Tuesday, June 18, 2019

I went to the Ancient Faith Writing & Podcasting Conference

For a couple of reasons I made the trek over to Western Pennsylvania and spent some time with the people of Ancient Faith. The first is that my wife wanted me to go and no man with any sense stays home when his spouse opens the gilded cage of the rectory and lets this little birdie fly free for a weekend. The second is that this blog is going to have a lot more interviews and original content developed than it has to date. Keeping abreast of Orthodox events is important, but people are doing interesting things and their activities aren't getting enough attention.

Here are a few words on my experience at the event.

Here's the boilerplate on the conference:

The Ancient Faith Writing and Podcasting Conference is a professional development and fellowship opportunity for Orthodox Christians who want to enrich their creative work or break into a new media field. The Conference is open to published and unpublished attendees. If you want to be here, we want you to be here!

The Conference will provide a one-of-a-kind opportunity to network and collaborate with well-known Orthodox authors, podcasters, editors, and publishers, and to gain inside perspective on the Orthodox media world. Guests will enjoy time for fellowship in a beautiful and peaceful environment. Community building and spiritual refreshment are important goals of this gathering.

The Conference is committed to mentoring the upcoming generation of Orthodox writers and podcasters! College students are warmly welcomed.

I arrived early because I had things to do that had to be finished before "close of business" hours. As such, it was me sitting in the library on a laptop while people arrived in small batches (most often deposited by the airport van). The ruckus in the lobby grew to the point where I was drawn to see who had arrived, but I realized I had not gotten lunch and made a Sheetz run. I returned with two red plastic Sheetz bags to a rather full lobby. From then on it was people not only in the lobby, but all over the Antiochian Village chatting in clutches at all hours.

Your question is probably going to be "Who goes to this sort of thing?" The answer is that it's a mix of people. Lots of authors and podcasters and bloggers under the Ancient Faith brand who are Orthodox-household names. Their books are in your parish libraries and their podcasts and blog posts dot your social media feeds. Then there were people who do things for non-AFM publishers who got equal placement in the AV bookstore and on the stage. There were lots of what you might call "mommy bloggers" - I'm not using it as a pejorative, but as a pretty fair descriptive of the content and the audience for it. Many people were content creators of all stripes who had not yet published anything, but wanted to soak in the literary milieu, get inspired, and find some kindred spirits to draw motivation from. I can't forget clergy; we were sprinkled around as well.

The schedule followed the normal conference flow. There were meals between talks between breaks. Just add in religious services as bookends and you have the idea. Sometimes there were multiple speakers at once in different rooms and at other times there was just one speaker scheduled. Q&A time usually followed, but was often shorter than the queue of people hoping to ask questions. That stopped no one though, because they just made another line to ask questions off-mic after the speaker walked off the podium. A good speaker often missed most of his next mealtime like that - smiling, shaking hands, and politely nodding understanding.

The next question people ask is "Didn't they just record this event? Why do I need to spend the money to go?" Yes, the talks will be posted on the ancientfaith.com website. Most of the value of this conference was in the things that happened around the talks themselves. I spoke with authors and asked questions about their books. I talked with podcasters and to their producers to learn how the sausage was made. I chatted with a Coptic bishop, an Orthodox rapper, a webmaster for a jurisdictional website, friends and friends of my wife, and people who I knew not at all. If you've ever wanted to ask person X a question, he was there to talk to. That, I think, is the value of the conference.

"Would you go back next time?" seems a good final question. Sure. I think I might plan my experience a bit better though. If I had spent more time learning who was coming, I might have gotten more out of it. I also avoided some talks because they didn't interest me and went to talks on things I already knew a lot about. Next conference I'm going to flip that and spend time in the uncharted territory of topics I know nothing about and use lunch to chat with speakers on the topics I'm familiar with.

The lasting value of this conference will be in the connections made. Several of the upcoming interviews to be posted here are with people I talked to there. So, my wife willing, I'll go to the next Ancient Faith Writing & Podcasting Conference planned for 2021.

