Convergent Friends Dinner in Indiana

Let me start by saying it was very nice. 11 people. 6 yearly meetings: Western, Wilmington, Ohio Valley, Ohio (Conservative), North Pacific, and Pacific. Delicious dinner prepared by Nancy Bill. Thank you to everyone who came and participated!

I am grateful to Cathy H. for a ride from the FWCC meeting to the dinner. We also rode with Ann S., who was staying with Cathy, and going up to Earlham afterwards. We went over to the Plainfield Meeting gathering because we thought we were going to be too early for the dinner, but we ended up being a little late.

When we first sat down on the couch, we did a quick round of introductions. Then all these people turned to look at me and I panicked. I opened my mouth and started telling a not-completely-irrelevant story about the origins of convergent Friends and the participation of Wess Daniels in particular. We were saved only by the arrival of Shawna Roberts which interrupted my monologue. Thank you, thank you, Shawna.

I should have asked, “So, what were you talking about before we came in?” Or something like that. The Friends in Fellowship has already been meeting for months in that very room. This type of gathering was nothing new for most of them. I’m sorry, really, for too much yakking by me. I tried at several points to listen closely to the Holy Spirit but my memories are of too much of my own voice. Like those annoying kids in school, I always have something I want to say, but I unrealistically expect that everyone else is just as eager to participate. I have to learn to make MORE space for other people, not assume that they will take it for themselves. Maybe especially in Indiana, I don’t know.

Several Friends talked about the ways that Quakerism and the emerging church are similar and exciting to us. Some Friends talked about what convergent Friends means to them. As readers here know, not everyone uses it in the same way, but the feelings are so far generally positive.

We talked a good bit about the role of pastors among Friends and the possibility/necessity of bi-vocational pastors. I’m not sure I was sufficiently respectful of the feelings of the pastors and former pastors among us, but I was glad to hear from them. In general, we need more opportunities for Friends from unprogrammed backgrounds to hear about the gifts that dedicated pastors bring to their meetings and churches. We also talked about rediscovering the other traditions of supporting ministers among unprogrammed Friends. Shawna and I both expressed our gratitude for the ways our meetings have supported us in our travels, financially and spiritually.

One thing I didn’t get to say that night is that I sometimes wish I was a pastor. Sort of. Not the one-man-shop, my word is law, job description from hell, kind of pastor. But a facilitator of religious formation in a spiritual community. Which I am, sort of. But I would like to be released financially to focus on that calling. If I were in some other denomination, I’m sure I would be seeking ordination or consecration. I am challenged by my meeting’s tradition to explore how I can respond to God’s calling and my family’s needs at the same time.

Other signs worth noting: 40-ish pastors in cool-looking glasses who are seeking widely for what’s going to really engage the 20-something attenders in their meeting. A conservative (in the wider American sense, not the Quaker sense) pastor who is glad for the opportunity for unprogrammed worship and discussion with a variety of perspectives. Middle-aged Friends with fresh inspirations and passionate commitments. Young adult Friends who are taking responsibility and looking at building the next generation of leadership in an organic way. The group was awesome. I am honored to have met them.

I am reminded that when I started arranging these convergent dinners, I didn’t have any intention of building a new movement. It was more like taking advantage of my various travels to get to meet in person the Friends I had corresponded with online. In that sense, this dinner was a roaring success.

After the rest of the guests went home, Nancy and Brent sat down for a late night snack and chat with me. What a blessing it was to stay with them. Very thoughtful, gracious hospitality. Both in the physical, anticipating everything a guest could need, way and in the spiritual tending to my soul way. I aspire to their level of hospitality.

What I would like to have asked during the dinner is, “Where do you see the signs of renewal already?”

I have my own answer for that question, and it will be tomorrow’s post. I encourage you to consider your own answer.

FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE: I didn't finish my answer yet, so I'm just uploading some pictures instead. Have a good weekend.

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Blogger kevin roberts said...

Having been married to Shawna Roberts for many years, I understand and am not surprised to hear that her arrival interrupted your monologue. Shawna could successfully interrupt a solar flare, if she was in the neighborhood, and in the mood.

I am glad to hear that the convergent conversation continues.

4/10/2008 11:20 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

We were blessed to have Shawna come - not only because she saved me from myself at the beginning, but because she's not afraid to share her postmodern Conservative paradoxical views.

I'm glad to see evidence that you survived her absence. Kisses to all the kids.

