What I Saw at #AFCon

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.

8 comments:

  1. Congrat’s Father on your reward! Very nice!
    Ancient Faith should know that they were an essential part of my journey to Orthodoxy. I began reading about it, then shortly after, began listening to Ancient Faith. Shortly after that I contacted two very dear priests…one from my state, and he recommended the parish I now attend…and the rest is history. So all I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you, and may they and all of you continue to spread the Good News!

  2. I couldn’t have said it better myself! Left the conference with a new viewpoint a thirst for expressing the faith in the fullest way possible. It was also so wonderful to meet you!

  3. I appreciate what you all are doing at Ancient Faith. I am Ortho-curious as your partner on your The Areopagus podcast is and I look to become a catechumen. I am not sure why people would feel the need to look at Ancient Faith as “part of a “watering down” of Orthodoxy in America, trying to make it more palatable for [whatever group].” But then again, there is no pleasing some people. They rather sit on the sidelines and complain about another ministry than getting involved themselves.

    Anyway, thanks Father Andrew!

  4. Father Andrew, thank you for all you do. I wanted to ask as I am greatly interested in Orthodoxy and wanted to ask you a question which is related to a older blog you wrote about focus on new converts vs those who leave the church. I am sorry this is so off topic and I could just be a worry wort for nothing, but reading those comments of people who talk about their experience with the Church makes me afraid to join out of fear that even I have high expectation and end up my experience will be for nothing. I am sorry this isn’t clear but I am not good expressing myself when I have worries or fear that no one would understand me or care. My mind is very weak with understating. Guess I am afraid of not fitting in or being ignored and everyone is just for show and not of Christ. Again, sorry if this is off topic and remove if needed.

      1. Me neither, I was stressed when I typed that message. I’ve read that post and was just worried about when I am able to join, I just don’t want to end up being one of those that leave the church. I am tired of going to different protestant church trying to find the truth and finding Orthodox where I finally found the true faith. I just want the confidence that once I join I’ll stay and not leave. Hope that makes better sense.

    1. Hi Justin,
      Just a word of encouragement…allow for the power of Christ to work through your fears, doubts and weaknesses. Though unwanted and quite the hindrance, we all have them and experience their paralyzing effects. What you saw in Father’s post on converts verses those who leave Church is the essence of the Church as a place for healing, and those in it who are in the process of being healed. Some stay, some leave. Father expressed the burden of dealing with those who leave. It is only one of many burdens. One who is not a priest can only imagine. Yet, the trials encountered in healing and growth are unending here on this earth. And the beginning of healing is through Christ, in His Body, the Church. I urge you to follow your desire to attend…go to church, even trembling, and allow the presence of the Holy Spirit to comfort you. Eventually, where your troubles were magnified by fear, you begin to have more clarity. You mention expectation. Only now, have expectation that Christ can heal you. As long as you are willing, He will enable you to move forward.
      All the best, Justin.

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