Finally, a few things I'd do for the next conference...

  • Places to talk - Open a secondary or larger place for people to congregate in the evening. The lobby space is comfortable, but quickly fills up.
  • Lightning talks - I'd add in an hour or so at the end of the day for people who have smaller topics to bring up. Sign up to speak for 15 minutes and speak on a topic that wouldn't normally be given podium space. Much less official and intimidating for people and a good feeder for future conference topics.
  • Rejigger the talks - Sometimes there were three talks going on simultaneously and sometimes there was just one speaker. The libertarian streak in me wants options at all times.
  • Kotar's coterie - Bring Fr. Dn. Nicholas Kotar back. His social commentary and macro-level thinking are very important. There are other speakers who are similarly well placed to speak on the topic of the confluence of Christianity and the modern world. Understanding this interplay is, I believe, the foundation for good Orthodox writing that speaks most piercingly to that which the pilgrim-hearted is searching: Who am I, what is this place, why am I here, and how can I glorify God?


  1. Thanks for this write-up.

    Yes, Dn. Nicholoas, Fr. Stephen Freeman, Rod Dreher - disagree with their answers all you want, unlike most others they are directly and creatively addressing the "macro-level".


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  3. I meant to ask, was Rod Dreher there? I met the two above-mentioned clergymen. If Mr. Dreher was there, I didn't know about it.

    1. Rod Dreher is in England at the moment interviewing Roger Scruton for his new book(according to his blog). Unfortunately (to my mind), it seems Dreher has made a much larger impact outside of Orthodoxy than within it. By his own admission his only Orthodox appearance was the conference held at the ROCOR seminary at Jordanville month or two ago...

  4. I like Rod. I think he really, truly gets it. But for whatever reasons he espouses what I call the Church Juvenile: the notion that we must withdraw into the catacombs in the face of a pagan Empire. Except it's not 35 AD any more and we really, truly are not St. Pauls speaking truth to Herod Agrippa. The Church's biggest problem right now is not persecution; the Church's biggest problem is it's largely ignored.

    And frankly, not even Benedict's option was the Benedict Option. The early Church was aggressively entryist. They infiltrated the institutions, proselytized and seized the levers of power to create Holy Rome, an entire Greco-Roman civilization built around the Liturgical cycle and the Christian canon.

    He's also reluctant, as I recall, to mention the most salient examples of his Benedict Option: Jews and Mormons. The Jews start their own Zion to go be Jewish in, and start Little Zions wherever they go. The Mormons have lots of kids and leverage their scrupulous lifestyles into corporate and government employment.

    As I've said for years, we need to put meat on the bones of our rituals and preaching. The most successful religious sects seem to be the ones that can smooth out the sharp edges of life for their adherents. If the Church is a good place to find a spouse, get a patronage network, and get support through your life cycle, then young, fertile people will show up and give the Church inter-generational continuity. If it's just middle-aged converts debating doctrine, they won't.

    1. "But for whatever reasons he espouses what I call the Church Juvenile: the notion that we must withdraw into the catacombs in the face of a pagan Empire."

      I am as perplexed as Rod is why this persistent yet erroneous summation/characterization of what the Ben Op is and what Rod is attempting to discuss. The Ben Op is not, in any way, shape, or form a "retreat" or a spiritual/practical "withdraw" into the catacombs. Rod explicitly (in the book, on his blog, in his travels) argues against this just as Fr. Schmemann did all those years ago (the Church ghetto {ethnic or otherwise} being one of two failure paths - the other being a secularized/compromised Orthodoxy as perhaps best represented today by Fordham's boys).

      I can only conclude you did not actually read the book, perhaps only reading about it via reviews written by...people who did not actually read the book (where for example particular Orthodox Jewish praxis is explicitly examined.)

      Rod definitely has his limitations, for example he too often stays near his comfort zone (he is a political journalist by trade) and thinks/speaks in "political" language.

