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Convergent Friends, a long definition

Robin M posts this week about two Con­ver­gent Events hap­pen­ing in Cal­i­for­nia in the next month or two. And she also tries out a sim­pli­fied def­i­n­i­tion of Con­ver­gent Friends:

peo­ple who are engaged in the renew­al move­ment with­in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends, across all the branch­es of Friends.

It sounds good but what does it mean? Specif­i­cal­ly: who isn’t for renew­al, at least on a the­o­ret­i­cal lev­el? There are lots of faith­ful, smart and lov­ing Friends out there advo­cat­ing renew­al who don’t fit my def­i­n­i­tion of Con­ver­gent (which is fine, I don’t think the whole RSoF should be Con­ver­gent, it’s a move­ment in the riv­er, not a dam).

When Robin coined the term at the start of 2006 it seemed to refer to gen­er­al trends in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends and the larg­er Chris­t­ian world, but it was also refer­ring to a spe­cif­ic (online) com­mu­ni­ty that had had a year or two of con­ver­sa­tion to shape itself and mod­el trust and account­abil­i­ty. Most impor­tant­ly we each were going out of our way to engage with Friends from oth­er Quak­er tra­di­tions and were each called on our own cul­tur­al assump­tions.
The coined term implied an expe­ri­ence of sort. “Con­ver­gent” explic­it­ly ref­er­ences Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends (“Con-”) and the Emer­gent Church move­ment (“-ver­gent”). It seems to me like one needs to look at those two phe­nom­e­non and their rela­tion to one’s own under­stand­ing and expe­ri­ence of Quak­er life and com­mu­ni­ty before real­ly under­stand­ing what all the fuss has been about. That’s hap­pen­ing lots of places and it is not sim­ply a blog phe­nom­e­non.

Nowa­days I’m notic­ing a lot of Friends declar­ing them­selves Con­ver­gent after read­ing a blog post or two or attend­ing a work­shop. It’s becom­ing the term du jour for Friends who want to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves from business-as-usual, Quakerism-as-usual. This fits Robin’s sim­pli­fied def­i­n­i­tion. But if that’s all it is and it becomes all-inclusive for inclusivity’s sake, then “Con­ver­gent” will drift away away from the roots of the con­ver­sa­tion that spawned it and turn into anoth­er buzz­word for “lib­er­al Quak­er.” This is start­ing to hap­pen.

The term “Con­ver­gent Friends” is being picked up by Friends out­side the dozen or two blogs that spawned it and mov­ing into the wild – that’s great, but also means it’s def­i­n­i­tion is becom­ing a mov­ing tar­get. Peo­ple are grab­bing onto it to sum up their dreams, visions and frus­tra­tions but we’re almost cer­tain­ly not mean­ing the same thing by it. “Con­ver­gent Friends” implies that we’ve all arrived some­where togeth­er. I’ve often won­dered whether we shouldn’t be talk­ing about “Con­verg­ing Friends,” a term that implies a par­al­lel set of move­ments and puts the rather impor­tant ele­phant square on the table: con­verg­ing toward what? What we mean by con­ver­gence depends on our start­ing point. My attempt at a label was the rather clunky conservative-leaning lib­er­al Friend, which is prob­a­bly what most of us in the lib­er­al Quak­er tra­di­tion are mean­ing by “Con­ver­gent.”

I start­ed map­ping out a lib­er­al plan for Con­ver­gent Friends a cou­ple of years before the term was coined and it still sum­ma­rizes many of my hopes and con­cerns. The only thing I might add now is a para­graph about how we’ll have to work both inside and out­side of nor­mal Quak­er chan­nels to effect this change (Johan Mau­r­er recent­ly wrote an inter­est­ing post that includ­ed the won­der­ful descrip­tion of “the love­ly sub­ver­sives who ignore struc­tures and com­mu­ni­cate on a pure­ly per­son­al basis between the camps via blogs, vis­i­ta­tion, and oth­er means” and com­pared us to SCUBA divers (“ScubaQuake​.org” any­one?).

