Dorothy L. Sayers v. Enmegahbowh

You know it's Lent Madness when you get the likes of Dorothy Sayers squaring off against Enmegahbowh in the Lent Dome! An Anglican writer and apologist vs. the first Native American ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church. It's a tough choice, but one must be made. Because that's how it works.

Yesterday, Joanna the Myrrhbearer routed Monica 81% to 19% to stave off a potential battle between Augustine and his mother.

Time to hit the polls!

Dorothy L. Sayers

If you’ve ever pondered that God works in mysterious ways, then look no further than God working through mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers. It’s no mystery that God calls all sort of people to serve in the church in different ways, but sometimes, some ways are more mysterious than others.

Dorothy was born June 13, 1893, in Oxford, England to Helen Mary Leigh and the Rev. Henry Sayers, a rector of the local church. Dorothy went on to study modern languages and medieval literature at Somerville College, but she was not satisfied with an academic life and throughout her career, pursued experience in copywriting, playwriting, translating literature, and teaching. Frustrated by her various professional endeavors, Dorothy turned to writing as a means of making ends meet, and she conceived her most famous protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey; a career as an award-winning mystery writer was born. Like her contemporary, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy’s fiction writing provided her with the economic independence to pursue deeper scholarly reflection on God, ultimately elevating her to one of the most well-regarded female theological thinkers of her time.

Unsatisfied by the weak and often shallow theology of the Anglican church during the 1930s and 1940s, Dorothy was a strong apologist who called for engagement not just in belief but also in dogma, traditions, and practice. In one of her most famous publications, Creed or Chaos?, Sayers exhorts the church to not bow in the face of the uncomfortable: “Let us, in Heaven’s name, drag out the Divine Drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction […] We do Him singularly little honor by watering down till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.”

While Dorothy was discovered as a mystery writer, her life and witness offers a surprise twist, shaping how we think, act, and live as members of the church today. She calls us to be uncomfortable, to be shocked, active, and engaged. Dorothy asks us to be so caught up in the mystery and drama of a God who would die on a cross that we cannot help but have faith.

Collect for Dorothy L. Sayers
Almighty God, who strengthened your servant Dorothy L. Sayers with eloquence to defend Christian teaching: Keep us, we pray, steadfast in your true religion, that in constancy and peace we may always teach right doctrine, and teach doctrine rightly; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Anna Fitch Courie


An icon of Enmegahbowh created in 1996 by iconographer Johnson D. Loud Jr. depicts the saint standing in front of an orange Minnesota sunset. He wears a surplice and tippet adorned with a traditional Ojibwe floral motif. The medicine wheel, which symbolizes balance and harmony in many Indigenous cultures, circles his head as a halo. In one hand, he carries a pipe, used in traditional Ojibwe spirituality. In the other is a flame, a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

The image paints a picture of a Native Christian who held Ottawa and Ojibwe cultures in one hand and his Christian faith in the other.

Enmegahbowh, who was Ottawa and whose name means “The One Who Stands Before His People” (sometimes taking the connotation “Stands Before His People in Prayer”), was born around 1820 in what would, decades later, become Canada. While he was raised in the Midewiwin tradition, he later was baptized as “John Johnson.”

Enmegahbowh first came to Minnesota as a mission interpreter around 1832. Nearly three decades later, he became the first Indigenous deacon in the Episcopal Church in 1859 and, later, its first Indigenous priest.

Historian Theodore Isaac Holcombe writes: “Enmegahbowh was the herald of all our Indian work; the man who cried from the wilderness, ‘Come over and help us’; the man who first opened the door for all that has since followed of God’s work for the Indians, even to the Pacific Coast.”

Enmegahbowh and Episcopalian James Lloyd Breck co-founded a mission in Gull Lake, Minnesota. Although Breck was ultimately driven out of the community because of his refusal to adapt to Ojibwe values, Enmegahbowh remained with the people for another six decades. He moved west with them when they were displaced to what is now the White Earth Reservation, preventing an attack on U.S. soldiers at Fort Ripley to protect the people from retaliation and encouraging peace with the Sioux.

He died on June 12, 1902, in White Earth, Minnesota, and is buried on the property of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, which remains an active congregation. The Episcopal Church celebrates Saint Enmegahbowh on the day of his death. The White Earth Nation also remembers him each June, celebrating the powwow he started in 1873.

Collect for Enmegahbowh
Almighty God, who led your pilgrim people of old by fire and cloud: Grant that the ministers of your church, following the example of your servant Enmegahbowh, may lead your people with fiery zeal and gentle humility; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

— Emily McFarlan Miller


Dorothy L. Sayers: Public Domain

Enmegahbowh: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons



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119 comments on “Dorothy L. Sayers v. Enmegahbowh”

  1. I first "met" (and voted for) Enmegahbowh in Lent Madness 2012, where he made it to the Elate Eight (and was defeated by Margaret of Scotland). Glad to see he's back this year. Go, Enmegahbowh (maybe all the way to the Golden Halo this year)!