4/10/2008 11:59 AM  
Blogger Shawna Roberts said...

I once had a friend tell me that one of the things he liked about me was the fact that "you're not afraid to say what you think, even when you probably should be."

I am glad that I was there. I hope I didn't talk too much... it is one of my failings.

Sometimes I think about what it might be like to be a pastor. One of the great strengths of the pastoral model is that people who are called to vocal ministry are also encouraged to take on a concern for the spiritual growth of the meeting that shows in other ways besides just getting up to talk on Sunday.

In the unprogrammed model, we have tended to forget that a minister needs to be concerned with other areas of the spiritual life of the meeting, besides the Sunday message. This is not true across the board... but it Is a tendency.

It was good to talk to folks on Sunday. Like I mentioned at dinner, I continue to wrestle with the notion of prepared sermons. Appropriate? Inappropriate? Sometimes appropriate? One of the great things about the convergent conversation is getting to know people in other traditions well enough that such concerns turn out to be minor, compared with the deep and strong foundation we share.

Thanks for arranging the dinner. (And I almost never interrupt solar flares.)

4/10/2008 1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had intended to be at this dinner. But I am committed to a discerned and affirmed leading to work with refugees as ministry and lo and behond, something came up at 5:30 Sunday morning and lasted until well into Sunday afternoon--so I was too wiped out to drive down to Brent's for the dinner. My contribution probably would have been heavy yawns that might have been misinterpreted.

One of the reasons I wanted to attend is that I am not a Christian and I am wondering where in the convergent movement someone like myself (theist, but not Christian) would fit in. I admire the ministry of Jesus very much and take as my model the Sermon on the Mount.

Of course, we Friends don't have a sign-off clause on Christianity, but most of us self-identify as Christians--and I get the impression that the convergent movement has a distinct Christian emphasis.

Also, while many Friends assume that non-Christian Friends attend unprogrammed Meetings, I attend a pastoral Meeting, and I can say there is little of that one-man-band element you mentioned among the pastoral Meetings I know. The Clerks often have as much (if not more) to do with keeping the Meeting moving along as the pastors.


4/10/2008 1:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

blush! that would be "lo and behold" in my previous post--although sometimes it does feel like lo and beyond. :)


4/10/2008 1:53 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Thanks for this write-up, Robin. It sounds like things worked out, as they usually do.

God is good. All the time.

I wanted to jump in for half a minute in response to Cath's comment: "I am wondering where in the convergent movement someone like myself (theist, but not Christian) would fit in...."

I think it was at one of the interest groups at a recent FGC Gathering when I recognized that Friends who were at that discussion were hearing many Christian and Christ-centered voices speak to their understanding about Quakerism and Convergent Friends. So I "outed" myself as not considering myself Christian while also having a belief in God.

And though I never asked for it, some bloggers and blog-readers have identified me as fairly involved in Convergent Friends. I suppose if it "looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck..."

That said, perhaps it was Robin (correct me if I'm wrong, please) who later lifted up that at the very least, Convergent Friends are typically not Christophobic: we are willing to speak about--and listen to others speak of Jesus, of the Christ, of the Light of Christ, of the Inward Christ...

I wonder if it is sharing in the discipline of listening beyond the words, and looking to one another's actions, that help us transcend our differences in the manner of worship and of belief. We seem to truly cherish one another...

Hope that helps.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

4/10/2008 11:46 PM  
Blogger Shawna Roberts said...

Hi, Cath! I'm sorry that you couldn't make it to dinner. I would have loved to meet you.

I have a thought about theists-but-not-Christians, and the convergent conversation. This is not an *Answer*... it's just a thought.

In my opinion (which people have been known to disagree with), convergent Friends are those who are seeking the foundation on which the faith that is currently known as Quakerism is built. And they are considering what sort of structure to build on top of it to accomodate us best in this age.

I think one of the reasons you will hear a great deal of "Christian-type" language in a convergent conversation, is that Christ Jesus is a foundation stone of Quakerism.

A person doesn't have to be Christian to be interested in the convergent conversation, but I do think that they should be willing to wrestle with what it means for the future of Quakerism to have Christ Jesus as a foundation stone. If you read the old dead guys carefully, you will find that they had a very broad, rich, beautiful image of Christ in mind when they talked about Him... this was not the kind of Christ you could summarize in the Nicene creed (just for example). This was a Christ for everyone, even those who didn't know His name. This was a Christ who said, "You are my friends if you do what I say." He didn't say, "You are my friends if you say the sinner's prayer." This was a Christ who did something just as important as dying... He Lived.

