A Quaker model for emergence?

Robin M over at What Canst Thou Say? has been hang­ing out with emer­gent church folks recent­ly and reports back in a few posts. It’s def­i­nite­ly worth read­ing, as is some of what’s been com­ing out of the last week’s youth gath­er­ing at Bar­nesville (includ­ing Mic­ah Bales report) and the annu­al Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends gath­er­ing near Lan­cast­er Pa., which I’ve heard bits and pieces about on var­i­ous Face­book pages.

It sound like something’s in the air. I wish I could sit in live in some of these con­ver­sa­tions but just got more dis­ap­point­ing news on the job front so I’ll con­tin­ue to be more-or-less home­bound for the fore­see­able future. Out to pas­ture, that’s me! (I’m say­ing that with a smile on my face, try­ing not to be tooooo whiny!)

Robin’s post has got me think­ing again about emer­gent church issues. My own dab­bling in emer­gent blogs and meet-ups only goes so far before I turn back. I real­ly appre­ci­ate its analy­sis and cri­tique of con­tem­po­rary Chris­tian­i­ty and Amer­i­can cul­ture but I rarely find it artic­u­lat­ing a com­pelling way forward.

I don’t want to mere­ly shoe­horn some appro­pri­at­ed Catholic rit­u­als into wor­ship. And pic­tures of emer­gent events often feel like adults doing vaca­tion bible school. I won­der if it’s the “gestalt” issue again (via Lloyd Lee Wil­son et al), the prob­lem of try­ing to get from here to there in an ad hoc man­ner that gets us to an mish­mash of not quite here and not quite there. I want to find a reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty where faith and prac­tice have some deep con­nec­tion. My wife Julie went off to tra­di­tion­al Catholi­cism, which cer­tain­ly has the uni­ty of form and faith going for it, while I’m most drawn to Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends. It’s not a tradition’s age which is the defin­ing fac­tor (Zoroas­tri­an­ism any­one?) so much as its inter­nal log­ic. Con­se­quent­ly I’m not inter­est­ed in a Quak­erism (or Chris­tian­i­ty) that’s mere­ly nos­tal­gic or legal­is­tic about sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry forms but one that’s a liv­ing, breath­ing com­mu­ni­ty liv­ing both in its time and in the eter­ni­ty of God.

I’ve won­dered if Friends have some­thing to give the emer­gent church: a tra­di­tion that’s been emer­gent for three hun­dred years and that’s main­tained more or less reg­u­lar cor­re­spon­dence with that 2000 year old emer­gent church. We Friends have made our own mess­es and fall­en down as many times as we’ve soared but there’s a Quak­er vision we have (or almost have) that could point a way for­ward for emer­gent Chris­tians of all stripes. There’s cer­tain­ly a min­istry there, per­haps Robin’s and per­haps not mine, but someone’s.


  • Indi­ana Friend Brent Bill start­ed a fas­ci­nat­ing new blog last week after a rather con­tentious meet­ing on the future of Friends lead­er­ship. Friends in Fel­low­ship is try­ing to map out a vision and mod­el for a pas­toral Friends fel­low­ship that embod­ies Emer­gent Church leader Bri­an McLaren’s idea of a “gen­er­ous ortho­doxy.” Inter­est­ing stuff that echos a lot of the “Con­ver­gent Friends” con­ver­sa­tion (herehere, and here) and mir­rors some of the dynam­ics that have been going on with­in lib­er­al Friends. The Quak­erQuak­er con­ver­sa­tion has thus far been most intense among evan­gel­i­cal and lib­er­al Friends, with mid­dle Amer­i­can “FUM” Friends most­ly sit­ting it out so it’s great to see some con­nec­tions being made there. Read “Friends in Fel­low­ship” back­wards, old­est post to newest and don’t miss the com­ments as Brent is mod­el­ing a real­ly good back and forth process with by answer­ing com­ments with thought­ful posts.
  • Famous­ly unapolo­get­i­cal­ly lib­er­al Friend Chuck Fager has some inter­est­ing cor­re­spon­dence over on A Friend­ly Let­ter about some of the ele­phants in the Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing clos­et. Inter­est­ing and con­tentious both, as one might expect from Chuck. Well worth a read, there’s plen­ty there you won’t find any­where else.
  • Final­ly, have I gushed about how fab­u­lous the new’ish Con​ser​v​a​tive​Friend​.org web­site is? Oh yes, I have, but that’s okay. Vis­it it again anyway.
  • Cathy Hab­schmidt

