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Mere Anglicanism 2023 ~ Telling a More Beautiful Story

News--Bailey Mere Anglicanism

How does one describe an event like Mere Anglicanism? A few weeks ago, Lea Andrews asked if I’d write an article about my experience at the conference. Without giving it much thought, I agreed and didn’t think about it again until it was too late to back out.  Had I truly understood the extraordinary lineup of speakers, their impressive bios, and the depth of their knowledge on C.S. Lewis and other theological matters, I would have been intimidated by the task and may have suggested someone else do it. In fact, by the time Jeff Miller was introducing the third speaker, the author of more than 100 books on everything from theology to Socrates, I decided to email a few fellow St. Philippians to contribute. The first response back was, “I will try ... but I was so overwhelmed it will be hard.” 

“Overwhelmed.” I think that is the best description of what occurred for most who had the privilege of attending the three-day event. It was, indeed, overwhelming, and I feel that my ability to convey a meaningful recap is totally inadequate. Everything from the extraordinary lectures, to the glorious worship services, to the gargantuan effort put forth by our clergy, staff, and parishioner volunteers, this was an overwhelming experience.  

According to the conference materials, “Mere Anglicanism is an event-oriented organization that provides the tools and resources to disciple, train, and educate lay and clergy leaders. We bring in thinkers and teachers who help people become informed, equipped leaders and who ‘take theology home with them.’” That certainly unfolded over the course of this conference.

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The Rev. Dr. Alister McGrath 

The theme of the conference was “Telling a More Beautiful Story: Lessons from C.S. Lewis on Reaching a Fractured World,” and the opening lecture by Dr. Alister McGrath was titled “Longing for a More Beautiful Story: Lewis and the Gospel in Today’s World.” This idea of longing hit home, and it set the stage for all the speakers who followed. We long for beauty, but not in the material sense. We long to be immersed in God’s beautiful story, which is where we find true joy, happiness, and contentment. If our longing is in the material world, we will be longing for what we cannot find. McGrath encouraged us to consider how our own experiences can help share the gospel and give people glimpses of God’s beautiful story, as C.S. Lewis was so gifted at doing.

People are attracted to good stories, and God’s story is the most remarkable to be told. Sometimes, it is through storytelling and showing people, or immersing them in the story, that is the most effective way to break down barriers between skeptics and the gospel. We should all remember that Lewis was a layperson, yet he used his gift as a storyteller to become a giant in terms of telling God’s beautiful story.  McGrath asked, “Who among us is another Lewis?” 

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Dr. Peter Kreeft checks out the bookstore selections ahead of his talk on Friday morning

Fellow parishioner John Kerrison had this to say about Dr. Peter Kreeft’s lecture on day two: “Dr. Peter Kreeft discussed C.S. Lewis as a prophet and underscored his disbelief in the philosophy of history knowing that man’s soul has the same longings he has always had. He discussed C.S. Lewis’ criticism of a view of man as progressive, always thinking that the most recent thing is the best. He calls it chronological snobbery. He capped his talk by acknowledging mankind’s inconsolable longing to be united with God.”

Each lecturer provided highly intellectual insights, including various means of support and evidence for their comments. However, Dr. Jerry Root’s talk also included personal stories from his life experience, offering examples of how he’s been an opportunistic evangelist. In particular, he’s used conversation to get people telling their own stories, and to help them understand that their stories are part of the larger, more beautiful story. 

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Dr. Jerry Root (photo by Joy Hunter, Anglican Diocese of South Carolina)

I don't have the space to comment on all the lectures, but I encourage you to do a web search on all the speakers; you will find a wealth of material and resources, including books, articles, videos, and interviews.

Perhaps the most overwhelming experience for me was the Friday afternoon festival worship service at St. Philip’s. A friend texted me on the way and asked puzzlingly, “Who goes to church at happy hour on Friday?” I’m not knocking my friend or anyone who goes to Friday happy hour, but I am so glad I skipped last week in favor of this service. The sanctuary was as packed as an Easter service, the Archbishop presided, guest speaker Dr. John Dickson preached a tremendous sermon, and the music was as beautiful as I’ve ever heard.

This is no hyperbole––when it was over I texted two friends who weren’t there and said, “Maybe my favorite service ever.” The next morning, Dr. Jerry Root said, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been to a more beautiful worship service. I sensed the presence of God.” 

Finally, the third aspect of the event that stuck out to me was how St. Philippians came together in an amazing way to put on the event. Parishioner Brendan O’Shea shared, “I wasn’t able to attend the conference, though I did have the privilege of picking up and delivering a couple of the speakers to and from the airport. ... I will say that my time with these folks was well spent.” Brendan went on to comment about his time with Simon Horobin and Peter Kreeft that his only disappointment was how quickly it went. “In my short time with these folks, I was enlightened and fortified, knowing that there are many amazing people who share our beliefs and that we are not alone in a ‘St. Philip’s bubble.’ It was also humbling to see the effort that went into hosting the event—it made me feel even more favorably about St. Philip’s as our family’s spiritual home.” 

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Four of the several dozens of parishioner volunteers: Doug Ringer, Scharlene Ringer, Kat Phillips, and Ashley Jordan Ferira on bookstore duty

Our clergy and staff, led by Jeff (also the Director of Mere Anglicanism), did the majority of the heavy lifting, and we should all be proud of their effort.  However, our broader church family became an army of volunteers, doing everything from serving as drivers, manning the registration table, managing the conference bookstore, serving as ushers in the event hall, singing in multiple worship services, and so much more. 

I have labored to put into words the experience of this conference, so I shall sum up by quoting C.S. Lewis and Brian McGreevy. 

Lewis: “We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”

McGreevy: “If you were at this conference, you felt that you had indeed been united with the Beauty of the Gospel, that you had passed through the wardrobe and were bathing in a sea of joy.”

Mere Anglicanism Choral Evensong ~ January 26, 2023

Mere Anglicanism Festival Eucharist ~ January 27, 2023

View Photos from the 2023 Mere Anglicanism Conference

Conference session recordings will be available to attendees in March and may also be made available for purchase.