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. In honor of my nieces and their families, who are a lovely mix of Alaskan native, Hawaiian, Samoan, and WASP, I simply must vote for Father Emmegahbowh. May his dedication inspire us all.

  2. We need someone in every generation to call us out of old habits and strive to renew "a right spirit within us"

  3. 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.”

    And yes, I did order a copy of the book!

  4. All honor to Emmegahbowe for an exemplary life and ministry. He's in the lead now, and if he wins this round, that's ok. Big "However," I've wanted Dorothy Sayers to win the Golden Halo ever since I saw her name on this year's bracket. For me, Busman's Honeymoon raised the bar for mystery books and stories forever.

    1. Dorothy Sayers was also a brilliant satirist. I love "The Creed of St. Euthanasia" in the book initially titled, Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World.

  5. Was there a painting of the Chief that I missed???? Lovely description.
    I voted for Dorothy. She was fighting back then the same fight that is going on now. Do we follow Jesus, or adjust our faith to meet societies mores??

  6. The difficulty of this matchup, and the difficulty making a choice of whom to vote for, both made it easier to accept the outcome. I voted for Dorothy Sayers for all the reasons that others have stated, but simultaneously felt guilty (after all, it's Lent, isn't it?) for not voting for Enmegahbowh. So, I, for one, appreciate the pairing because they are both so worthy that it makes the outcome less unacceptable.

  7. I didn't have to sneak a peek at the results to know that Enmegahbowh would be ahead in today's pairing of two worthy candidates.
    But a mystery writer calling us to go ever deeper into the mystery and transforming power of the crucified Christ? My vote had to go to Dorothy Sayers today.

  8. Dorothy Sayers wrote about women's rights, both in her essays and in her fiction, at a time when women's access to university education could not be taken for granted. She has my vote.

  9. I think I am more likely to vote for Fritz the Cat and his efforts to find more candid, credible meaning to things, given the current state of our Rat Race and World. That said, perhaps a show-down between Joseph Conrad Vs Jean-Paul Sartre would be a good match-up. I'd go with Sartre for Lent. Cheers.

  10. alltho Anna wrote a great collect for Dorothy, my vote is for the Indian, who spent his life as a priest for his people.

  11. My gut reaction stems from complete ignorance, but Lord Peter Wimsey has always embarrassed me as a white person and public radio listener. Now I’ll have to read some. Darn you, Lent Madness!

  12. I adore Sayers, but I was moved by Enmegabowh's tale. The realization that I was born near the land he also loved, and even I had never heard of him, compelled me to vote for him and want to share his story as widely as I can.

  13. I was unable to vote; I tapped and tapped, but my vote wasn’t accepted! Is this a conspiracy against Dorothy Sayers? It was a difficult choice, so I will let it be.

    1. Try a different device, some can be a bit stubborn. Phone, iPad, computer; if every device in your home is conspiring against you as they sometimes seem to do, the public library has computers for everyone to use. Annoying, yes, but not insurmountable.

  14. Voted for Sayers because additional information beyond what was posted suggested that Ennegahowh went along with move to White Earth even though it led to some of the tribe killing one of their own outstanding leaders, Hole In The Day, who fought to maintain the integrity of the tribe, even though this led to conflict with those who opposed him. Still, the White Earth reservation has produced some sterling leaders. Compromise can have some bad consequences, though still, paradoxically also resulting in good.

  15. This one was tough. I do think that both could be deserving, but Dorothiy has made more widespread impact. I voted for her.

  16. A really difficult choice today....thanks to those who put
    this match up kept me reading and re reading
    most of this morning..dishes not done, paper not read..I
    did feed the dogs tho..

  17. The shock and awe of experiencing pure liturgy do not compare to (nor do they last as long as) the uncomfortable and engaging work of finding Jesus in other faith traditions (Ojibwe traditions, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, etc.)

    1. ps: I saw this sentence today in another Episcopal Lenten devotional: "What Jesus calls us to is impossible, yet it is through God that all we are called to be is in fact possible." I think liturgy is where we feel God's call and are inspired to "the impossible". But it is in our work (whatever we are called to do) that we see the truth in Jesus' humanity, our limitations and our great need for God's grace.

  18. Deciding which of these amazing saints to vote for was difficult, but I chose Dorothy Sayers for her creativity in finding a profession that would pay the bills so she could pursue her passion as a outspoken theologian.

  19. Not because he is the first Native American Episcopal priest, but his 6+ decades of preaching & counseling his people on the paths of peace.

  20. Dorothy Sayers was also a strong advocate for women’s equality. I love her mysteries that are beautifully written, and her belief in strong women- in both her non-fiction and fiction books, and her theology!

  21. Voting is very difficult. It takes me several taps on the voting circle it to respond.

  22. Looks like I’ll have my first loss today. First of several I’m sure. It was a tough one.

  23. Back in the '80s I was riding in a NYC taxicab with former Iranian hostage Moorhead Kennedy on the way to a church speaking engagement. "You know," he said, "there are places in the church I could get up in the pulpit and deny the resurrection and nobody would blink... but if I questioned the Nuclear Arms Freeze, they'd hang me."
    "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.”
    Creed or Chaos?
    For me it's Dorothy Sayers all the way.

  24. My husband and I are having so much trouble trying to vote. After touching the button of whom we want to vote for - sometimes 10 to 15 times - it may or may not work. Steve couldn’t vote yesterday because he gave up after being unsuccessful too many times. Today I tried 12 times to vote before it finally accepted the touch.

  25. Well, it certainly doesn't get any easier (as if I expected it would). At first glance, being a Dorothy Sayers reader, I thought this would be a no-brainer. Alas, Enmeagahbowh has my vote!

  26. What a hard choice. You guys do not make it easy. Thanks for making Lent a mind opening for the stories you gather together and make us think.

  27. I voted today for Enmegahbowh. It is high time we recognized the considerable contribution of our Indigenous people. I appreciate that he was able to reconcile Christian faith with Indigenous practices. We need to continue that as we educate ourselves. I am Canadian and as a young person taught in a residential school. I thought I had contribute to the children's wellbeing, and am so happy to see that we are addressing the past and opening up our faith to accept that there are wider paths to spirituality. I just sincerely hope we did not wait too long because we are the losers.

  28. this is a hard choice. I need more information to make a firm decision. There is much harmful Indian history concerning the church and the native people, moreso in the US but also in Canada--moves to reservations, mistreatment, and all the rest that has been documented. But I look for those "saints" who had a visible and lasting effect on people as opposed to one whose words are there for anyone taking the effort to search and read.