Monday, October 06, 2008

Emergent, Convergent, or Divergent -- What About Quakers?

Nancy and I attended a meeting a few months ago with about 60 other Friends from three yearly meetings. I thought we had gathered to discuss the desire of forming an association of progressive Friends -- primarily for sharing worship and discussion.

Instead it became largely a time to talk about various issues that various Friends were interested in -- prison ministry, being open and affirming of gays, national legislation, and so on. All things, it seemed to me, that were already being undertaken and accomplished by other active Friends organizations.

I understand that the group is still meeting and still sorting out what it is called to be. And hooray for them -- taking time to let a leading season seems to be perfectly in keeping with our testimonies concerning discernment.

But as I thought about that meeting today, I came to the conclusion, based on what I heard at that meeting, my work as a congregational consultant, a writer of Quaker spirituality, and our own little experiment with the Friends in Fellowship group, is that much of what I would hope from such a group is underway in the convergent Friends movement.

While I may not be strictly Convergent (I'm still not certain that I fit (or understand) the definition exactly), the convergent Friends movement is, it seems to me, the Quaker version of the emergent church movement. I find a lot of vitality in the Emergent 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 (and indeed much of vital Quakerism outside of the convergent 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.

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 I"m still willing to try an organize a "Convergent Friends" conversation at "The Great Emergence" if there's any interest.

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