James Theodore Holly vs. Lydia

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.

Miriam Willard McKinney


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.

Megan Castellan


James Theodore Holly: “The Crisis” published by the NAACP, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Lydia: Russisch Ikone in Gemeinfreiheit - public domain


* indicates required

Recent Posts



93 comments on “James Theodore Holly vs. Lydia”

  1. From time to time, as the occasion warrants, I opt for something other than a limerick. For today, a special lady gets a special lyric. For those of you unfamiliar with the incomparable Yip Harburg/Harold Arlen original, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4zRe_wvJw8.

    Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, when St. Paul met Lydia:
    Lydia, that hallowed lady!
    First in Europe to a dip try:
    She was baptized near Philippi!

    Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, from Gaul to Numidia
    Dear Lydia’s dyeing for you!
    She will broker some ochre to spiff up your gown,
    Or order some border to bring you renown,
    And her Tyrian purple’s the talk of the town…
    We all owe a lot to Lydia!

    1. I'm so impressed by the devotion and leadership of James T. Holly, but how could I resist such devout and committed Christian woman whose worth is sealed by the wonderful Lydia Oh Lydia Oh Lydia lyrics? Lydia it is.

    2. Oh, John you just BLEW MY MIND! That song has an original?!! Say, what?!!

      Okay, I'm probably not making sense... let me 'splain... 9 years ago the pastor at the church I worked at (admin assistant aka secretary) was preaching a series that he'd gotten the idea for elsewhere called Route 66: A Road Trip Through The Bible and we were also using the intro videos this other church made and shared for each book. The video for Philippians quickly became my favorite and I've kept coming back to it and listening to the song in it regularly. For NINE years! And I had NO IDEA they had spoofed a real song. WHOA!

      Here's their version (it's broader than just Lydia): https://youtu.be/xMXzL2SXR1Q

      But, of course, I love your verses as well! Especially the broker-ochre line! Nice!

    3. ""...broker some ochre..." Oustanding! When I first saw Lydia's name this morning, I thought of Virginia Weidler singing the song in "The Philadelphia Story". You completed the picture with your clever lyrics. Thank you!!

  2. Vote for Lydia today - because men are not always needed to complete a picture.

    1. Eileen, are you on a tablet? I had to tap the vote button rather forcibly more than once when I voted yesterday from my iPad...

  3. This was an exceptionally hard choice for me this morning. I often select women to advance, but my love of Haiti is out weighing my natural inclination to support Lydia. Bishop Holly it is!

  4. Another no brainer for me as I am on a committee that my Parish, Middleham and St. Peter’s in Lusby, MD, has had for about ten years to disseminate, train and recruit school nurses in Haiti. We have worked for the last several years with the School of Nursing of the Episcopal University of Haiti in Leogane. The Diocese of Haiti is part of the ECUSA and has an extensive networks of schools in Haiti. So James Holly HAS to be my choice.

  5. I wish I could vote for both! Today’s choice is most difficult. So my vote goes for Bishop Holly.

  6. I love how this biographical sketch of Lydia fleshes out the details from scripture with historical context. Thanks very much to the writer for doing such a great job!
    I appreciate seeing a photograph of James Holly. He gave everything to build the Church in Haiti and to support a people fighting to build a free nation.
    It's a very tough choice! On the one hand, a founder of our Christian church who helped at the very beginning with spreading the Gospel. On the other hand, a modern person who devoted his life to something very similar -- building up the Church for those who needed it most.
    I'm going to need to ponder this before I can vote!!

  7. I'm really torn. There are two aspects of Christianity that show up in today's odd pairing. First, and most obviously, with Bishop Holly we have an opportunity to look at the role of the Episcopal church in facing the U.S. legacy of slavery. Holly was ordained five years before the start of the Civil War. Slavery was still legal. I'm struck in the write-up by how Holly seems to exist solely within the Slavery Triangle: racist U.S., Haiti/Caribbean, and Africa. I had never heard of a U.S. black bishop in the 19th century, and then I could see why: he worked in environments that comprised solely black people. In other words, Holly is a figure belonging to an era of U.S. segregation. I did wonder what the status of the Episcopal church was in Haiti today. Are we as quick to leap to the aid of black Haitians after earthquakes as we are to support white Ukrainians fleeing tanks? I felt sadness reading his account. I had to puzzle awhile before casting a vote. I did vote for Lydia, even feeling some hesitation about voting for a nearly mythical figure. I was moved by the scene of women at a river, trying to observe the "god-fearing" rituals without enough men to form a minyan. Water seems like the foundational image of religion, from John immersing sinners, to the woman at the well. Paul? Holly? These are figures of mission, and I would like to think we are still in mission, still fishing for souls.