Robin’s inclu­sive def­i­n­i­tion of “renew­al” def­i­nite­ly speaks to some­thing. Infor­mal renew­al net­works are spring­ing up all over North Amer­i­ca. Many branch­es of Friends are involved. There are themes I’m see­ing in lots of these places: a strong youth or next-generation focus; a reliance on the inter­net; a curios­i­ty about “oth­er” Friends tra­di­tions; a desire to get back to roots in the sim­ple min­istry of Jesus. What­ev­er label or labels this new revival might take on is less impor­tant than the Spir­it behind it.

But is every hope for renew­al “Con­ver­gent”? I don’t think so. At the end of the day the path for us is nar­row and is giv­en, not cho­sen. At the end of day — and begin­ning and mid­dle — the work is to fol­low the Holy Spirit’s guid­ance in “real time.” Def­i­n­i­tions and care­ful­ly select­ed words slough away as mere notions. The newest mes­sage is just the old­est mes­sage repack­aged. Let’s not get too caught up in our own hip verbage, lec­ture invi­ta­tions and glo­ri­ous atten­tion that we for­get that there there is one, even Christ Jesus who can speak to our con­di­tion, that He Him­self has come to teach, and that our mes­sage is to share the good news he’s giv­en us. The Tempter is ready to dis­tract us, to puff us up so we think we are the mes­sage, that we own the mes­sage, or that the mes­sage depends on our flow­ery words deliv­ered from podi­ums. We must stay on guard, hum­bled, low and pray­ing to be kept from the temp­ta­tions that sur­round even the most well-meaning renew­al attempts. It is our faith­ful­ness to the free gospel min­istry that will ulti­mate­ly deter­mine the fate of our work.

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.

Else­where:

  • 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.

Neat idea: postcard for World Peace

A project from Esto­nia, a “blog of post­cards for world peace”:http://postcardworldpeace.blogspot.com. From the site:
bq. The idea is sim­ple: Send us a post­card from your country/city (or any post­card you want) writ­ing in the back­side a mes­sage of peace to the World. All the post­cards will be uploaded in the blog, and there will be a record of how many post­cards per coun­try we receive (includ­ing a map show­ing the cov­er­age).

Munching on the wheat

There have been a few recent posts about the state of the Quak­er blo­gos­phere. New blog­ger Richard M wrote about “Anger on the Quak­er blogs”:http://quakerphilosopher.blogspot.com/2006/08/anger-on-quaker-blogosphere.html and LizOpp replied back with ” Pop­corn in the Q-blogosphere?”:http://thegoodraisedup.blogspot.com/2006/08/popcorn-in-q-blogosphere.html.

Con­tin­ue read­ing

Turning workshops into worship

Last night LizOpp, Robin M and myself hosted our FGC Gathering interest group. The title was "On Fire!: Renewing Quakerism through a Convergence of Friends." All morning long we've had Friends grabbing our arms to tell us how powerful and important it was for them. One well-traveled Friend went so far as to say the spontaneous worship that occurred halfway through was the deepest he's experienced in twenty years of Quakerism. The obvious challenge for us hosts is keeping our egos securely tamed from all this praise.

The work wasn't ours. We simply set the stage. My first impulse is to say we helped create an environment where the Spirit could break into the event, but that's not really it. We tried to create a space where participants would recognize when the Spirit knocked on the door.

Powell House Weekend (Food for Fire participants.Powell House Weekend (Bloggers at the workshop pose for a goofy attacking-one-another photo.

What happened last night felt similar to what happened in last February's Powell House Food for the Fire workshop. While I took notes and journaled a lot about it I never gave a followup blog post. It was powerful and I needed to digest it. Luckily participants Rob, Amanda and Zach and Claire all shared about it or its themes in the weeks afterwards.

I'd like to share something about the assumptions and preparation that went into these two events. There's no way to create a cookie-cutter agenda to force a deep spiritual high. In fact part of what's needed is to move beyond predictability. Both times I've had a clear sense that a point came when I was no longer facilitating, where Spirit was actively guiding us and participants were actively responding to that process, even eldering us past the control of facilitation.

