Being a fan of G.K. Chesterton I was rather excited when I earlier found out that for 2018 the annual conference on Chesterton was to be held in Orlando. Living in Jacksonville this a a fairly short distance, giving me no real excuse for not attending.
The conference tilted The Test of the Imagination ran from the 2nd of August to the 4th. My expectations were that I would hear some interesting talks and get a chance to briefly meet some people I had primarily known of through EWTN, Catholic Radio, and their books. Along with meeting some people I have has some limited correspondence with. Possibly even people who knew of me via this blog.
The talks indeed were very good, along with being on a range of topics. What I was not really expecting was the range of interactions with others. Now I am the type of introvert who might sit at a table and just listen in to others. Sitting back until the moment when the class clown in me can interject some pun. In situations such as a conferences like this where people are encouraged to introduce themselves I feel better within such rules. After that I can become almost gregarious.
What I found interesting was the range of individuals, couples, and families attending. I should have known that such would be the case by those attracted to Chesterton. That he would attract the common man. Common as stars are common with each shining brightly of their own composition. I knew Chesterton, it was nice to get to know Chestertonians.
There were individual I especially wanted to meet. The fanboy in me was raising its head to want to talk them and impress them that I was such a fan. Thankfully I restrained that impulse. While I did get a chance to meet Joseph Pearce and to thank him for his works, especially his recent book on Narnia, it was a brief interaction where he signed a book of his that I bought. The same with actor Kevin O’Brien. It was also excellent to meet with Brandon Vogt and Nancy Brown.
I really found that all the interactions I did have were extremely positive. I was amazed at the wealth of knowledge I encountered and was often just willing to sit back and listen. Still I also enjoyed relaying some aspects of my conversion story along with my other interests. Between the talks and during the meals there was plenty of opportunity for such interactions.
I was especially impressed by the young people I met or listened in on. The members of the local Chesterton club there were especially impressive in the range and depth of their knowledge. Also I was facinated by the range of both cradle Catholics and converts. The board of the American Chesterton Society along with Dale Ahlquist are all converts where Chesterton was a major role in this. So while there were plenty of converts, there were also plenty of cradle Catholics.
One aspect of the conference I was not especially prepared for. I was hoping for some social interaction after the last talk. Yet the introvert in me did not want to intrude. In fact I had made sure I had books and video to read and watch when I expected to return to my room in the evening. Instead the “after glow” parties went on into the wee hours. Giving me more chances to listen to and talk to others. Including Dale Ahlquist on the last night.
I had suspected that the conference would be a lot of fun. Humor either surrounded or were parts of some of the talks. Plenty of opportunities to laugh out loud along with more somber experiences.
I Call You Friends – A Special C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien Play
Actors Kevin O’Brien and Dave Treadway reenact a discussion between Lewis and Tolkien about G.K. Chesterton’s Everlasting Man
This play written by Kevin O’Brien was especially wonderful and moving. Starting with a reflection by Tolkien regarding his friend’s death and moving to a pivotal night in C.S. Lewis’ life. I pretty much loved everything about this performance, which brought tears to my eyes. Powerful.
Chesterton in his autobiography wrote:
When people ask me, or indeed anybody else, “Why did you join the Church of Rome?” the first essential answer, if it is partly an elliptical answer, is, “To get rid of my sins.” For there is no other religious system that does really profess to get rid of people’s sins.
So it was fitting on the last day of the conference that confession was offered and then Mass. The Mass was quite beautiful with large parts sung in Latin. Dale Ahlquist’s daughter Sophia was exquisite as cantor. The main priest who celebrated the Mass was a “baby” priest from the Diocese of Orlando. He was also a Chestertonian and delivered quite the excellent homily regarding the readings and referencing and reading from GKC.
Another aspect of this conference is the number of people who had attended multiple conferences. There was much talk of this and previous conferences. At first it reminded me of Grateful Dead fans who followed the band. Now I realize like all Chestertonians they were greatful to be alive and were like Innocent Smith in Manalive willing to telegram “Man found alive with two legs.”
Well I am on a streak of one conference and now I am pretty much hooked and already looking forward to the conference in 2019. I had a blast, pretty much on every level.