Well, this is too big a topic to write about here. Books have been written about it! But, I think, that there is a place for everyone in the convergent conversation... everyone who thinks that Quakerism isn't a done-deal. And everyone's vision is important.. is vital... none of us has it completely right. If you think Quakerism still has growing and learning to do, and you're interested in helping us find that darn foundation (it's got to be around here somewhere!) to build on, then I think the conversation is for you too. I guess I've talked too much again.... sorry.

4/11/2008 1:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My concept of what "Christ" will probably differ from that of a more mainstream Christian--and I'm not so much interested in what the founding fathers and mothers thought about Christ Jesus as I am in the on-going unfolding of our faith. We do many things now that the founding mothers and fathers did not do, and we have put away many things that they held dear.

When was the last time any of us stepped into another church and argued with the sermon, for example?

So, if the Convergent movement is looking back to the past for its inspiration, I am not interested--and quite frankly, no one has ever described it that way (at least to me or in places that I've seen). Mostly, I see it described as a forward-visioning thing--a coming together, which I thought would include everyone starting on the same square one.

Shawna said: "A person doesn't have to be Christian to be interested in the convergent conversation, but I do think that they should be willing to wrestle with what it means for the future of Quakerism to have Christ Jesus as a foundation stone. If you read the old dead guys carefully, you will find that they had a very broad, rich, beautiful image of Christ in mind when they talked about Him... this was not the kind of Christ you could summarize in the Nicene creed (just for example). This was a Christ for everyone, even those who didn't know His name. This was a Christ who said, "You are my friends if you do what I say." He didn't say, "You are my friends if you say the sinner's prayer." This was a Christ who did something just as important as dying... He Lived."

As if Christ is only a man, not God-in-Spirit that lives in all of us. Not all of us believe that Jesus is the only Christ who has lived among us. Some of us believe that we each carry that of Christ within us--and I don't mean "that of Jesus," I mean that of Christ-- although I sure do like much of what he said and did and try to be more like him.

Yes, Jesus perfected his inner light in a way that we all can use as one of the highest ideals. But to ask me to wrestle with something that is already considered a given is to ask me to buy into a definition rather than to work together to come up with a definition. How is that different than any other faith? It isn't.

It's really just a form of tolerance, not inclusion.

I don't want the convergent movement to require my faith to conform to the majority; I want my faith to have a place in something the larger body discerns as more inclusive.

If there is a widespread insistence that "Christ Jesus" is the foundation of Quakerism, then perhaps the convergent movement is not for the likes of me.

Perhaps the Christians among us should also be asked to wrestle--wrestle with the idea that their take on things is not the default.

I think this whole "non-Christians have to wrestle with what we say they have to" is turning me away from the convergent movement--and I really thought it was something that was going to take the RSOF to new heights.

I suspect this Christianityas the base attitude about non-christians will be devisive and not result in as much renewal as hoped for.

Please reconsider the idea that there is one "better" approach to loving God and living to do God's work as a Quaker.


4/11/2008 9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

p.s. Yes, I noticed that Shawna was careful to say "a" Christ....but I am trying very hard not to feel isolated when the underlying message seems to be "we control the definition; you should work your way toward it."

This differs so greatly from the Quaker practice that I cherish that I am losing my enthusiasm for the convergent movement.

I live in the Richmond Declaration epicenter and yet, the Friends in my Meeting and vicinity do not require me to come to terms with their definition of the foundation of Quakerism. They appreciate the Testimonies and hope I do too. They value diversity in theological POVs and I do too. If we differ and there is an issue on the table, we work toward something we all can sign off on--we don't assume that there is a default and then work on only some to come to the default.

I will think about this and try to approach these new restrictions on the process of building a convergent movement with openness.

But I have to admit I feel non-christians aren't going to have an equal place among convergent Friends, and this troubles me greatly.

Hoping for the best,


4/11/2008 9:42 AM  
Blogger Shawna Roberts said...

Cath, it is not a convergent Movement. It is a convergent Conversation.

It is a conversation in which we try to discern what it is that makes us Quakers (the foundation I talked about) and how to envision a Quakerism for the future that feels true to us, based on that foundation.

I didn't say that the foundation is the past of Quakerism, although I personally find a lot of useful stuff in our history (as well as a lot of tragic and heartbreaking stuff).