When I came to Powell House I had a workshop description and a keen interest in the topic. What I didn't bring was an agenda. I'm trying to experiment with not being too prepared.* Early Friends held open meetings and while they often bore concerns and had themes that frequently reoccurred in their ministry. Friends today rely very much on models borrowed from higher education: we have workshops that expect agendas, we give talks that expect pre-printed speeches. These are often the opportunities we get for teaching ministries, yet they are very programmed. The challenge is to figure out how to subvert them to allow for unprogrammed surprise.

At Powell House I spent time before each session walking around the grounds in prayer for guidance on what to do next. I had brainstormed ideas beforehand but my main preparation had been a lot of Quaker reading and prayer in the weeks preceeding the event. I wanted the sessions to connect to the spiritual condition of the participants, as individuals and as a group. There were a few moments I thought I was nuts. For example, walking around before the Powell House Saturday afternoon session it seemed like reading a chapter of Samuel Bownas's Description of the Qualifications would be a good idea, but by mid-afternoon I could see the sleepy faces. We did it anyway and faces and spirit lit up. People wanted to engage with Bownas. As it turns out we read all of chapter three, "Advice to Ministers in a State of Infancy." It was so cool.

The real inbreaking happened a little later. The group was tired, dinner was nearing. I started to recommend we go into a circle to break up. One Friend interrupted, looked at another across the room and said "you have something to say, don't you." The second Friend said yes, then challenged us that we hadn't actually answered our queries at all. The main question was still on the table. "What are we called to do?" There was a release. I knew I was not in control of the workshop anymore. We came into a prayer circle and started to talk about some of this. One Friend said something about naming who it is that call us. A theme came out that it wasn't enough for us to find some sort of personal salvation and comfort in our Quaker meetings: we needed to bring all the world into this if it was to be meaningful. It truly felt like the Holy Spirit was in the room. It wasn't necessarily so comfortable and it somehow seemed like not enough, but it pointed to the work we needed to do afterwards.

On Fire! FGC Interest GroupBlogging participants of On Fire! workshop pose together. About fifty people total came out for the Monday night interest group. Click photo for names and links.On Fire! FGC Interest Group
Lots of discussions happened at the rise of the worship.
The semi-impromptu post-discussion group. (Thanks for FGC's Emily for taking & posting this!)

FGC Gathering photos on Flickr and Technorati

Last night, at the FGC interest group, something similar happened. Robin, Liz and I had planned out the first half of the meeting. The most important piece: coming early to sit in prayer and holding it well past the time the interest group was supposed to start. The work of Friends needs to be rooted in worship. We need to be still enough to hear the Holy Spirit. If the medium is the message, our message was about the need to not pack ourselves in with agendas. We started predicatbly enough by asking the fifty-or-so participants to give their names and to name a spiritual practice that gives them joy. We asked for space in between speakers to keep worship at the fore and we were blessed by a self-faciliating group; Friends did hold the spaces in between.
Then the three of us told our stories of starting spiritually-focused blogs and coming to find a fellowship that extended beyond our traditional Quaker branches (hence the term "Convergence of Friends"). I went first and explained that I trying to be careful not to do this to lift myself up. My story is simple and like those of many Friends. I was giving testimony. The idea of testimony rang throughout the evening. Robin's story in particular was very grounded and coming last it took us into the unprogrammed agenda-less time we had left free. Friends rose to give testimony of other "convergent" experiences, for example particpation in the Northwest Women's Theological Conferences, events of the Western branch of the Christian Friends Fellowship.

At some point a woman I didn't know stood up without being recognized and she had a pose of supplication. My first though, "oh no!" Then I noticed another Friend, worshipful in spirit, who pointed her to us. She said she was going to sing a song. "Oh no again!" I thought. But this was the facilitation coming off our shoulders. This was a Friend rising to name what we needed and another Friend pointing that we needed to go this direction. It was like the two Powell House Friends: one recognizing in the other a need to share ministry and being willing to break through "proper" group process. At the interest group the song was powerful, it brought us to a place where we could be low and thankful. We were now spontaneously in worship.