  2. Enmagahbowh❤️ I too as an Indigenous Priest, carry my Ojibwe culture in one hand & my Christianity in the other

  3. If Dorothy Sayers loses this one, my bracket is toast. Enmegahbowh is cool, but I've read too many Lord Peter Wimsey novels to give Sayers a pass.

    1. I also voted for Dorothy. Her mystery novels (and there is a lot of sneaky theology in them) were my gateway to her translation of Dante and then to her play cycle "The Man Born to be King", which I commend to anyone who hasn't read it. In particular, the way she – excuse the expression – fleshes out the Crucifixion and Resurrection is remarkable.

    2. Josh and Jules, I totally share your devotion to Dorothy! I "met" Peter Wimsey through PBS's Masterpiece Theatre many years ago and have been a great fan since.

      On the other hand, our country, or at least some of it, is in a time of introspection regarding how we've treated people who don't look like us, people like Enmegahbowh, so I'm going with him.
      This time, anyway.

  4. For the last 2 days, the email has not arrived at 8am. Yesterday came late morning

  5. As a former Somervillian, this was a no-brainer. My vote had to go to Dorothy Sayers.

  6. Though best-known for her novels of crime
    D. L. Sayers was a scholar sublime:
    Her proudest creation
    A Dante translation
    Done in hendecasyllable rhyme.

    1. This Lent I have been reading Dorothy Sayers' The Man Born to be King: her play cycle on the life of Jesus. It was originally written for broadcast by the BBC in 1941 and was published in book form (including author and production notes) in 1943.

      It is well worth reading (or listening to, if you prefer). In fact, C. S. Lewis liked it so much that he read it every Holy Week thereafter. See

    2. OK, John Cabot, what the heaven is hendecasyllable rhyme? I've read Dorothy Sayers for years, as well as being a big fan of language and its sources, and this is a new word for me.


      1. Hendecasyllable: a line of eleven syllables. Dante's Divine Comedy uses this form along with a terza rima rhyme scheme (A-B-A, B-C-B, C-D-C, etc.)

        Sayers' English translation maintains the rhyme scheme and much of the hendecasyllabic meter as well.

  7. I voted for Dorothy Sayers, because I was charmed by her insistence on honest and engaged theology. "Weak and shallow" theology in the Anglican church in the 1930's and 1940's? During the rise of Nazism and World War II? We are indeed sunk in sin. I think of the rise of neo-fascism in the US today and the concerted effort on the part of the powerful to force neoliberal economic policies on the poor and dispossessed, and I want the church to engage. I think of current "anti-'woke'" agendas forwarded by political thugs, and I want the church to engage. What would Jesus do? He'd teach "critical race theory," right-wing propaganda notwithstanding. He'd teach gender and insist on gender-affirming healthcare for all, including minors. He'd tell the cynical talking heads on FOX and the ambitious charlatans trying to suppress voter turnout to pound sand. And I want the church on his side, engaged.

    FYI, Ontario became a province in 1867, but that area was still "Canada." Lewis and Clark's mission may have been, "decades earlier," to find the source of the Mississippi, way north, and claim some of Canada for the US--but what they found instead was the mouth of the Columbia, way west. They got Oregon and Washington, and Canada remains Canada. Blue beads can't buy everything.

    1. Dorothy was tempting, but had to vote for Enmegahbowh, because more people need to know of him and and the contributions of indigenous people throughout U. S. history.

  8. Dorothy Sayers is so much a part of my reading life that I think of her as a friend. I discovered her first through her mystery novels and went on to read her translation of Dante's Inferno and her writings about both Wilkie Collins and John Donne, both of whom also became my friends. She belongs in the Final Four, standing right next to Donne.

  9. This is a hard one. I was sure I would vote for Dorothy Sayers but Enmegahbowh won my heart. He is new to me. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  10. The unfairness of it all to put these two up against one another in the very beginning!!! Dorothy Sayers made a big impression on my life so I've got to go with her. However it's very painful to not vote for Enmagahbowh. I remember him from his earlier run and voted for him. I'm in awe of all he did and he deserves to win too.

    1. Hear, Hear!
      This is really a tough one. But I learned something about both of them, and I thought I knew Sayers!

  11. I think this will be a close one. I fully intended to vote for Dorothy Sayers, but my living close to the Navajo Nation and watching the Nation’s struggles turned the tide to Emmegahbowh.

  12. I had to vote for Dorothy Sayers. My mom introduced me to her novels at an early age. It might be time to revisit them.