    I’ve won­dered if Friends have some­thing to give the emer­gent church … There’s a Quak­er vision we have (or almost have) that could point a way for­ward for emer­gent Chris­tians of all stripes.
    My first intro­duc­tion to the emer­gent church move­ment was read­ing Bri­an McLaren’s A Gen­er­ous Ortho­doxy. To say I was blown away would be an under­state­ment. I kept think­ing, “This is Quak­erism at its best!” I felt a strong lead­ing to try to con­nect the two some­how. I want­ed to write Bri­an per­son­al­ly and tell him about Quak­ers, and I want­ed to write an arti­cle for FJ and tell Quak­ers about the emer­gent church. I end­ed up doing neither…
    It was some time lat­er that I first heard about Con­ver­gent Friends. I was thrilled that oth­er Quak­ers had made the same con­nec­tion. Now we just need to see how we can offer some of our Quak­er strengths to oth­er Chris­t­ian denom­i­na­tions through this new opportunity.
    Cathy Habschmidt
    Rich­mond, Indiana

  • Hey Mar­tin, I real­ly appre­ci­at­ed read­ing you thoughts here. It got me think­ing about a lot of things.
    I am not famil­iar with Wilson’s “gestalt” metaphor but I want­ed to add some­thing pos­i­tive about a dif­fer­ent way of think­ing about ad hoc the­ol­o­gy, etc.
    I’ve writ­ten about it
    and here, and want­ed to say that I think we should stress an ad hoc way of putting this all togeth­er. I agree that we don’t want to get stuck some place in lim­bo, but I don’t think piec­ing our the­ol­o­gy and prac­tice togeth­er in new/old ways neces­si­tates that (not that that’s what you’re saying).
    I’ve been read­ing a lot of Yoder late­ly as well from an author named Chris Hueb­n­er (I can’t rec­om­mend this book enough), and his main point is that as the peace church we need to have a non­vi­o­lent epis­te­mol­o­gy which oper­ates on an ad hoc basis. We come to the ques­tions as need­ed, we fig­ure it out as we go, and that any oth­er way of sys­tem­atiz­ing faith and prac­tice Con­stan­tin­ian in nature. That is, try­ing to make sure his­to­ry comes out all right. Yoder’s point is that it’s not up to the church to make sure his­to­ry comes out okay, that’s up to God, what we’re respon­si­ble for is our faith­ful­ness as an alter­na­tive com­mu­ni­ty shar­ing the Gospel with the world.
    I think this kind of thing leaves us in a place where we real­ize that we have to change and adjust the argu­ments and the answers over time (to some extent).
    While I am com­plete­ly with you on the emerg­ing church-Quaker con­nec­tion the one thing I wor­ry about, is that there seems to be very lit­tle will­ing­ness to change and adjust the argu­ments over time. Here I main­ly mean look­ing at our forms of wor­ship, our ways of con­nect­ing with one anoth­er and with God, our ways of think­ing the­o­log­i­cal­ly, our ways of liv­ing out our faith, and our ways of read­ing and under­stand­ing our his­to­ry are all areas have become in many ways to sacred to look at in a crit­i­cal man­ner and in anoth­er way to rigid to real­ly except the cre­ativ­i­ty and genius behind what McClaren and oth­ers are doing.
    Is there a place for catholic rit­u­als, and emerg­ing the­ol­o­gy with­in the Quak­er church? How about celtic forms of prayer and wor­ship, litur­gi­cal ways of think­ing of and prac­tic­ing silence, ways of cre­at­ing dis­cus­sion and dia­logue dur­ing wor­ship, ways of bring­ing the var­i­ous (rich) tra­di­tions of thought and prac­tice from the church into our own the­ol­o­gy? Can we bring art, song, and oth­er organ­ic ways of dai­ly lives into our wor­ship with God? Can Quak­erism adapt to these things, the way McLaren and oth­ers are adapt­ing and using cre­ativ­i­ty in wor­ship and the­ol­o­gy in their ad hoc manner?
    I agree we have some­thing to give, but do we have any room to take?
    I think if any­one is going to exper­i­ment with these things it will have to be the con­ver­gent friends, prob­a­bly in small groups in our homes and meet­ing hous­es — tak­ing our faith and prac­tice into our own hands and being cre­ative with it as Quak­ers. But also, we have to do this in a way that is real and authen­tic, not “just because” or since it sounds like fun. If we are going to tru­ly be con­ver­gent it seems like we need to be will­ing to put every­thing on the table and ask what can we do bet­ter? Where is the Spir­it of God at work here and in our neigh­bor­hoods and cities? And how do we bring the whole of our lives into wor­ship of God?