Liz, Robin and I had planned some closing worship but this wasn't the time yet. But it was the time and the suceeding ministry was heartfelt and largely from the Source.
The only funny aside was that we felt we couldn't let the group go on past our 8:45 end time, for the simple reason that childcare ended then and we needed to let parents go. We mentioned this around 8:30 but twenty minutes later the worship was continuing. Just then the cellphone of the Friend giving ministry went off: it was his daughter calling to ask where he was! He turned off the phone but it gave us the excuse to close the meeting and invite an extended meeting to continue outside. This was wonderful as there were a number of other similarly-themed interest groups (one on youth ministries, the other on the World Gathering of Young Friends) and participants from all three groups met outside and continued the sharing for another two hours.

Lessons? Simply to ground workshop events in worship, let the agenda be empty enough for the Spirit to intervene (having backup exercises just in case it doesn't is fine!). I don't think this is a foolproof method. A lot depends on the participants and how willing they are to share in the faciliation and worship. A lot also depends on Friends breaking into the agenda, for both times that was what turned the event from a workshop to a gathered meeting.


* For me the danger is a personal style that has long relied on a last-minute miracles (I was the kind of college student who read all the material through the semester but didn't actually start writing anything until the night before an assignment was due). I don't want my theology to be an excuse for my procrastination and I try to test this regularly.

Related posts

Lots of folks have been talking about the Gathering and the Monday night interest group:

I'm sure more reaction posts are up there and I'll link to them as I find them. I suspect that in addition to being the biggest group Quaker blogger photo to date (sorry Gregg!), this will end up being the most blogged about Quaker event yet, at least till Wess gathers West Coasters together next month. I counted at least 20 Quaker bloggers at the Gathering.

Some pseudo-convergent outreach events at Gathering

Those Quaker Ranters readers who are coming to the "FGC Gathering":www.FGCquaker.org/gathering but haven't lost internet access yet might be interested in some of the events the Advancement & Outreach committee is sponsoring over the week. There will be a flyer in the registration packets (all these events will take place in Admin 203). For those not coming, I suspect I'll have some sort of Gathering round-up post at some point after it's all done. I'm also co-hosting a Monday night interest group with LizOpp and Robin: "On Fire! Renewing Quakerism through a Convergence of Friends." For details, see "Liz's post":http://thegoodraisedup.blogspot.com/2006/06/interest-group-at-gathering.html or "Robin's post":http://robinmsf.blogspot.com/2006/06/convergent-travels.html.


bq.. The FGC Advancement and Outreach committee is sponsoring afternoon events during four days of Gathering. Come share your outreach ideas, learn about FGC and support the growth of Quakerism!
*All Friends Welcome, 1:30-3:00*
Monday: "What Do Quakers Believe?" Come talk about the range of Quaker beliefs, from Robert Barclay to the present day, and explore what binds us together as Friends. Convened by Deborah Haines.
Wednesday: A special welcome to Friends from Pacific, North Pacific and Intermountain Yearly Meetings. Come talk about the spirit, concerns, and Quaker ways of these three independent yearly meetings.
Thursday: Visitors from Freedom Friends Church will join us to talk about the witness of this unique independent evangelical Friends Church.
*Outreach Hours, 3:15-4:15*
Sunday: Visibility. Interested in publicizing your meeting and getting the Quaker message out into your community? Friends are invited to come share their stories and questions and pick up a free copy of our "Inreach-Outreach Packet for Small Meetings." Jane Berger will host.
Monday: Isolated Friends & New Worship Groups. Learn about FGC's new service for Friends and seekers who live far from any meeting or worship group. Are you interested in helping to nurture new worship groups? Come find out what resources are available from the FGC Advancement Committee, and share your stories and ideas.
Wednesday: Friends interested in affiliation. FGC is an association of 14 yearly meetings and regional groups and 9 directly affiliated monthly meetings. A&O clerk Deborah Haines will talk about the work of FGC and the benefits of affiliation.
Thursday: Spiritual Hospitality. It's easy to feel isolated even within a local meeting. A&O coordinator Martin Kelley will talk about some strategies to overcome the isolations of age, theology, race, lifestyle, etc. What can meetings do to help these Friends not feel isolated?