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  • Writer's pictureAnglican Chaplain ETF

The Mere Anglican Conference 2023

A Report

By the Reverend Canon Zachary Nash

Canon of Formation Outreach JAFC

It is impossible to have the last word on God, but we can have a sure word[1]. This certainty punctuated the crisp Charleston air at the newly resurrected Mere Anglicanism Conference. Not since 2016 has this annual forum of clergy and laypeople met, and once again Anglicans and friends of our tradition from all over the world gathered to enjoy “deep, intentional Christian formation in the Anglican expression.”[2]

Stepping into the world of the Mere Anglicanism Conference is a two-fold experience of conference and city. The gathering itself is part family reunion and part theology forum. First envisioned by two professors from Virginia Seminary it was later shepherded to its current incarnation by Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison. The conference is now led by The Reverend Jeff Miller, Rector of St. Philip’s Church in Charleston, South Carolina and hosted by Charleston’s mother church, safeguarding Mere Anglicanism’s vision for a “reformed, renewed orthodox Anglicanism in North America.” The Holy City, as Charleston is known due to her many churches, brings an additional Anglican dimension to the conference that leaves even a seasoned Anglican sometimes gasping in awe.

This year’s lectures focused on the theme, “Telling a More Beautiful Story: Lessons from C.S. Lewis on Reaching a Fractured World.”[3] From the warm welcome of Bishop Chip Edgar, to the opening remarks of Archbishop Foley Beach, to the genteel guidance of the Reverend Miller, to each and every speaker, the theme wove seamlessly into a welcoming and wonderful journey. A journey that was neither a Lewisphile shibboleth convention nor an ill-fitted Lewis book jacket covering the zeitgeist, Mere Anglicanism brought Lewis to a warm conversation amongst friends. And, though pipes and tweed have given way to puffy jackets and Hydro Flasks, one could still imagine Jack smiling as we crept around the nooks and crannies of his imagination, playing sometimes in Narnia, sometimes at Oxford, but always in the deepest of orthodoxy.

In true Anglican fashion, we began with worship. Evensong was held at St. Philip’s where Bishop Edgar led us in traditional chanted prayers. Those partaking made the quick walk back to the Charleston Music Hall for the first lecture. If confidence in a lineup of speakers can be measured by who leads the pack, then sureness certainly wasn’t lacking. Dr. Alister McGrath took to the podium with seasoned enthusiasm encouraging us with Lewis’ gift of narrative apologetics and urging us to find our own beautiful narrative emerging from the faith once delivered. For an opening salvo, our seminar experience went well beyond “mere” Anglicanism.

The next morning, we were treated to Charleston Coffee Roasters[4] by the cupful and Dr. Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College. Dr. Ryken gently challenged us to consider potential shortcomings in Lewis’ mid-century understanding of scriptural criticism, yet he reminded us of Lewis’ unwavering devotion to scripture as the basis for our beautiful faith. Next, we received a broadside of Lewis’ prophetic truths from Dr. Peter Kreeft, of Boston College, who outlined The Abolition of Man as one of two of the most important books of the 20th Century which speak to our current cultural moment[5]. We then were challenged by Dr. Amy Orr-Ewing, who showed how Lewis’ compassion towards those who suffer is an example to us and opens many doors in apologetic ministry. From there we went straightway to Dr. Simon Horobin, who guided us past sleeping dragons that we might steal away treasures from Lewis’ understanding of beauty, sin, and redemption. Following all of this, we spilled into the street and made the 20-minute pilgrimage to St. Philips for a most memorable festival Eucharist presided over by the Archbishop.

On the final morning, we enjoyed the excellent company of Dr. Jerry Root, Wheaton College Professor of Evangelism Emeritus. Again, and again, he gently reminded us, as Lewis did, that only God has the last word, but we have a compelling and sure word about Jesus to share. The more beautiful story was told and retold to the delight of each in attendance. Indeed, his words were the first ones you read in this article and his words were a wonderful segue to our final speaker, Dr. Michael Ward. Dr. Ward, deftly captured the imagination of Lewis by wrapping up the conference, but lovingly not tying off the bow, leaving us with Lewis’ words on longing--our longing for beauty, and God’s longing for us.

If indeed, Dr. Root is correct, that we certainly have a sure word about God, then the Mere Anglicanism Conference contributed to that notion. This week, we heard a more beautiful story, and not just from Jack Lewis, or within the Anglican Tradition, but from the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, seeking to share Jesus with a fractured world.

Left to Right: The Rev. Cn. Zachary Nash, The Rev. Brett Hedgepath, and The Ven. Dr. Kelly O'Lear attend the Mere Anglicanism Conference

[1] The opening sentence is a paraphrase of Dr. Jerry Root’s understanding of C.S. Lewis’ idea of God’s last word. Several times Dr. Root expressed the idea of using narrative discourse (as Lewis did) to convey the sure and certain word about the truth of Christ. [2] accessed January 26, 2023 [3] Ibid. [4] Charleston Coffee Roasters was donated by the owner who is a member of St. Philip’s. [5] The other book Dr. Kreeft referenced was Brave New World.


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