    1. Thank you for expressing my thoughts so well in considering today's very difficult vote. Thanks be to God both these holy ones are already elected! All the saints be praised!

    2. If you conduct an internet search for "Episcopal Relief and Development in Haiti," you will find that the Episcopal Church is quite active in that country and solicited additional funding to rebuild in Haiti after the most recent devastating earthquake. My co-parishioner Delia Heck has done much work with Haitians to bring solar power to communities there.

  8. Saying little, says a lot. Lydia unquestionly follows Paul. Along with her Jewish companions she established a Christian church (with no walls). Lydia has my vote.

  9. I like Lydia because she is in the Bible, and her favorite color is purple. I love purple! I also like that she started a church.

    1. Joanna, I LOVE purple, too!

      And at 5 years old I think you may already have discovered that mixing red and blue makes purple, so I'd like to share with you one reason I love purple so much! I heard a quote that says, "purple is the proof that our blue [our sin and sadness] has met His [Jesus'] blood!"

      So to me purple is all about grace!

  10. I cast my vote for Bishop Holly who in his faithfulness paid such a high price in the loss of much of his family. The reworking of Lydia, o Lydia, is wonderful, and I will now have this running through my mind when I read Acts 16, an antidote to the seriousness of Paul.

  11. I wish that we still had Bishop Holly in Haiti today. Many of our fellow parishioners at my former church were from the islands of the Caribbean. They were most faithful and a joy to worship and live with.

    1. A wonderful priest in the Diocese of Washington, Joseph Constant, was born and raised as a Haitian Episcopalian. He is founded of Haiti Micah project. https://haiti-micah.org/ so if you want to support a very high quality Episcopal charity in Haiti, that is a good option. Haiti is a marvel of faith and endurance. I realize as much as I admire Lydia, Bp. Holly is a model for us today, reaching out across divides to serve those who need us most. After due consideration, I will vote for Bp Holly. 🙂

  12. I voted for Holly for among other reasons,the Episcopal church I belong to has an ongoing relationship with a church and trade school in Trouin,Haiti.
    Until I started attending this church I didn't even know there were Episcopalian congregations in Haiti. Think of the church in Latin America and the Carribean ,and Roman Catholic is what is assumed,except for former British possessions.
    A very fine article learned much I did not know before.

  13. I voted for Bishop Holly—a good serious choice. But then, too late, I read John Cabot’s oh Lydia oh Lydia. Oh John, oh John you are too much. And I think I remember some really funny stuff from before about squeezing snails to get purple dye?As the bearer of just one tattoo, a purple wildcat in honor of Kansas State University, I hope Lydia wins

  14. Trying to vote on my i-phone & have been in a spinning loop for several minutes. Nothing wrong with my Internet connection as it has indicated. I thought about backing out & trying again but don’t want to accidentally vote twice & get cast out into Lent Madness utter darkness HELP! PLEASE?!

  15. I really thought I should vote for Bishop Holly, but Lydia speaks to me personally. As someone who has been blessed financially, how far am I willing to give of my resources for the spread of the gospel around the world? It is a real challenge to me and a good question for me to contemplate and make a decision on this Lent.

  16. I haven't received the matchup in two days. Don't know what happened. If ya'll can check and make sure I'm still on the mailing list I'd sure appreciate it. Thank you

  17. Like many others have noted, this is a really hard choice. Lydia has long been a favorite of mine. On the other hand, am in a Sacred Ground circle right now, and have been to Haiti on mission trips, so Bishop Holly really pulls me today.

  18. I am privileged to take communion to one of our shut-ins. She was born and raised in Haiti and I am blessed to know her. She has shared some of her culture with us, including the Lord's Prayer in Haitian French. Thank you to Bishop Holly for your ministry and your faithfulness in times of turmoil.

  19. Having made 8 trips to Haiti to do humanitarian work, I have seen first hand the power and impact of the Episcopal Church in Haiti. In honor of my friend and inspiration, Pere Noe Bernier in Hinche, Haiti, I voted for James Holly.