The Return of Mere Anglicanism (With Lessons from C.S. Lewis)

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CHARLESTON, SC – It was as sunny and welcoming as ever to the Anglicans gathering from far and wide on Thursday, January 26th, as the Mere Anglicanism Conference returned to the historic downtown district. Seven years since the conference was last held, it was completely sold-out weeks ahead of time, showing high interest for an intellectually robust and engaging event exploring issues facing Anglicanism and today’s wider church.

This year’s theme is “Telling a More Beautiful Story: Lessons from C.S. Lewis on Reaching a Fractured World.” (From the Editors: In conjunction with the event, we also published Elizabeth Demmon’s essay: The Journey into Aslan’s Country: On the Creative Process of C.S. Lewis).

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Conference attendees gathered first in historic Saint Philip’s Anglican Church, one of the oldest churches in North America (established in 1680), to worship in Choral Evensong. The lovely historic sanctuary was filled to the balconies.

Alister McGrath on C.S. Lewis

Once gathered in the Charleston Music Hall, Reverend Jeff Miller, rector of St. Philip’s and conference director, welcomed attendees on behalf of the Diocese of South Carolina and introduced Thursday’s speaker, theologian and apologist Dr. Alister McGrath.

Dr. McGrath laid the foundation for later talks by exploring why the work of C.S. Lewis is still relevant to today’s church and apologetics. Lewis was a master of translating his faith into common language, according to Dr. McGrath. He was equally able to reach audiences in heady Oxford lecture halls and public radio broadcasts. He was driven by a spiritual longing for beauty and could discuss faith in those terms, reaching people through story. We are called to do the same, not necessarily by writing novels (although Dr. McGrath welcomed that), but by sharing our own personal stories: how the truth of the gospel has real power in our lives.

Friday and Saturday’s speakers, an impressive lineup of experts on C.S. Lewis and apologetics, will build on this topic. The conference will also continue to be set within the context of Anglican worship, beginning with Morning Prayer and ending with Archbishop Foley Beach celebrating a Festival Eucharist.

Back to the Future

Mere Anglicanism was initially conceived in the 1990s by Virginia Theological Seminary professors David Scott and Chris Hancock. They envisioned an academic forum for orthodox-minded Episcopal clergy to share papers and discuss theology, dubbing this academic gathering SEAD: Scholarly Engagement with Anglican Doctrine. When its initial founders retired, they passed the conference into the hands of the Very Rev. William McKeachie and Rt. Rev. FitzSimons Allison, who changed the name to Mere Anglicanism. Their vision was to expand the conference to include laity but keep the depth of intellectual engagement. Several years later, they passed it on to its current director, Rev. Jeff Miller.

Rev. Miller’s vision has been to maintain the conference’s intellectual caliber, while also broaden to include the practical next step of equipping clergy and laity to be witnesses to the gospel in their communities. With this new emphasis, the conference began to grow, featuring a variety of dynamic topics. Soon it moved into the Charleston Music Hall in the historic downtown district, where it has now triumphantly returned. This year, the 800-person capacity at the venue was met weeks ahead of time, showing clearly that there is still a hunger for this event.

In a city rich with American Anglican history dating back to the 17th century, Mere Anglicanism also points to the church’s future. It aims to provide the church with resources to become “educated, authentically discipled, active Anglicans—both lay and clergy—who are prepared and formed for leadership.” How lovely to consider that this formation comes through worshiping together in corporate prayer, thoughtfully diving into intellectually robust topics, and meditating on the meaning and power of beauty.

Published on

January 27, 2023

Author

Elizabeth Demmon

Elizabeth Demmon is a writer and musician who grew up in the Anglican tradition. She is married to Mike, an Anglican priest and U.S. Army chaplain, and together they have three children.

View more from Elizabeth Demmon

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