39% to set up a showdown with Stephen in the Saintly Sixteen. This marks the first completed Saintly Sixteen pairing.
By the way, if you're looking for an updated version of the bracket with the winners-to-date filled in, our Bracket Czar Adam Thomas updates it each day on the Bracket Tab. He also shares results on the Lent Madness Twitter feed every morning in his inimitable style. You might even say he...puntificates.
James Theodore Holly
James Theodore Holly was consecrated as a missionary bishop to Haiti in 1874, the first African American bishop in the Episcopal Church. He was born a descendant of formerly enslaved people in Washington, D.C., on October 3, 1829. Holly was baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church but left while on a path toward ordination.
He was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1856 and began serving as rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in New Haven, Connecticut. Holly co-created the Protestant Episcopal Society for Promoting the Extension of the Church Among Colored People, which challenged the church to take a position at General Convention against slavery and was a precursor to the Union of Black Episcopalians.
Less than two weeks after his ordination to the diaconate, he traveled to New York with a letter from his bishop to explore the idea of creating a mission in Haiti. Holly saw Haiti as a chance for blacks to build a black nation in the west, and he believed that Anglicanism in Haiti would provide stability and structure to the newly independent country. After slaves had successfully revolted and overthrown the European empire in the country, they extended an invitation to Haiti to blacks in the United States, and Holly accepted it. In 1861, he traveled from New Haven to Haiti with a group of 110 African Americans and Canadians. Many of the 110 who emigrated with him were from St. Luke’s.
Holly’s group succeeded in establishing a mission in Haiti, yet their success came at a high cost. Yellow fever and malaria led to the deaths of 45, including Holly’s mother, wife, and children, except for two young sons, ages three and five. Several of the original group returned to the United States, but Holly remained, lobbying for medical supplies, schools, and other programs and services and preaching, teaching, and growing the church in Haiti. Bishop Holly enjoyed an active call as a spiritual leader and disciple, doubling the size of the diocese and raising up new deacons and priests into leadership.
While bishop, Holly received a doctor of divinity degree from Howard University and an honorary law degree from Liberia College, Monrovia. He died in Haiti on March 13, 1911.
Collect for James Theodore Holly
Most gracious God, whose servant James Theodore Holly labored to build a church in which all might be free: Grant that we might overcome our prejudice, and honor those whom you call from every family, language, people, and nation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Lydia of Thyatira was the first recorded Christian convert in Europe, a co-worker of Paul of Tarsus in Philippi, and the founder of the first European Christian church. But strangely, further detail about her life is nearly nonexistent.
She appears in the Book of Acts, chapter 16, when Paul and his companions answer the call to go preach in Europe. She and a number of other women are praying by a river in Philippi on the sabbath. Paul approaches them to join their prayer and speaks to them about Jesus. Lydia is moved by what she hears and announces that she—and all her household—are now at Paul’s disposal for whatever he needs.
It’s a slight story, and yet it tells us much. The women gathered by the river on the sabbath is an indication that they were Jewish proselytes, or “Godfearers”—Gentiles who observed as much Jewish law as they could, kept the holidays and the sabbath, but hadn’t fully converted yet. It also indicates that the fledgling Jewish community wasn’t large enough to form an official synagogue—for that, ten men were needed. Lacking that, a river made a great place to offer prayers, because flowing water was a convenient place to wash—and thus observe rituals around purity.
The story in Acts doesn’t make any mention of Lydia’s husband, and she’s definitely acting like someone in charge of her household. That leads one to think that either her husband is on board with her conversion or (more likely) he has died. A trader in purple cloth would have been incredibly wealthy—purple dye was literally worth its weight in silver at the time—and so Lydia’s offer to Paul is no small gift. It would be like turning all of Amazon’s profits over to your local church planter for whatever they might like.
These factors combined—the wealth, the God-fearer devotion, even the cloth dealing—seem to have formed in Lydia an empathy for the outsider, the outcast, the one who doesn’t quite fit in good Roman society. We see in her a concern for God’s work in the most broken parts of the world, even as she functioned in the highest, best parts of Philippi. In bankrolling Paul’s work, Lydia becomes a forerunner of the Christian church.
Collect for Lydia
Eternal God, who gives good gifts to all people, and who grants the spirit of generosity: Give us, we pray you, hearts always open to hear your word, that, following the example of your servant Lydia, we may show hospitality to those who are in any need or trouble; through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.