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Chad's church nets election hits
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Of all the ramifications of the ongoing U.S. presidency battle, few could have been more unexpected, nor more bizarre, than the sudden interest being taken in a small parish church in the depths of rural England.
As a result of an unlikely sharing of names between a seventh century Anglo-Saxon bishop and a part of the ballot papers in the disputed Florida state election, the Web site of St. Chad's Church in Lichfield, Staffordshire, has seen a dramatic increase in log-ons from across the Atlantic.
St. Chad was a medieval cleric who was born sometime around 620 AD and served as the first bishop of Lichfield from 669-672 (he has a shrine in Lichfield Cathedral although his shinbone somehow ended up in Birmingham Cathedral 20 miles away).
In the U.S., meanwhile, a "chad" is the name used to describe the tiny square of paper produced when Florida voters punch their electoral ballot papers.
Vice President Al Gore's contention that many "chads" were not properly separated from their ballot papers on election day, hence denying him votes, has become the central issue of his continuing electoral struggle with Texan governor George W. Bush.
What on the face of it appears to be no more than a passing coincidence, however, has assumed a more intriguing symmetry with the discovery that in 667 AD St. Chad was himself involved in an electoral dispute over who should occupy the post of Bishop of the Northumbrians.
The connection was initially made by the Reverend Jim Bass, pastor of Mission Bend United Methodist Church in Houston, and was subsequently used in a sermon by colleague Reverend Jim Welch of Longview First United Methodist Church.
He suggested that St. Chad could perhaps be regarded as the patron saint of electoral disputes.
As a result , on November 30, 2000 the Washington Times ran an article on the story -- since when the Web site of Lichfield Parish Church, previously visited only by those wishing to check up on service times and the date of the next Diaspora Coffee and Cake morning, has witnessed a startling upsurge in hits from U.S. web users.
"The Web site has been going for just over a year now," explained parishioner Stephen Smith, who created and runs the site.
"Until last week we were getting about four hits a day, which we were actually very pleased with.
"Then suddenly the number of hits started going up. At first it increased to about thirty hits per day, and then it went through the roof. On Monday we were accessed 401 times. It's just taken over."
A look at the site's "guestbook" reveals the extent to which the "chad" connection has captured the popular imagination.
Of the 45 messages left in the book this year, 25 have appeared since November 29, when one U.S. visitor proclaimed: "You will likely see many visitors, as U.S. folk learn that St. Chad is the patron saint of political disputes!"
Since then a whole host of messages have appeared -- and continue to appear -- including a grateful one from a Chad Walker of Georgia.
"Being named Chad and well aware of the current importance of bits of paper called chads I have been embarrassed by it all. Your Web site has restored some dignity to my name for me."
As well as providing free publicity for the church, the sudden rush of interest also looks set to bring some much needed cash to the parish coffers.
One Web user, Paul Justus of Fayetteville, Arizona, has already pledged a donation to the church's Millennium Restoration Appeal, and parish authorities are hoping that more will follow.
"We've now got a couple of pages up about the U.S. election thing," says Smith, "With a nice prominent link to the Millennium Appeal page."
Part of the attraction of St Chad would seem to be the fact that, unlike the Bush-Gore dispute, his own electoral wrangle was solved swiftly and without rancour.
On being told by the Archbishop of Canterbury that his rival, Wilfrid, Abbott of Ripon, was the rightful Bishop of the Northumbrians, Chad accepted the ruling with grace and humility.
"If you decide that I have not rightly received the Episcopal character, I willingly lay down the office," he was reported to have said. "For I have never thought myself worthy of it, but under obedience I, though unworthy, consented to undertake it."
As Justus noted in his guest book message: "What a wonderful story about a very humble saint that didn't sell his soul to partisan bickering."
St Chad was canonised sometime after 672. Whether the same fate awaits the loser of the U.S. election remains to be seen.
'Hanging chads' often viewed by courts as sign of voter intent
St. Chad's Parish Church
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