Monday, March 03, 2008

Convergent, Emergent, or Divergent -- Where Are Quakers Going?

Nancy and I attended a meeting last evening with about 60 other Friends from three yearly meetings to discuss the desire of forming an association of progressive Friends. Reflecting on that meeting today, I came to the conclusion, based on what I heard last night, my work as a congregational consultant, and my heart, that perhaps – and it’s just my opinion – that much of what I would hope from such a group is underway in the convergent Friends movement.

The convergent Friends movement is, it seems to me, the Quaker version of the emergent church movement – a group, according to their own words, “is a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” (Emergent Village). They also say that they are about

  • “Growing”: which indicates our desire to develop as the dreams of God for the healing, redemption, and reconciliation of the world develop.
  • “Generative”: which means that we expect our friendship to generate new ideas, connections, opportunities, and works of beauty.
  • “Friendship”: Because we firmly hold that living in reconciled friendship trumps traditional orthodoxies – indeed, orthodoxy requires reconciliation as a prerequisite.
  • “Missional”: Because we believe that the call of the gospel is an outward, apostolic call into the world.
Why I think the convergent Friends movement has much to offer is that it embraces the above all within the context of the rich diversity of Quaker faith and practice. I like the idea behind the word “convergent” – one definition of which is ”tending to come together from different directions.” I am concerned that there be places for theological hospitality and deep discussion about Friends testimonies and their applicability in today’s world. I don’t think that developing another group of “like-minded” Friends is going to be very helpful to us. That would seem to me to be “divergent.” I know what I cherish are rich times of worship across “lines.” What feeds my soul is when whatever dialogue growing out of that worship is done with respect and caring – me listening and learning from my Evangelical brothers and sisters, my more mystical brothers and sisters, my liberal brothers and sisters and letting Christ teach me through all of them.

I don’t think convergent Friends is the final answer for all Friends in all circumstances. But I do think it has a lot to offer to those of us inside Friends who long for places of deep spiritual engagement (and all that means) and those outside of Friends who hear about us and wonder where to connect with a people who seek to be known as the Friends of God in an open and welcoming way.


PS Robin Mohr, a blogger at What Canst Thou Say and a Friend from San Francisco, is organizing a dinner in Indiana on April 6 for anybody interested in convergent Friends. It will be at Ploughshares Farm (Nancy’s and my home) that evening. You can read more about it and sign up to attend at If you're itnerested, please visit Robin's blog and sign up to attend.


Allison said...

Oh oh oh I have been wondering about progressive Friends myself! I share your concerns.

cath said...

I would like to attend the dinner and will sign up on Robin's blog


C. Wess Daniels said...

I enjoyed the post Brent and like the four points tied into EV. One way I have thought about cf is not that it is the one answer for all Friends everywhere, but (at least trying to be) one really good Quaker answer to the question "where are we going?" (and how ought we get there).

quakerygma said...

Thanks for continuing the conversation, Brent. I recently noted the participation of Bruce Bishop (as a presenter) at Tom and Christine Sine's New Conspirators Festival. It seems as though there is a new direction to go, and you are write to ask if that direction is back together or further apart. Thanks!

Todd said...


As someone who is not a Quaker (although beliefnet says I'm 100% orthodox Quaker :)

one thing that I've noticed about Friends is that even when they have sharp disagreements (mostly theological from what I can see)....they still seem to have an amiability toward one other words...they don't do a lot of least from what I can see....I like that :)

...blessed are the peace makers...



Brent Bill said...

Yes, I agree with Wess that it is "one really good Quaker answer." It is one that does not mean abandoning our private experiences of the Divine or make them "fit" into some sort of creed (even if we don't call it that). I like it because I am free to be the fairly orthodox Christian I am without apology and can learn from others whose experience may be far different from me. My theological understandings are in no way undermined by others whose views are different. Indeed, I do believe that Christ calls all toward the Divine and that my role, in many ways, is to get out of the Spirit's way and allow that to happen. And trust that it can with out my "defending" my particular understanding of faith as normative for all people.

And, Todd, as much as I hate to say it, Quakers are not always very good at being respectful of other Quakers. As one person I think of as a quite weighty Friend once said, "We Quakers love everybody -- except other Quakers." That's why I have such hope for the convergent movement -- it gives us space to love and respect. Blessed are the peace-makers, indeed!

Todd said...

Well see how perceptions are when you're not in the middle of the movement? ha ha!


Robin M. said...

I'm sure looking forward to meeting you in person next month. Thank you for hosting the dinner.

I agree that I see convergent Friends as a name for the emerging church strand of Quakers. In addition to the four points you mentioned, I like the possibility of our ancient traditions helping us clear the path for the future.

And if I were single and more financially free, I would have loved to go to the New Conspirators conference. I drooled over the website more than once. I keep asking myself, which of their four strands does my meeting fall in?

I think this is becoming its own post in my head. I'll stop here.

Brent Bill said...

I'm just into the beginning of Tony Jones' "The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier" and one line from it really resonates with my feelings about the topic of this blog post. In telling a story about Lillian Daniel (a UCC pastor friend of mine), Tony writes, "Lillian thought she was joining a movement, but she was joining a bureaucrasy. And that bureaucracy tends to quash the passion of the many Christ-centered and enthusiastic persons therein."

That's why I believe a creating a new organization or association will ultimately fail -- we must be about a new movement of the Spirit.

cath said...

I find the convergent movement to be a new and potentially Society-enhancing thing for Friends. However, I don't think it's wrong to also want to put ourselves in smaller groups for purposes of support and witness to non-Friends.

We don't have one big blog for all Friends, we don't have one big organizational structure for all Friends. I think that it's not a realistic expectation to ask Friends to quickly forgo their specific concerns for the sake of speeding up the aims of forming a less differentiated Society.

Diversity is a good thing when it's embedded in the core of a belief system. But when certain distinctions (I'm not talking about ethnic or class distinctions here, but rather, Quaker "flavors.") have a history and tradition, things don't change overnight.

That said, it is my hope that all Friends will be able at some time to see in their fellow f/Friends the Light of Christ and be able to stop what I consider silly bickering about which flavor of the Quakerism is best.

In my spirituality, my work, and my politics, I'm a very progressive person, yet I still realize that humans will not change just because some of us tell them to or want them to. We have to model the change and allow the Spirit and our witness work in the hearts of others at the same time we are also presenting certain visions of change to them.

And I think the convergence movement can help with this.


Brent Bill said...

Like Cath I don't think there's anything wrong with smaller groups around interest. My concern is creating another place to do that when many such places already exist. I know of many Friends groups who are interested primarily in certain issues -- national legislations, lesbian and gay concerns, racial diversity, care of the earth, etc. I'm not saying these are the only places such interests should be discussed -- they're not. But if there is gong to be energy around a movement, I believe it has to because there's spiritual energy and passion and that convergence, with its lack of formal structures and agendas seems to be -- and I stress "seems" -- a good place to start.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I think I'm a regressive Friend, myself. But I still learned a lot from reading this posting, and was glad you took the time to write it. I wish you well on this adventure!

Brent Bill said...

Hi Marshall -- I'm probably a "regressive," as you put it, myself. I worry about what we're in danger of losing as we move forward. Hopefully, by being aware of those things, we won't lose them -- the testimonies in particular. I fear that's what happened when the revivalist movement swept midwestern Friends -- they were so "successful" that they lost their spiritual mooring and those of us who are their spiritual heirs are reaping that sad harvest.