      As to your last paragraph, Yes! Christianity is a "cult", and one thing cult's and "cultures" do is pass on the Faith to the children and succeeding generations. Orthodoxy assumes a post-Constatine culture and when it is missing as it is in our western civilization (our cult and "culture" is not Christianity - its secularism) Orthodoxy struggles, and most Orthodox don't even know what the problem is - they don't know what is missing (village Christian culture) and what has replaced it (secular cult).

      Until we honestly address the right question, then all of our answers are to the wrong question. Agree or disagree with Rod, at least he sees the question...

    2. In other words, you "come out from among them and be ye separate," while meekly paying your taxes for drag queen story hour. We should call it the Benedict Book Club.

    3. Actually, yes (knowing you met it cynically). The paradox of "be separate" yet in the world and "...let every soul be subject to the governing authorities" is a core paradox of the Christian life - right up their with dying so that you may live.

      The question is not if this paradox is with us or is Christian (it is), it is the 'how' of it - how do we live this paradox? Orthodoxy's answer, its praxis, is being sorely tested in the "new" situation of western civilization and secularism.

      One of Rod's central points is that this situation is sorely even acknowledged, let alone understood by traditional Orthodoxy, RCism, and Protestantism. Those who would pass on the Faith and truly be Christian are finding too few resources and answers within their churches. Another of Rod's points is that while the two failure paths delineated by Fr. Schmemann are real, the one most relevant and present in most of our parishes currently is the compromised/ing, secularizing spirit...

    4. And that's the bridge that Rod just cannot bring himself to cross: Christianity needs a Christendom, because all mom and dad's preaching to their kids is pretty useless when the entire State and Corporate establishments are arrayed against them. For that matter, Christianity herself cannot be protected from heresy without the secular rulers giving the Church their sanction.

      If the Option is just try and live your own godly life, dutifully pay your taxes, and be tolerant of Baphomet-worshippers, then he didn't need to write a whole book about it. That's a smart, low-risk approach, of course. Making the Church a good place to get married and stay married, make a living, and get taken care of in hard times is real work, and would be a lightning rod for suppression by the secular democratic State.

      The template for Christendom is the Zions (including the State of Israel) crafted by the Jews and the Amish. There's also the more robust approach of the Muslims and early Christians: don't hide from the Empire; become the Empire!

      We don't really make men like Charles Martel any more, and I'm not comfortable with the Mormon approach of joining the FBI and NSA, so I favor a more robust "Amish" approach. I say more robust, because if someone really wanted Amish lands they would be powerless to defend themselves.

    5. My 11:44 AM post is in reply to this...not sure how it ended up down there...

  5. Rod I think, and certainly myself, would say that Christianity needs the 'cult' (and thus a real kind of "culture"), not a "Christendom" (that is just a bonus - nice when you have it but not necessary). If Christianity presupposed a Christendom, then the early Church could have never existed, the underground Church in fill_in_the_blank could not exist, etc.

    Yep, its hard. Orthodoxies current emphasis, which they teach you in seminary and if you question it you largely get blank stares, is "just come to the services, raise your children in the church every Sunday, and all will be well...all will be well". This is not "working" because this pattern of life presupposes the various Greek/Slavonic Christendom's (Byzantine, Ottoman, Slavonic, etc.). It presupposes the Orthodox "village". That Christendom and culture does not exist (obviously) in secular western civ. yet Orthodoxy keeps on doing the same thing.

    Somehow we have to get beyond the 'Empire or Amish' dichotomy. Neither is realistic to our current 21st century NA situation. Neither a Christian Empire nor a true Orthodox subculture is threatening to break out into our reality anytime soon. In the meantime, I have kids to raise and my own eternal salvation to work towards. This is why Rob's efforts (and others - check out Vigen Gurion's latest: The Orthodox Reality: Culture, Theology, and Ethics in the Modern World)are important. They get some things wrong, but they are asking the right question unlike most other so called "theologians" and most of our clergy as well...

    1. Thank you for the discussion. Look forward to future comments.