Commission Proposes Deleting Some Saints, Adding Others

The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, chair of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of The Episcopal Church, is a faculty member at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. (CDSP photo)

The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, chair of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of The Episcopal Church, is a faculty member at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. (CDSP photo)

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of The Episcopal Church has proposed, in a report to the General Convention upcoming in July, that commemorations of the following saints be dropped:

Adoniram Judson, Missionary to Burma, 1850
John Muir, Naturalist and Writer, 1914; and Hudson Stuck, Priest and Environmentalist, 1920
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Writer and Prophetic Witness, 1896
Nathan Soderblom, Archbishop of Uppsala and Ecumenist, 1931
Conrad Weiser, Witness to Peace and Reconciliation, 1760
Toribio de Mogrovejo, 1606 [retaining Martin de Porres, 1639, and Rosa de Lima, 1617, Witnesses to the Faith in South America]
Prudence Crandall, Teacher and Prophetic Witness, 1890
Nikolai Grundtvig, Bishop and Hymnwriter, 1872
Soren Kierkegaard, Teacher and Philosopher, 1855
William Carey, Missionary to India, 1834
Karl Barth, Pastor and Theologian, 1968
John Horden, Bishop and Missionary in Canada, 1893
Robert McDonald, Priest, 1913
William Lloyd Garrison, 1879 [retaining Maria Stewart, 1879, Prophetic Witness]
Lillian Trasher, Missionary in Egypt, 1961
Charlotte Diggs (Lottie) Moon, Missionary in China, 1912

I would hate to see most of them go – especially since they don’t propose getting rid of Sarah Hale, author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” or the utterly depraved theologian John Knox.

The Commission proposes adding these saints:

Gladys Aylward (1/3)
Amma Syncletica of Alexandria (1/5)
Caesaria of Arles (1/12)
Marcella (1/31)
Scholastica, Religious, 543 (2/10)
Katherine Drexel (4/3)
Mary of Egypt (4/3)
Kateri Tekakwitha (4/17)
Maria Gabriella Sagheddu (4/22)
Marie de l’Incarnation, Educator and Spiritual Teacher in New France, 1672 (4/30)
Helena, Protector of the Holy Places, 330 (5/21)
Olga of Kiev (7/11)
Bridget of Sweden, Founder of Bridgettine Order, 1373 (7/23)
Jane Frances de Chantal, Religious (8/12)
Paula and Eustochium (9/28)
Mother Theodore (Anne-Therese) Guerin, Religious, Educator, Prophetic Witness, 1856 (10/3)
Elizabeth Fry, Prison Reformer, 1845 (10/12)
Catherine of Alexandria (11/5)
Elizabeth of the Trinity (11/8)
Gertrude the Great and Mechtilde of Hackeborn (11/16)
Dorothy Day (11/29)
Ella Baker (12/13)
Emily Ayckbowm, Founder of the Sisters of the Community of the Church, 1870
Kate Harwood Waller Barrett
Etheldred Berry
Mary McLeod Bethune
Louise De Koven Bowen, Hull House
Josephine Butler
Anna Bessant Cassey and Henrietta Lockwood
Rosa Judith Cisneros
Florence Converse
Ella Cara Deloria, Native American Poet and Writer
Helen Fuller
Ann Gream
Angelina and Sarah Grimke
Sister Margaret Hawk, Church Army, Native American Activist
Addie D. Waites Hunton
Satoko Kitahara
Susan Trevor Knapp, NY Training School for Deaconesses
Eva Lee Matthews and Beatrice Henderson
Victoria Earle Matthews, Author and Settlement House Worker, 1907
Eleanor Laura McMain
Harriet O’Brien Monsell
Maria Montessori
Anna Newell, St. Margaret’s House, Berkeley
Phoebe Palmer
Katherine Parr
Ellen Albertina Polyblank [Sister Albertina] & Elizabeth Ann Rogers [Sister Beatrice]
Richeldis of Faverches
Eleanor Roosevelt
Dorothy Sayers
Mary Kingsbury Simkovitch, Greenwich House, NYC
Therese of Lisieux
Adeline Blanchard Tyler
Ruth Elaine Younger (Mother Ruth, CHS)

I don’t know enough about most of them to have an opinion, but as a “Church Army man” I am well acquainted with Sr. Margaret Hawk. I would rather have her described as an Evangelist or Lay Minister than “Church Army,” which is not a title, or “Native American Activist,” which is obvious from her biography.

This Catherine Parr? One of Henry VIII's many wives? (attributed to Master John)

This Catherine Parr? One of Henry VIII’s many wives? (attributed to Master John)

You’ll notice that all the new names are women. The Commission says this proposal would mean women make up one-third of the new list – which is a worthy goal, although it also sounds almost like a quota system.

The Commission is right to point out that the “classic approach” to designating saints skews heavily toward the clergy, and since women have only been ordained in The Episcopal Church since 1974, that leaves 2000 years of female believers out.

On the other hand, the Commission itself reflects a clerical bias, as well as a penchant for grandiose naming, which makes TEC sound full of itself to anyone under the age of 90.

