Convergent Friends: A Handbook – An Introduction to Convergence (Pt. 1)

In this online handbook you will find a variety of articles written by convergent Friends. This is by no means an exhaustive collection of writings but rather it is meant to function as an introduction to the concept of convergent Friends and part two of the handbook is meant to help people think about what it might mean to start a convergent Friends worship gathering. 

Begin with reading the definitions and short history below and then if you want to go deeper you’ll find a list of resources at the end of this post.

A good place to start is with Robin Mohr’s definition of convergent Friends  and then if you can find a copy, the definition from the Historical Dictionary of Friends.

Introducing “Convergent” Friends

It is important to know at the outset that convergent Friends is a grassroots and decentralized impulse among Friends. There are no headquarters, no paid staff and no faith and practice that stands as the baseline for who can be in and who is out when it comes to convergent Friends. We have worked to be a “theologically hospitable” group, whose emphasis is on sharing stories, drawing on the Quaker tradition, viewing difference as an asset, worshiping and having fun together.

Even while “convergent” is a self-designated label, there are certain contours that describe the overall work of convergent Friends.

This is how I have been describing convergent Friends today:

Convergent, in the way it is used in Quaker contexts, is a “neologism” or a made up word that has a particular usage. It is the combining of two words: conservative (as in to the tradition) and emergent (as in innovative). It is born out of desire to find renewal within the church that refuses the false option between antiquarianism and anti-tradtionalism. It signals a move within Quakerism with a very distinct mission, to bring about innovation and creativity by drawing on the resources already present within the Quaker tradition. The work is collaborative among all streams of Friends who are interested in this particular work of creative renewal. Another word for this is “remix,” where the original artwork of the Quaker tradition is being combined with today’s “participatory culture,” and something new is being born. [^1]

A (Very) Short and Incomplete History

I think it was Liz Opp who said that as long as there have been Quaker splits there have been convergent Friends. There have always been Friends who have worked for renewal among Friends and have understood that the resources for renewal can be found in a retrieval of the whole of the Quaker tradition within today’s context. This is why convergent Friends involves Quakers from all the different streams of the Quaker tradition; they believe that revitalization can be found by drawing on the life-giving stories and strengths of each of these groups. It is neither opposed to tradition, nor is it trying to be antiquarian in its understanding of tradition.

Tradition, For convergent Friends, can be described in the words of Jarolav Pelikan:

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”

The first place I can find the word “convergent” used was at a “Future of Friends” conference in St. Louis in 1970. This conference was itself convergent, bringing together Quakers from twenty-four American yearly meetings. T. Canby Jones edited a book that contained the collection of lectures given during that conference. Here are the queries that were mentioned:

What is the purpose of the Faith and Life movement among American Friends? (a) To come into unity through agreeing in a collective statement of our common faith? (b) To reconstruct the theology or find again the spirit of early Quakers? (c) To know the present state of our Society through what might be called ’comparative Quakerism’: a study of the various theological types and points of view to be found in our Yearly Meetings and associations? (d) To seek through meeting together and dialogue between the various strands of current Quakerdom new life and light under the leading of the Holy Spirit–something that might be called ‘convergent’ or ‘emergent’ Quakerism? (Jones 1971).

In the mid-1980s in the Pacific Northwest, a group of Quaker women from an Evangelical programmed Friends Church and a liberal unpgrogrammed meeting in Portland, Oregon began meeting to listen to one another’s stories. This group, called Multwood, became the seed-bed for a bi-annual Quaker women’s gathering called “The Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theological Conference (PNQWTC).” [^2] Both of which continue to meet today. This drawing of various people from across the Quaker spectrum so that they could share their stories was the mid-wife of what we now call “convergent Friends.”

The work of Multwood and the PNQWTC not only laid the groundwork for a broader “convergent” movement, but it also pointed to a growing impulse among Friends. In the time since, it has become ever clear that for many Friends all over the world there is a shared desire for renewal and a deep interest in learning from one another through the practice of, what Brent Bill calls, “theological hospitality.” The Spirit has been truly moving among all Friends building up to this work.

In 2004, Freedom Friends Church was born out of this movement. Peggy (Parsons) Morrison, Alivia Biko and Jane Wheeler set out with the leading to bring into existence within the fabric of the Quaker tradition a fully inclusive, fully Christ-centered, and fully Quaker church. Freedom Friends is one very clear example of what a convergent Friends church/meeting looks like in the world.

In 2006, a number of Friends met in Berkeley, CA for Quaker Heritage day with Peggy (Parsons) Morrison and Marge Abbott. During the weekend they discussed what it meant to be “Dangerous Quakers” and worked to develop the concept of convergent Friends. Robin and Chris M. had a group of us over to their house afterward for the first “convergent” get together of this kind. There I met Peggy and Marge, Robin and Chris M., Chad Stephenson and others. We shared stories of our faith, what drew us to the Quaker tradition and our dreams for the future of the faith. This was quite literally the first time I’d met Quakers from an unprogrammed perspective in real life and my life was transformed by the experience. The friendships, shared ministry and vision for convergent Friends was very much deepened that weekend and so much has sprung from that meeting together.

