Robinopedia: Convergent Friends

This 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. 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.

Welcome to the conversation!

This definition was updated 03/28/07.

The original definition follows:

This is 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 and from the Christian end of the unprogrammed branch.

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.

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.

At the same time, this is really only my idea and I can not say that any other Friends that I would call by this name would accept this label. In keeping with the intention of the Robinopedia, I reserve the right to edit the definition at any time, without prior notice.

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Blogger Gregg Koskela said...

I'll take it! :)

1/24/2006 12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And would the implied exclusion of certain Friends be radical as well? In any event, "ouch!"


1/24/2006 4:38 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Hey Gregg, glad to share my umbrella anytime.

Luke, I'm not sure if you felt excluded from my umbrella or just sorry for folks who might not fit. I think of this as a name that is open to those who want it, but doesn't impose itself on folks who don't. But it makes no attempt to cover everybody.

As Liz Opp reminded me once, no one person gets to name this whole movement. This post is an attempt to define what I mean by this phrase so that I can link to it in the future, and don't have to use quite so many parenthetical phrases.

But I'm very interested in other Friends' reactions to the phrase -so please feel free to comment, quibble, wholeheartedly agree or disagree.

1/24/2006 11:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to make trouble. I just prefer circles that take me in to those that leave me out. Religions that exclude have a bit of a history, you know. Once someone is excluded, next thing you know, they're not quite human even, and next thing you know....


1/25/2006 3:26 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

"Convergent Friends" feels like an accurate phrase to describe the more recent inward reach and embrace of Friends toward God, their tradition, and each other.

The Divine's embrace of us is without exclusion, and I sense that Convergent Friends seek to celebrate this transformative relationship corporately.

1/25/2006 5:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robin have you read Claire's post on Faith Enough to be Outrageous.


1/25/2006 11:22 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Why, yes Rebecca, I have. Loved it. In fact, I'm the one who first posted it to the Quaker Quaker Blog Watch. Perhaps I'm a little too proud of that fact.

Here's the link for anyone who hasn't seen it: Faith Enough to Be Outrageous

Here's one of my favorite lines in her post: "This fiery passion was from a deep dedication to God, from a deep holy obedience to the stirrings of the Inward Guide." It's a high standard to live up to. Have you read Thomas Kelly's Testament of Devotion yet? Another high standard, perhaps unreachable, but thrilling nonetheless. What are ideals for, if not to make us stretch?

This Convergent Friends definition, though, was not meant to be an unreachable standard. I'm trying to be descriptive of what I really think is going on.

1/26/2006 12:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

robin - i think you're on to something. I'd been thinking over the last year about the uprise of neo-quakers. those quakers who are more like Fox and the early Friends than either group now. This is to say they are radical Christ followers and radical also in their social and ecclesiastical vision. Emerging churches have done better at holding those things in tension then the very churches who started it (in my opinion).

Your designation is well named, and fits what at least I've been thinking and feeling.

What we need is more theological underpinnings of the new group.

Quakers of all people are the last to be exclusive, but even we are exclusive at times (well at least the early folk). Exclusion only comes as it came when people were excluded from the work of Christ -- when they didn't want to be apart of the kingdom.

The Kingdom will always be the dividing line - Fox, Barclay, Fell and Penn (among all the others) knew this). Quakers should be no different in the way we abandon all for the Kingdom of God. We just stress how open Jesus made the invitation.

I'd like for you to continue this conversation and I want to join in if that's okay.

1/26/2006 10:02 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Dear Wess,

Welcome to the fray!

I think the main point about inclusion/exclusion is that not everyone will want to come under this umbrella - and that's okay.

Everyone is welcome to the Convergent Quaker banquet, but some folks may think the (metaphorical) wine is too strong. God-intoxication is a dangerous and thrilling possibility.

I welcome your contributions to the theological underpinnings - lay it out here if you like.

1/26/2006 11:12 AM  
Blogger David Carl said...

I had a few things in response, but then they ran to more than a few, so I posted them here.


1/26/2006 4:01 PM  
Blogger Robin CHAN said...

It is nice to meet another Robin on the net.


2/01/2006 2:01 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Robin I've started a discussion board for this topic on my site, I wondered if we could get a conversation going on this.


2/09/2006 5:36 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...


I finally was able to leave at least a vapid comment on your discussion board. The next stage will be to make substantive comments.

Another possibility will be to come to Quaker Heritage Day at Berkeley Friends Church on March 4.

2/15/2006 12:19 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Robin, will you send me an email (cwdaniels[AT]gmail.com), I'd like to learn more about this Quaker Heritage Day!