But to get to one-third women, they delete Karl Barth, Soren Kierkegaard, Harriet Beecher Stowe and William Lloyd Garrison?

Others on the proposed hit list are saints recognized by other Churches and Communions, including St. Toribio, John Horden and Robert McDonald.

I've never thought of Eleanor Roosevelt as a saint, but at least she'd be someone we could talk about - unlike most of the others on this list.

I’ve never thought of Eleanor Roosevelt as a saint, but at least she’d be someone we could talk about – unlike most of the others on this list. (Speaking at the UN, 1947)

Let’s stipulate this: that the Commission is made up of good people trying to do a good job; that a case can be made for everyone on both the add and delete lists, whether I happen to like them or not; that any such list has political overtones, since Anglicans always need to balance their Protestant and Catholic constituencies; and that genuine sainthood is up to God, not up to us – so what we do when we collectively make such a list is, as the Commission rightly notes, telling “family stories” to each other, of which there are more stories than can be told.

The real problem here is too many Dead White Englishmen – worthies all, but not very meaningful to people today.

That’s what gives rise to the female quota. The Commission doesn’t have the guts to cut any DWEs, so it suggests we scrap some current newbies in favor of an all-women slate of newer newbies.

A Montessori class; well, maybe.

A Montessori class; well, maybe.

We really ought to ask, “Who among the saints make the best role models for today, in the United States, Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti, Taiwan, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and all the other nations where The Episcopal Church currently operates?”

As the Commission’s proposed new book, A Cloud of Witnesses, suggests, we’ve got plenty of role models to choose from. Who are the best ones for today?

The DWEs offer us a primer on Anglican church history, and yay for them. But they don’t help anyone live today. They should be taught in seminary, every last one of them, and in church history classes. Who helps us spread the Good Word today?

One obvious answer is the more recent the saint, the better. The closer to home, the better. The more like “me” and like us, the better.

We are becoming a browner church – so let’s X out St. Toribio? He campaigned against the enslavement of Latin American Indians!

St. Toribio: quick in, quick out.

St. Toribio: quick in, quick out.

Should we eliminate Harriet Beecher Stowe, the “little lady who caused our Civil War?” Why? That war freed our slaves, and no one can question that her motives were entirely Christian. Same with William Lloyd Garrison, even though he’s a Dead White Guy.

Where is Rosa Parks? How about Dorothy Haight, Fannie Lou Hamer, Viola Liuzzo and Coretta Scott King?

The Commission has a terrible job, and I thank them for their efforts. And yes, we’re all entitled to grouse if our favorites don’t make the list while someone else’s faves do. The right to boo comes with every paid admission to the ballpark.

But I’m afraid an all-female class will only provoke divisions, which we don’t need more of. It feels like one more needless insult, precisely because it fails to answer the question, “Who are the best saints for today?”

That question would no doubt yield a lot of women! I think we’d all want it to. Every woman in the Church, every girl coming up, every prospective member of either sex needs to see more women. After all, Frances Perkins won Lent Madness a year or two ago; there’s a definite market for more women role models in this Church.

I don’t think an all-female list, most of whom we’ve never heard of, is the way to go. Refining the question, “Who should be included and why?” is a better way.

Know this: our Daily Office sites will abide by whatever decision the General Convention makes.

But I do note that the Standing Commission in 2015 made no attempt to solicit the views of communities like ours, who live with the Calendar every day, or of any congregation that isn’t tied to the brick-and-mortar parochial system, online or in person. There are many “emerging church” congregations, but this clergy-dominated Commission has made no effort to engage any of them, beyond its commendably open invitation for anyone and everyone to comment.

They’re stuck in the past, and so is this list.++

Adding Mother Guerin just slays me. She was given RC sainthood just a few years ago after a janitor at her convent claimed a miraculous healing after he prayed to her. No joke, the guy's still alive and living in Indiana. (So much for the RC claim that they don't pray to saints.)

Adding Mother Guerin just slays me. She was given RC sainthood just a few years ago after a janitor at her convent claimed a miraculous healing when he prayed to her. No joke, the guy’s still alive and living in Indiana. (So much for the RC claim that they don’t pray to saints.)

3 thoughts on “Commission Proposes Deleting Some Saints, Adding Others

  1. I am disappointed that the add list is 100% women and most of whom the average person has never heard of. I agree with the comment on selecting person’s of either gender, that young people can look up to and model their lives after, no matter the gender. As one who prays the Daily Office, I’m saddened that the Standing Committee sought only women to add and removed some of the most brilliant of people to remove.

  2. Why would anyone think it’s a good idea to get rid of Karl Barth? He is one of the most profound theologians in church history. And Harriet Beecher Stowe? I thought A Great Cloud of witnesses was supposed to be an improvement..

  3. The propers a massive list of changes and asked for feedback. Much of the feedback consisted of criticism for proposing massive lists of either unknown people or people of questionable sanctity in order to fill quotas. It seems the criticism fell on deaf ears.

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