  13. Today, just like yesterday, I went in, expecting to vote for one "candidate" and, then, the life story of their so-called "rival" compelled me to switch camps. So often I wish I could vote for both. That's the reason I value this (zany) enterprise called Lent Madness. It's such a unique opportunity to learn about so many greater and lesser known faithful followers of the Lord and be inspired by them.

  14. This was a tough one to decide but I was so delighted to see a photo of Dorothy Sayers and to read her short biography that I had to vote for her. I love her novels and especially adore Lord Peter. I did not realize she had the religious side so this was very interesting.

  15. When we go to Europe, we often have access to pilgrimage roads. I've been thinking about what it would be to have an Episcopalian pilgrimage and think that Enmegahbowh's grave would have to be included. So, Enmegahbowh gets my vote today.

    1. I think your idea of a pilgrimage is wonderful. It would be a Trail of Tears for those who have suffered but persevered in the faith that not only may have opened the Gospel for them, but also served them an injustice.

  16. Although rejected by the Ojibwe tribe he came to save, he continued his mission six decades, sharing their banishment to White Earth. I am inspired to be steadfast when opposed by people I feel called to help.

  17. The wonderful thing about Lent Madness, is that whatever glory is heaped by us in our votes is far outshone by the glory of God reflected in their lives. Our vote neither enhances the person we choose nor diminishes the one we must, of necessity, decline. I cast my vote for Dorothy as a reflection of her place in my own pastoral work while giving thanks to God for the life and witness of Enmegabowh!

  18. This was a very difficult chose. Sayers is amazing in a writings in both arenas. I am some what skeptical about interpretation of dogma?? So I went with Otowa , the first indigenous priest.

  19. I have a feeling Enmegahbowh will won this one, and deservedly so, perhaps. This is the first day I went into this voting my desire, knowing I was going against the fold, and breaking my own unbeaten record so far in this still young season of Lententide. But what can I do? I picked up a book by Ms. Sayers a few years ago at random, and the scales fell from my eyes about some very important ideas. We are a vast and varied group of worshipers!

    1. Your comment resonated with me on all levels. This is the first time that my picks have all been winners. Tough today but I have to affirm Dorothy. I am moved, however, to research the icon of Enmagahbowh, and how to pronounce his name.

    1. "They lived not only in ages past;
      there are hundreds of thousands still.
      The world is bright with the joyous saints
      who love to do Jesus' will.
      You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store,
      in church, by the sea, in the house next door;
      they are saints of God, whether rich or poor,
      and I mean to be one too."

  20. Easy voting today, all problems with Spectrum solved (for now). So the ladies usually get my vote, but the Episcopal priest wins today for embracing both traditions of worship & belief!

  21. This was a difficult one but being a great fan of Peter Wimsey as well as an admirer of Dorothy Sayers' other works (The Mind of the Maker and her translation if Dante)I just had to vote for her.

  22. I've read and re-read Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey novels -- though I confess to not having read her theology, a fault I may now need to rectify. But for all of my love for her characters, plots, and engaging prose, I'm voting for Enmegahbowh today. My family is connected by marriage to others in the Native American/Episcopal pantheon, most notably Vine DeLoria, Sr., so I need to honor that heritage and Enmegahbowh's witness.

    1. Thank you for introducing me to Lord Wimsey. I had to read them all. But as with you, I voted for Enmegahbowh. After all, he was a deacon, as am I! I also lived across the St. Clair river from a reservation in Canada, and I need to honor the people I met, even though they weren't 'Native Americans'. Also, his life must have been one of amazing strength to do all that he did.

  23. I’ve read a number of Sayers’s books over the years, but knew nothing of E., since I hadn’t heard of Lent Madness when he was a contender. Again, I could vote for either. So I’m voting for Sayers, but won’t be sad if E. wins today and I get a chance to consider him again.

  24. I was going to vote for Dorothy Sayers; I am indulging myself with re (re-re-re-)reading the Wimsey books; I have defended her translation of Dante against the jibes of a professor of Italian--but the case for Emmegahbowh wins for me, today.

  25. Though I admire Enmegahbowh for being the first Native American priest in the Episcopal Church, I can’t help but focus on the harm the church did to the indigenous population through the establishment of the residential schools.

  26. This was really a tough one for me because I love Dorothy Sayers's mystery writing, so in depth and intelligent, full of insight. Didn't know she was a serious apologist, etc. An as much as I respect Christian's writing about action I have to go with Enmegahbowh, he walked the walk.

  27. Enmegahbowh opened the door to mission to our indigenous brothers and sisters, but have we walked through that door to support them? Have we fought to bring equality and hope to those who have been so wronged by the culture that displaced them?

  28. Having worked various Native Reservations,Enmegahbowh, was my first choice even though I still admire Dorothy.