Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Converging on FUM – FUM Triennial Part 3

On Friday afternoon I was scheduled to take a tour of the Mendenhall Plantation. But on Thursday before lunch they announced that there would be a meeting of people interested in Convergent Friends on Friday at 1:30. Friday before lunch they announced a place to meet. I was thinking that there might be four or five people who showed up. By my count, 24 people showed up and from their comments it seemed as if each of them expected four or five people. What surprised me was the number of pastors within the group. There were more pastors (5) than people I could identify as bloggers (3).

The session was convened by Tony Lowe who identified himself as a pastoral minister from one of the three convergent meetings in North Carolina Yearly Meeting. Many of the participants came out of curiosity about convergent Friends so we had more questions than answers. When Convergent was described as a combination of Conservative Friends and the Emergent Church Movement, the question came up immediately what was the Emergent Church. Tony described the following five characteristics:
Worship is not a spectator sport.
Experiential knowledge.
Being in a long unbroken tradition.
Being the church and not going to church.
Coming together of the Evangelical and social justice traditions.

The part about being in a long, unbroken tradition puzzled me but Tony gave the example of some emergent churches experimenting with things like Gregorian chants. The entire 2000 year Christian tradition is available to us as a resource. We can look to things that happened before the middle of the 19th century or even from before the Protestant Reformation.

These five points all had echoes to me of the rise of early Friends. They were actively involved in worship and were insistent upon the inward experience of Christ. As primitive Christianity revived they were claiming the original tradition of the Church. Although they felt that the church had fallen away horribly in the intervening years there had always been people who had been faithful to the original vision of the church. Barclay had no hesitation in quoting the Church Fathers to establish his points. He had no problem quoting John Calvin either. They had a clear sense that the church was the community of believers and not the building that housed them. Their use of plain language and dress was part of their witness to social justice.

Someone asked what Convergent Worship looks like. This started quite a discussion. One characteristic that was mentioned was that convergent Friends were experimenting with worship. Someone used the example of Freedom Friends Church in Oregon which identifies itself as Radically Christian and Radically Inclusive. They have a pastor and song but no sermon. Instead they have a significant period of open worship. Someone else said that we need to celebrate our differences. Because people have multiple intelligences (emotional intelligence, physical intelligence, intellectual intelligence, etc) they need to worship in different ways.

We were cautioned, however, that when people come in the door of a Quaker church or meetinghouse, they expect Quaker. We need to offer them Quaker. If they want Baptist, they can find that at the Baptist church. If they want Jewish, they can find that at a synagogue. The only place to find Quaker is with the Quakers. This leaves us, of course, with the question of what is it that people are looking for when they look for Quaker? Or what is it that we have that identifies us as Quaker in spite of all of our differences?

A Friend said that Convergent is about relationship and not so much about worship. Can I listen to someone past the first thing they say that I disagree with? What about the Friend who says, “I need baptism.” or “I need communion.” or “I am Jewish.” or “I am Buddhist.” Take a step back and ask why that person needs that ritual or identity. Convergent Friends are about dialog and not legislation.

The final question was what do we do next when we get back to our home meetings and churches. Find people in your local meetings or in your Quarterly and Yearly Meetings with whom you can discuss these issues. Be open to how you may be led.

This wasn't mentioned during the discussion but another trait that I would add about what Convergent Friends are about is curiosity and openness: curiosity about finding what people are seeking and finding and openness to new understandings and living with differences. Convergence is about seeing where God is leading people today. What great work is God preparing us for?

I really enjoyed the discussion. The most important thing for me was to identify a number of people that I sought out to have more in depth discussions with in the remaining time at the Triennial. In spite of my frustration with the formal part of the gathering, it gave me hope that God is working somewhere below the surface. That being the case, and since all the factions in FUM are convinced that God is on their side, perhaps the best thing to do is to wait expectantly to see what God will bring forth instead of seeking a political victory based on our own efforts.

Blessings to all,

Will T


Blogger Robin M. said...


I met Tony Lowe in April when I was in Greensboro. Nice guy. I'm so glad to hear this happened at all, and that it went well.

July 21, 2008 10:21 PM  
Blogger Chris M. said...

Yes, wow! It sounds like it was engaging and energizing. Thanks for the report.

July 21, 2008 11:01 PM  
Blogger Sarah Katreen Hoggatt said...

Hi Will T!
I hope you are doing well. I am a member of Freedom Friends Church and enjoy having "a pastor and song but no sermon". I like challenging myself in my direction of growth and love the fact we incorporate art into open worship.
The first time I met with our pastor one-on-one, she inquired about the Star of David hanging around my neck and I told her exactly what you said, "I am Jewish". I think she took it well. I keep the tradition entwined in my faith because I love being a part of a larger story, I belong to a people with a rich and varied past who have a lot of beauty and intimacy in their relationship with God in a way I have not found elsewhere. It is very important to me and if she had had a problem with my being Jewish, I would probably not have gone to the church again. But I have since found they really do mean it when they say "inclusive". What a gift.


July 22, 2008 12:54 AM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Now, if there had been a Convergent discussion the same evening that some Friends from North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative came to the FUM Triennial, I would have been among the visitors for sure!

Thanks for the report. It's useful to hear from others what topics are lifted up at these Convergent Friends' meet-ups and inquiry sessions.

