This past week I attended the Ancient Faith Writing and Podcasting Conference (AFCon), an event which I also attended last year (its inaugural year), where I spoke on ministry in social media. This year, though, I wasn’t one of the scheduled speakers but was just attending along with everyone else.
Last year, I have to admit that I was a bit ambivalent about attending. It was a bit inconvenient, and I wasn’t really sure what I could offer to creative types that would be geared toward them in particular. But AF prevailed upon me to come, so I made it work. On the day of the Ascension, I drove all the way from Emmaus to a retreat center in a small town in Wisconsin north of Chicago in a single shot (about 800 miles). It was a very long day, but I got there in time to be present for some of the initial evening session, and I stayed for the rest of the two days we were there.
And I was just a bit blown away.
When I got there, I met a lot of folks who, like me, are excited about communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in accordance with Orthodox tradition in ways that actually get through to people of our time and place. I instantly connected with several people there and began genuine friendships and, in some cases, partnerships that have already turned into collaborations. It was a delightful gathering of just a few dozen people, almost all of whom were either AF staff or content contributors.
AFCon 2017, here we come!
So when I heard that AFCon was happening again this year and especially that it was happening at the Antiochian Village (which is just four hours from me), I jumped at the chance to sign up, even though I had no plans to speak at the event. This time, though, it was about 75 people rather than just a few dozen, and more than half (from what I could tell) were not currently working with AF. But most of them were creative people of some kind, producing writing and recording in support of the Orthodox faith. There was also a sizable contingent of people who do children’s books, too — a genre I am clueless about but that fills a definite need.
I met many new people again this time, too, and was also very pleased to renew the friendships I’d begun the previous year. And the lectures were also good and useful (some more than others for me), though not (IMO) the most valuable thing at AFCon.
The greater size of the crowd certainly made for a different vibe, but it still worked. And like before, the most valuable thing (to me) was still connecting with people who are excited about communicating Jesus Christ. I came away so filled up with ideas to emphasize and ways of thinking to renew that as soon as I got home, I rewrote my Sunday sermon. I just knew what I’d done before wasn’t going to cut it.
One surprising part of the event was the giving out of Ancient Faith “Crystal” awards. Six were given: three to Fr. Thomas Hopko (posthumously), Fr. Thomas Soroka and Dr. Chrissi Hart, all of whom were contributors to Ancient Faith Radio since its inception; and three to Fr. Barnabas Powell, Elissa Bjeletich and me, because each of us have the “hat trick” of being contributors on all of AF’s main platforms (books, podcasts and blogs). It was certainly an unexpected, yet delightful honor to receive the award. It makes sense to me that AF would want to emphasize that kind of participation, too.
One more thing
One final observation: It is sometimes said in certain circles online that Ancient Faith is part of a “watering down” of Orthodoxy in America, trying to make it more palatable for [whatever group]. I’ve read that in a lot of places — nowhere official, but Facebook comments, etc. I will tell you that, especially after having now been at two events which were all about Ancient Faith Ministries and also after having read or listened to a lot of its content (though no one could consume it all), I think that is utter bunk.
Does that mean that every word uttered on an AFR podcast or written in an AFP book or AFB blog is 100% Orthodox and perfectly theologically precise? No, it doesn’t mean that. There are errors and mistakes here and there, of course, especially in things said off-the-cuff. And sometimes some folks (including me!) don’t know what they’re talking about even though they think they do.
But there is zero desire among the AF staff to alter the Orthodox faith or skip over anything uncomfortable or hard. There is no AF programme to water down Orthodoxy. Rather, there are a lot of people who have a lot of real experience, expertise and even some holiness working hard to use all that in ministry, and almost all of them are doing it either completely voluntarily or for little remuneration. And they come from many backgrounds and are approaching ministry in many ways — everything from sermons to parenting books to patristic popularizations to convert stories to youth ministry to fiction to apologetics to cultural criticism to recipes. And many of them are also putting themselves up for risk and ridicule by those who aren’t interested in contributing but only tearing down.
I’m not saying all that because my partnership with them forces me to — after all, I could be blogging or writing or podcasting elsewhere. And it’s not like I make a living off publishing books through AF. (Far, far from it! Very few authors live off selling books, anyway.) So I’m not beholden to them. I’m saying this because it’s my own desire to communicate Orthodox Christianity to people in all of its fullness and to do it in a way that actually sinks in for people. And I wouldn’t be working with AF if I didn’t think that’s what they wanted, too. And at AFCon I definitely found myself in a room full of people who felt the same way.
Really, folks, Ancient Faith Ministries is a jewel and something of a miracle, too. Yes, I appreciate that the URL above this post says “ancientfaith.com,” but it just happens to be where my blog is located. No one is paying or even encouraging me to say this.
Ancient Faith Ministries is one of the most dynamic, hard-working, dedicated, prayerful and committed group of Christians one could hope to work with or even meet. I’m super-proud to be associated with them for eight years now. May God grant them all many, many years.
The photo above is of author, blogger and podcaster Elissa Bjeletich, along with her daughter Andja and her friend Maria, who together are the co-hosts of the Orthodox Life Hacks podcast, a podcast by and for Orthodox young people.