2/15/2006 9:39 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

You can now learn more about Quaker Heritage Day on my blog, in the post dated 2/15/06 or at the Berkeley Friends Church website.

2/16/2006 12:28 AM  
Blogger anonymous julie said...

Reminds me of a comment made by the pastor at my church to this end: if we are all oriented toward Christ in love (the statement was inclusive of all religions), that's where we'll all converge; the closer we are to Him, the less the differences matter.

Anyway, neat!

2/18/2006 12:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The part of this discussion I find interesting may not be obvious at first. It is not so much what is happening in The Society (although that also does interest me), but something new I see in this exchange.

Many branches of Friends exist today. However, few (if any) have chosen the name they go by. They tend to be named after a particularly weighty friend that is identified with that branch (Wilberite, Hicksite, Gurneyite). They are usually assigned that name as a derisive term. As I sure the reader knows, the term Quaker itself was first used in derision.

Here we see someone defining a term and others trying to decide if they are that kind of Quaker. The discussion takes a particularly ironic turn when Friends ponder if the definition might be exclusive, which (apparently) is not in the manner of Friends.

But I suppose that this is an improvement upon the time when schisms were occurring in The Society. Each branch felt no need to choose a new name. After all, they were the true Friends.

8/07/2006 8:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Emelyn said,
I have been interested in this convergence movement ever since I heard about it during a report of the FGC gathering. I have been feeling a sense of calling in terms of bringing a unity amoung all Friends for over a year now. As a result, I have been named the liaison from Pacific Yearly Meeting to Evangelical Friends Church Southwest. Part of that calling has been to get to know Friends from that yearly meeting. I hope some of you are reading this blog.
Since I am working to a bridge between a liberal yearly meeting and a very evangelical yearly meeting, it seems to me that my calling streaches beyond Robin's definition of Convergent Friends. And I belive that God is very interested in bringing all Friends together--that's why God is inviting so many people to participate

8/12/2006 3:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd say Robins' "definition" was more descriptive of her experience than it was limiting. I'm glad everyone is welcome under her umbrella. I can see that people of good will of every "strand" of Quaker could be excited about the concept and a wonderfully descriptive word for the process.

10/19/2006 8:01 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

The term convergent Friends - note that I would not capitalize the c - has grown in usage far beyond my expectations when I first coined the phrase. I am delighted, awed, and encouraged about the future of the Religious Society of Friends. In part because so often these Friends are both interested in the history of the Society and in making a living commitment to follow God into the needy places of the world.

FYI, I have recently entered into a clearness process under the care of my Meeting to explore where God is leading me around all this.

10/19/2006 9:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

convergent. finally a word to describe where myself and my family... ARE. thank you for the most descriptive word since "truthiness."

12/27/2006 3:39 AM  
Blogger Dwight said...

I just stumbled onto your wonderful phrase, it reminds me of two different phrases from very different fields- one is "the invisible church" from theology and the other is convergent evolution from biology. Did either one influence you?

3/26/2007 10:02 PM  
Blogger April Baker said...

Are Convergent Friends Christ Centered?

I haven't been following this discussion.


6/15/2007 12:05 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Dwight, in fact, I'm not sure what either the invisible church or convergent biology mean. But I will try to find out.

April, Many but not all convergent Friends are Christ-centered. The least I could say is that a convergent Friend is not Christ-phobic. I think I am Christ-curious. I am inspired by the stories and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and I am actively exploring Christian paths of life. After ten years of trying to respond to God in my life, I started hearing more from Jesus in my spiritual life. As they say, your mileage may vary.

6/17/2007 6:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am in grad school and slow to hear about this term, though am certainly aware of this movement of the Spirit. (No time to read Friends Journal). I heard through a F/friend at FAHE that there are some folks who were at Fuller thinking about this theologically.

I am studying moral theology at U Dayton, which is heavily influenced by the Hauerwas trajectory, and would love to have a conversation. Anyone could write me at nikki.tousley at notesudayton.edu.

6/18/2007 9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, in response to anonymous Luke... I understand the desire for inclusion, but please consider this.. "tolerance" in fact may not really be inclusive! I would argue that it is a form of intellectual colonialism that insists that the Western enlightenment gets it "right."

Tolerance doesn't include me, for instance, if it means that there is no room for my conviction that Christ did, indeed, die for the salvation of the world, and that death must occur within each one of us. (I think this is central to what G Fox taught.) It also doesn't include the many... perhaps majority... of people in the world who are committed to their particular religion. (Even some scholars of "Hinduism" argue that it's universalism was a Western imposition that artificially put several different traditions under one umbrella.) I have a Muslim friend who much prefers talking to Christians than to universalists, because there is a place for dialogue which universalism does not afford.

