HANNIBAL, Mo. -- A new Lenten activity has been gaining popularity over the years, and area residents are taking advantage of its fun, devotional nature.
Lent Madness is a smackdown of saints in March Madness format. As part of the annual activity, participants learn more about saints and religious figures while voting to see which one ascends the ranks to win the "golden halo."
Hannibal's Trinity Episcopal Church, 213 N. Fourth St., has been participating for four years. This year, the church has already tacked a Lent Madness bracket on a wall, and the 22 church members playing have started a friendly contest to see who has the best bracket come Easter Sunday, April 1.
"It is just for fun and bragging rights," the Rev. Dawn-Victoria Mitchell said.
Megan Rapp, the church's parish life chairman, said, "This year I'm hoping to dominate -- humbly, of course."
Although Lent Madness began as an Episcopal Church activity, it is open to all denominations because it brings focus to the lives of people whom Christians should emulate.
"It's is not only a whole lot of fun, but it's also inspiring," Mitchell said. "The stories about the lives of holy women and men give me such strength and courage in my daily faith journey. Each year we have more in our church doing the brackets because learning about saints, both ancient and modern, is so inspirational."
"The only thing better than coffee hour and working to follow Jesus Christ is getting to participate in this during the ?Lenten season," she said.
Lent Madness' website says the activity was created in 2010 by the Rev. Tim Schenck, a pastor in Hingham, Mass., as a way to combine Schenck's love of sports with his passion for the lives of saints. Schenck partnered with publishing house Forward Movement to bring the activity to the masses in 2012.
Since then, Lent Madness has billed itself as the world's most popular online Lenten devotion.
This year's Lent Madness began Feb. 15. A free printable bracket is at LentMadness.org, and information about two different saints is posted on the website each weekday during Lent. The pairings remain open for 24 hours so players can read about the saints and religious figures, and then vote to determine which one moves to the next round.
The first round has basic biographical information about the 32 contenders. Subsequent rounds offer saintly quotes, quirks, legends and more. Ultimately, one will be crowned with the golden halo. Last year's winner was Florence Nightingale, a 19th-century nurse and social reformer.
Competitors in this year's Lent Madness include John the Evangelist, Margaret of Scotland, John Wesley, Katharina von Bora, and the apostles Peter and Paul.