  • Mar­tin,
    that com­ment real­ly wasn’t sup­posed to sound neg­a­tive at all — I can’t tell how I it will sound on the oth­er end.
    I think it just got me think­ing about how impor­tant a tri­al and error type the­ol­o­gy is. We don’t have to get it all right and we ought to be exper­i­ment­ing. Let’s take this stuff into our own hands, take our oppor­tu­ni­ties as they come, answer ques­tions when they arise, adapt to the cir­cum­stances and be cre­ative with all of this!
    Thanks again. I’m done.

  • @Wess wrote: “Can Quak­erism adapt to these things, the way McLaren and oth­ers are adapt­ing and using cre­ativ­i­ty in wor­ship and the­ol­o­gy in their ad hoc manner?”
    We’re count­ing on you to help us exper­i­ment our way through these ques­tions. Per­son­al­ly, I think the church is always going to have a need and a place for unpro­gramed silent wor­ship in the man­ner of Friends. Yet the sev­er­al forms of wor­ship that Friends fol­low today cer­tain­ly show the vari­ety that exists. Some would argue that is for bet­ter and oth­ers for worse… The ques­tion would remain how much could be exper­i­ment­ed with and still be able to car­ry the name of “Friends” with integri­ty. None? Some? All?
    The point is to remain root­ed and ground­ed in love and faith­ful­ness and atten­tive­ness to the Holy Spirit.

  • Mar­tin Kelley

    @Wess: Well, hon­est­ly, no I’m not all that into exper­i­men­ta­tion. There’s a rea­son for the plain­ness of wor­ship and it fits into the the­ol­o­gy. It’s not that I think it’s the only way to God but it’s a Quak­er way that’s come to make a deep sense to me. I can be flex­i­ble with minor bits and pieces but I think the ear­ly Friends hit on some­thing True, some­thing that works very well, a method that always worked and will always work. I don’t want to main­tain it as a rel­ic and I don’t hang onto it sim­ply because of age or for a love of ortho­doxy (as if!) but because I think it explains the uni­verse and how we relate to the risen Jesus both as indi­vid­u­als and as a covenent­ed community.
    In a way it’s like the ear­ly Friends not car­ing so much about whether we ele­vat­ed the Bible or the Inward Light, as both should guide us to the same truth. I’m not against spirit-led inno­va­tion, I just think it will keep point­ing us to tra­di­tion­al Quak­er the­ol­o­gy and practice.
    So here’s the thing that I’ve not real­ly talked about: I don’t think there’s real­ly such a thing as a “Con­ver­gent Friend.” Okay, has light­en­ing struck? No?, good, I’ll go on: I would describe us bet­ter as “Con­verg­ing Friends.” We’re head­ing in par­al­lel direc­tions but where we actu­al­ly are depends on where we’re com­ing from and our paths prob­a­bly won’t ever meet. Your desire for flex­i­bil­i­ty in wor­ship and open­ness to exper­i­men­ta­tion is a defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of evan­gel­i­cal Quak­erism; my desire to hold onto the tra­di­tion­al ways is stereo­typ­i­cal­ly Con­ser­v­a­tive Quak­er. They’re the per­son­al­i­ty traits of our tra­di­tions which our mutu­al con­ver­gency doesn’t change.
    It’s late for me so I can’t expand all this. But I do want to say I’m a big believ­er in one lev­el of ad hoc the­ol­o­gy and that’s the tra­di­tion­al Quak­er idea of only min­is­ter­ing or mak­ing state­ments when direct­ly prompt­ed, aka free gospel min­istry. I think of it as a “let’s cross the bridge when we get to it” process.
    Well, I’ll have to expand more, some­time when I’ve caught up on sleep (as if!).
    Your Friend,