My appeal is to respect particular religions in their integrity, not to reduce them to one universal faith. My conviction does not mean that I will beat people over the head or suggest they are less than human. (And religion is rarely – perhaps never – the real reason we go to war.) I am all for an umbrella of dialogue. Let's just not begin with the assumption that we check our beliefs at the door, which means that universalists don't have to.

6/18/2007 9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm Gerard Guiton and I'm a Friend from Australia YM.

I'm deeply worried about our Religious Society of Friends and the way it is going theologically.
What I mean is that I do not see a future for the Society if we continue going down the universalist road, or rather quasi-universalism as Samuel Caldwell would say. And certainly, as more and more atheists and non-theists are attending (even joining) the Society, my unease gathers apace.

Thankfully, I know I'm not alone in this unease. For instance, you may have read Christine Trevett's 2006 Swarthmore Lecture , 'Previous Convictions' where she starkly outlined the disasters Friends were falling into at that time with universalism etc. Now the situation is very much worse with the gradual increase in atheism etc. Now I'm not panicking, nor am I exaggerating. The situation is certainly critical and the Society is at a crossroads. It can either take the universlaist-cum-atheist path and disappear within 30-40 years or take another path and survive.

So what is that path? Well, the image of the wheel comes to mind. I picture the hub which is the Jesus Way, certainly not the way of what I call 'churchianity'. The Way was wonderfully enunciated for us between c.1646/7-1664 by the robust Friends of the time. The spokes of the wheel are those eternal truths that come our way through other demoninations and religious traditions. This is important because it would be arrogant of us Friends to think only we have a monopoly on the 'truth'. These traditions enrich and challenge us. They contribute to 'true religion' which is always challenging and liberating. Religion that is not liberating eventually leads to tyranny on a number of levels, some tragic. That much is surely clear; it is certainly an early Quaker mantra and one for our day too! The rim of the whell I envisage as the love, protection and compassion of God.

With this image I come to the convergent Friends idea. I like it very much and would like to keep in touch, initially by this medium or personal email (gguiton@hotmail.com) as indeed I am with Wess Daniels (of late) and a young man in West Australia called Jarrod McKenna of whom you may have heard.

I think the convergent Friends idea can enrich the emergent Church movement.

Just to give you some idea of my commitment, I am currently finishing off the first draft of my second book which I've provisionally entitled 'Revolutionary Kingdom'. I explore the Puritan and early Quaker concepts of the Kingdom, contrast them and carry the argument into contemporary times vis-a-vis the emergent church. I also plan to introduce your idea of convergent Friends, too. I think that would be perfectly appropriate and I hope you agree; I'm aware of your articles for FJ etc).

OK, now to something immediately important. I said 'initially' just now in respect to communication because I plan to visit the US on my way back from Asia and Europe. In the UK, where I have family, I plan to meet various people such as Chrstine Trevett herself, Ben Dandelion, John Punshon, Martin Davie etc with the idea of holding a conference of Friends, say in 2010. In the US I will be in NY in the new year 2008 (precise times to be determined) where I hope to talk to people including S. Caldwell, and then I travel to Pendle Hill (where I was Henry J. Cadbury Scholar in 2004-05) and thence onto Ohio via DC. I have friends in Cincinnati (Paulette Meier is one - do you know her?) and I would very much like to meet you guys. Any chance? I would like to have convergent Friends involved with any conference and would love to share ideas and learn from you as well. I could also tell you about some good things that are happening among Australian Friends.

I hope all this is of interest to you and that it may help,

Pls keep in touch,

Yours in Peace and Friendship,

Gerard (Gerry) Guiton

7/20/2007 9:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It isn't non-theism or universalism that I find to be the bogeyman haunting Quakerism; it's a bourgois sense of "politeness" that worries me more. I know of Quakers who are almost identical to me in theology, but I can't converse with them at all about that theology; there are non-theists, "Wiccan Quakers," and even fundamentalist-leaning Christian Quakers that I can associate more easily. Why? Because they have respect for my journey of faith, and of my directness in expressing my views; they don't confuse being firm in one's beliefs with "rudeness."

8/26/2007 12:21 AM  
Blogger Josh H. said...

I look back at that comment I made a little over a month ago; I'd totally forgotten that I made it. There's one other point that I left out: some have tied into this movement some of the mistakes of the past. There's an effort to "re-unify" branches of Quakerism with formalities, the very formalities that didn't work in the "modern" unification of Friends. By that, I refer to the "Christocentric" and "Liberal" Yearly Meetings' unification and the headaches that have germinated from it. This movement can't try to "unify" formal organizations (e.g. EFI, FUM, FGC); it must try to unify PEOPLE. If it gets bogged down in organization and structure before it gets off the ground, it will crash like the unification movement of the 50s and 60s has in recent debates over theology and sexual orientation.

