Converging on FUM – FUM Triennial Part 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.
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,