Personally, I find the Inner Light of Christ to be a foundation of Quakerism, and part and parcel with my understanding of Jesus (I said he couldn't be adequately defined by the Nicene Creed! Or the Richmond Declaration, which I have luckily never been asked to accede to).

In a conversation, we share the things that are important to us. In my opinion (and again, people have been known to disagree with me), Christ Jesus is a foundation stone of Quakerism. Or call it the Inner Light of Jesus Christ that dwells in all of us, if you prefer. This is indeed something that I ask people who are in conversation with me to consider. Or to at least respect as my deeply felt honest belief. Just as I need to respect the honest beliefs of the people I am conversing with, even when I think I disagree with them (I often discover later that I didn't disagree with them after all. That is a weakness of words).

You also point out the Testimonies as a foundation stone. And the need to value and respect personal conscience (diversity of thought) as a foundation stone. And our method of seeking unity over issues (not of simply following a majority rule) as a foundation stone. These are good parts of the foundation. These are also important stones to stand on as we envision the future.

I am feeling self-conscious about talking so much again. Sorry to dominate your blog, Robin.

4/11/2008 3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shawna--I'll keep this short since you are feeling uncomfortable about your presence on this blog.

I can see that we both share a belief in the Inner Light (although for me, it is not the Inner Light of Jesus, but the Inner Light of Christ--and there is a difference of POV there.)

I've been a Friend for 30 years and have seen/heard all the various groups who claim to know the "true foundation" or "the way George Fox meant it to be." Right now, as you describe the convergent conversation to me, it just feels like more of the same--with folks like me expected to accept as a starting place something that is not inclusive and then do most of the work of adapting.

I believe the Spirit of Christ includes all of humanity and was most perfectly modeled by Jesus, but I'm not so sure how to participate in a dialogue with people who seem to want me to begin from *their* starting place, not mine.


4/11/2008 3:39 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thanks Liz and Shawna for your answers to Cath. Thank you, Cath, for being willing to say what I'm sure other people are thinking as well.

I'm trying to write this before I run off for the weekend, so I hope I get it right the first time.

The term "convergent Friends" already means different things to different people. I try to remember that I am not in charge of that fact, for good or for bad. I don't think it's going to be a word with a narrow, precise definition - more of a broad and fuzzy meaning.

For me, it helps me to describe how I have found common yearning and understanding among Friends across various institutional boundaries. Many of those Friends find that Christian traditions, language, imagery are very helpful to them. Others think that's not the most best way to explain what they mean.

I hope that my blog will continue to be a place of spiritual hospitality - where Friends can use the language that speaks to them, without fear or defensiveness. I ask all of you to try to listen beyond the words, which I know is hard to do on the internet.

I think there is room for all of us in this comment space - I cherish the openness, the honesty, and the respect that Friends bring to blog-based discussions.

And when the discussion gets heated, take a deep breath. Let it out. Before you hit the Publish button. This is exactly why the Preview button is there.

If you still want to write whatever, go ahead. Even if you're sorry later. Forgiveness is a good practice for all of us to work on.

Love to you all,

4/11/2008 3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robin, thanks for the hospitality post. As far as I can tell, the posts haven't gotten heated yet, but it's good to know heated posts can be posted here if they happen.

Of course, how can we tell if a post is heated or not? Plain text doesn't allow for tone of voice of facial expressions. :)

I think we're ok so far.

However, this is a very important discussion for me--and for some who may not be blogging or willing to speak straight to the point. I hope the conversation continues in a variety of places.

And, since Shawna was feeling uncomfortable, I've emailed her with an offer to continue our conversation in private.


4/11/2008 4:30 PM  
Blogger Shawna Roberts said...

Cath has very kindly been emailing me, and we are enjoying getting to know each other a bit.

For me, convergence integrates the important parts of the past with the present and the future. (OK, I just lost my train of thought about this... my husband has been reading over my shoulder, and has burst out laughing... "Uhoh, she's getting profound again!" he sez. Phooey.)

Anyway, when we follow the Spirit, things end up being an amazing surprise. May we all find a wonderful surprise as we follow faithfully.

4/13/2008 4:21 PM  
Blogger Milos said...

I like Quakers very much, it is too bad we parted ways. I almost felt like coming back home after 200 years there.

lucem diffundo, discere diffundis

5/12/2008 8:32 AM  

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