Also in 2006, QuakerQuaker.org was launched by Martin Kelley. Martin had been working hard to pull together Quaker bloggers for a number of years before that. QuakerQuaker was the culmination of that work. QuakerQuaker has been an essential tool/hub/network and publishing platform for helping to bring together the convergent Friends community (Link QuakerQuaker.org).

And one last note, in 2009 my favorite sock picture was taken while Robin M., Martin K. and I co-facilitated a convergent Friends weekend at Ben Lomond Quaker Center in northern California. The event was very well-attended and one of the highlights, for me at least, was our stations of the Lords Prayer we did together. Ashley Wilcox of Freedom Friends Church and one of the weekend participants has gone on to lead many convergent Friends workshops and the stations of the Lord’s Prayer at gatherings since.

Since 2006, many other small groups have met, workshops have been held at numerous Yearly Meeting sessions and Quaker retreat centers such as Ben Lomond, Pendle Hill, Beacon Hill, Woodbrooke, and more. There have been podcasts and videos made, articles written and research done all supporting the movement towards renewal. Convergent Friends truly is a participatory movement of renewal among Quakers.

Some Definitions

The origins of the word “convergent” traced back to a post on Robin Mohr’s blog in 2006:

“Convergent” is still my favorite phrase (so far) to describe the coming together of several strands of Quakerism. It describes Friends who are seeking a deeper understanding of our Quaker heritage and a more authentic life in the kingdom of God on Earth, radically inclusive of all who seek to live this life.

It includes, among others, Friends from the politically liberal end of the evangelical branch, the Christian end of the unprogrammed branch, and the more outgoing end of the Conservative branch. It includes folks who aren’t sure what they believe about Jesus and Christ, but who aren’t afraid to wrestle with this question. It includes people who think that a lot of Quaker anachronisms are silly but who are willing to experiment to see which are spiritual disciplines that still hold life and power to transform and improve us.

Metaphorically, it suggests that Friends are moving closer together towards some common point on the horizon. Put otherwise, I would say that the winds of the Spirit are blowing across all the branches of Friends, blowing us in the same direction. The convergence of Friends is a fuzzy, changing concept, not an example of pure mathematics or philosophy.

Linguistically, it alludes to an affinity for both Conservative Friends and the Emergent Church.

Many of these Friends owe a great deal to the work of Lloyd Lee Wilson and especially his book, Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order[2]. I believe our Quaker history offers us the common ground we need to walk on now, in order to all reach a point of greater spiritual depth and commitment to social justice.

When I first suggested this term, it was just an experiment, an attempt to more efficiently name a trend that was happening around me. Since then, many more Friends have begun to consider what the term “convergent Friend” might mean to them. Some of them are communicating across vast distances of geography or institutional theology. Some of them are communicating across dinner tables, while consuming take-out pizza and home-made chocolate chip cookies.[^3]

Having a way to name what was happening within the Friends community created enough synergy and interest that people began organizing local get togethers to share food (usually pizza and chocolate chip cookies if you must know!) and story with one another. At first, convergent friendships and conversations took place – and continue to be nurtured – through online social networking and blogging. These tools helped to create an easy way to connect across boundaries that often bypassed organizational, personal and theological barriers.

In a previous article, “Convergent Friends: The Emergence of Postmodern Quakerism,” I outlined some of the key practices identified with convergent Friends:

There are six practices that I have identified within the convergent Friends community that blend tradition and mission: practice holism rather than adopt a dualistic faith; take seriously the need to have a public presence within society; meet and worship in whatever space is available; seek to incorporate fresh ideas of what it means to be the church in the 21st century by offering contextual examples of Quaker practices; work within the structures while not being contained or determined by them; place emphasis on friendships and hospitality (Daniels 2010). –Quoted in A Convergent Model of Renewal

While these connections still happen and random meet-ups continue wherever Friends are inspired to create their own gatherings, I believe that one of the key growing edges of convergent Friends is moving towards building local connections. How might we cross boundaries that keep Friends separated and lacking our shared stories and life?

Resources

There are three articles that deal with convergent Friends issues:

Articles

If you are interested in getting into some of the academic work that has been done around convergence read the article: Convergent Friends: The Emergence of Postmodern Quakerism, Rachel Stacy’s “Convergent Friends: An Introduction,” and Peggy Morrison’s inspiring lecture “Freedom Friends Church and the Remixing of Quakerism.”

Books

 These are all texts and authors that offer a convergent outlook:
For historical background reading Margery Post Abbott’s “An Experiment in Faith: Quaker Women Transcending Difference.”

A Few Ongoing Quaker Projects that Identify as “Convergent:”

Coming tomorrow: Convergent Friends: A Handbook Part 2 – Start Your Own Convergent Friends Worship Gathering.


I am aware of this not being exhaustive. That wasn’t the aim. I wanted to make something easily accessible to give people an idea about convergent Friends while hitting highlights. But I am happy to include other things that I have inadvertently left out. Please contact me if you know of something that should be included.

 Are there resources, voices, or meetings that should be on this list somewhere? Contact me.

Footnotes

  1. Flickr Credit – Link
  2. Getting Found in Translation
  3. Cf. An Experiment in faith: Quaker Women Transcending Difference by Margery Post Abbott. Pendle Hill Pamphlet 323 (1995).
  4. Robinopedia: Convergent Friends

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

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