(Hey, have you heard anything about a Convergence-oriented workshop in November 2008 on the east coast? Someone mentioned it to me when I was in Greensboro... Something that Max Carter is pulling together...)

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

July 22, 2008 7:07 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Hi all,
Robin and Chris, it was great. It was also good to hear a different take on convergence. Now I am thinking of doing something similar at New England YM Sessions.

I thought of you when they talked about Freedom Friends. I hope that I get a chance to attend sometime.

The Friends from NCYM-C came the night Landrum Bolling talked so a convergent discussion that evening would have been hard to arrange. But they did tell me where and when the final worship was so I was able to attend. Max Carter's program looks interesting but I don't think I will be able to make it to Greensboro/High Point for a third time this year.

Will T

July 23, 2008 9:31 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Hi again, Will!

I'm very grateful for your report on the Triennial. As usual, you've provided the rest of us with many helpful insights and much to think about.

You know, in my own years among Friends, I've encountered a number of people in Quaker meetings who've told me that Catholic mysticism, Zen Buddhism, classical Marxism, free-market economics, and/or transpersonal psychology, held echoes of the rise of early Friends. It also seems to me, from what I've read of history, that people in many a nineteenth-century Friend believed that either natural science and rationalism, or else Methodism and Holiness, held echoes of the rise of early Friends.

Given all these precedents, I guess I'm not much surprised to hear people opining that the "emergent church" movement holds echoes of the rise of early Friends. But I'm inclined to be wary, and I hope you'll not be offended by my wariness. I think the pattern of all those previous cases has been that people perceived a resemblance only by dint of wishful thinking — and of ignoring crucial details that didn't square with their hopes. And I fear that the same dynamic may be operating here.

In truth, the branch of christendom, in seventeenth-century England and English America, that placed itself as "being in a long unbroken tradition", was not Quakerism, but Catholicism: Catholicism of both the Roman and the Anglican varieties. These were the people, rather than the Friends, who happily experimented with the use of Gregorian chants, and felt the entire 1600-year Christian tradition was available to them as a resource.

Friends themselves, such as Fox and Barclay, did not regard Gregorian chants as an available part of the christian tradition, but rather, as a variety of the "vain repetitions" condemned by Christ in Matthew 6:7(and cf. Ecclesiastes 5:1-3). That is why they didn't use Gregorian chants, or hymnbooks hymns either, in their worship. They regarded most of the 1600-year christian tradition as expressive of willful human deafness to the here-and-now Christ. And when I myself read mediæval theology, gaze at mediæval religious art, or listen to mediæval devotional music, for all that I am moved by the beauty of what I behold, I also think the early Friends were right.

When Barclay quoted the Church Fathers, he did so because he regarded the Fathers as having lived in the time before the great apostasy had corrupted Christian vision; when he quoted the Reformers, such as Calvin, it was because he felt that the Reformers had at least begun the long journey back to a true understanding. Thus he wasn't treating Christian history as "a long unbroken tradition", but as something that had indeed broken, and broken so profoundly that only God Himself could restore the "true Christian divinity" here on earth. All this, I think, is made fairly plain by the way he handled christian history in his Apology for the True Christian Divinity, particularly at Prop. X, §§21-23, but also in such places as Prop. VIII §10.

Thus, when I hear Friends calling for a blending of Conservative Quakerism (which retained the early Friends' rejection of the products of that long apostacy) with the "emergent church" movement (which displays no such rejection), it seems to me that they are failing to comprehend what Quakerism is supposedly all about.

I feel a similar concern regarding the "coming together of the Evangelical and social justice traditions", and am tempted to speak about it here. But this comment is already long enough!

All the best,

July 26, 2008 9:09 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

How can I argue with someone who quotes Barclay :^). You are right, of course, about the Quaker - and indeed the entire radical Puritan belief that the organized church had been apostate for 1200 years by the time of the English Civil War. But Barclay also recognized that there had been Christians, even during the apostasy, who had known the direct teachings of Christ in their hearts and had been faithful to it.

Historical analogies are never perfect. Movements of any kind are never perfectly recreated. I am encouraged by what I see as signs of renewal among Friends.

Will T

July 26, 2008 10:01 PM  
Anonymous Clarence Morningbear Cullimore Mercer said...

Also a member of Freedom Friends and a former FUM pastor, I can only echo the sense of relationship and inclusiveness. People bring themselves as they are and regardless of their theology they agree to partake of the Quaker sacrament of oft silent worship and the fellowship. There are no exclusive categories that decide who can and cannot serve if so led. There is no dancing around trying to justify judgmental views. There is no stigma to being gender-different or sexual preference-different. Actually, it was unkind words at one Friends Church Worship that set me to discover Freedom Friends. Never did I dream that I had talked to both Peggy and Alivia while at Common Meal at Earlham School of Religion when they were seeking direction for what finally developed as Freedom Friends Church. Here people do not have to apologize for being themselves. That aside, the way is clear for worshippers to get on with being in the Light. I find the mnemonic "convergent friends" as somewhat of an obfuscation but I feel that we, as such, represent the life and love of Christ truely without any judgmentalism to foul things up. No one is suspect when they sit and partake in worship.


Clarence Morningbear Cullimore Mercer, M.Div., M.Ed.

August 09, 2008 3:43 AM  

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