10/06/2007 6:07 AM  
Blogger sailheaven said...

I don't think that this movement exists, truly. The only movement now is the one where Friends are realizing (with some pain and humility) that they are not all things to all people, and are, it turns out, Christian. If they are not Christian, Friends are nothing at all. And the tolerance and the readiness to hear others and accept that which they bring into Meetings is just the expression of Friend's Christianity, which is not to be so judgmental , as it was Christ that made it clear his children should not be judgmental, but instead loving. I do not agree with Friends that call themselves Buddhist, or Wiccan, or Atheist, Jewish, Taoist or any otherwise type of Friend as truly being Friends. I just think of them as inspired social activists that like a quiet gathering, and need validation. It was wrong from the outset to welcome into membership individuals that professed a desire to follow in Friend's worship, faith, and practices that could not or will not profess the Christ centeredness of true Friend's Meetings. We are become too much a social progressive gathering and not enough of a faithful following. Friends must gather now, and plead their case for Grace to the one True God. Truly, the one's that remember the first commandment stand on the solid ground. The ones using logic and good sense are wonderful people, but I pray for them daily.

10/08/2007 5:21 AM  
Blogger Allison said...

Robin, what is the difference between convergence and universalism? I'm confused by your expression of "radical inclusion". I think you mean people who already identify as Quakers converging?

I think I would fall into this category, as I am a universalist, and so any step toward more inclusivity and agreement among Quakers is one I support.

11/27/2007 2:05 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I have hesitated to write here too often, because I want to do it well, not hastily, but clearly it's been too long now.

Nikki, I'm glad the internet has facilitated your joining the conversation. I agree that the movement of the Spirit predates and will outlast this term and especially this blog. I appreciate your effort to differentiate between tolerance and apathy.

Gerard, I'm sorry to take so long to respond to your direct questions. Yes, it's okay with me that you use this term and expand upon it in your book. I'd love to see it when it's ready. I live on the far west coast, but I will be traveling a bit in 2008 as well. If our paths happened to cross during your trip to the US, that would be exciting. I DO know Paulette Meier, I met her last spring at an FGC consultation. We had some wonderful conversations. Do let me know more about your plans for a conference. My email address is in my blogger profile.

Josh H., I agree with you. To me the point of convergence isn't the unification of institutions. It's recognizing that there is already overlap, in the form of real human beings, within each of our Quaker institutions. I think that the Friends who are involved in the ongoing primitive Quakerism renewal movement (just to go back to a long awkward phrase) in each of the branches of Friends already have a lot in common and an ability to listen to and learn from each other. Too often, we don't know much about those "other Friends" and the rumors we hear are not good. I'm not called to bring together the far apart edges of Friends, but to help those of us who have so much in common to start talking to each other.

11/29/2007 2:04 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Sailheaven, golly, I agree with much of what you said, more than I would have guessed, and yet, I would quibble with how you said it, and I certainly disagree that the convergent/primitive Quakerism renewal movement is not happening.

Allison, convergent Friends is not equivalent to universalism nor to Christocentrism. It is about Friends who are going deeper into our tradition in our postmodern world finding each other across the institutional barriers that the modern world has set up.

11/29/2007 2:14 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Finally, my clearness process led to the creation of an anchor committee that has been meeting with me monthly for about eight months now.

They continue to help me wrestle with the contradictions that are part of my spiritual life. They help me discern my response to the various invitations and nudges that come my way, from other people and from God. I am immensely grateful to these individuals and to San Francisco Monthly Meeting for their support and guidance.

Last month, SFMM approved a travel minute for me and my ministry with convergent Friends. I feel honored and humbled in the process.

Yesterday, I had coffee with a friend I used to work with. The last time I saw her, about a year and a half ago, I remember saying, "All I really want to do is this Quaker ministry." Yesterday, I got to report that over the last year and a half, I got my wish.

11/29/2007 2:23 PM  
Blogger Paul Thompson said...

Very interesting. I wonder if I can quote this particular blog in "The Call" (the quarterly magazine of Friends in Christ, based in the UK)? I wonder if I could quote some of the responses too? [from Paul Thompson, Perth, Scotland]

6/14/2009 5:40 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Paul, I have been overly out of touch with my blog - an excess of real life - but yes you may quote from my post, with citations, and referring to responders with the names they use here - even if you know their full names elsewhere. I would be honored.

7/08/2009 1:05 AM  

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