It’s hard to say when Convergent Friends really started – some have argued that convergent Friends have been around as long as there have been separations among Friends – and it’s even more difficult to really pin this group down with clearly defined boundaries, because if there is one thing that can be said about convergent Friends it is that they do not fit into the boundaries. In fact, we might say that one characteristic of convergence is the transgressing of Quaker boundaries, seeking to bridge disparate groups, undercutting what might be called “silly poor Gospel(s)” among Friends – judgements about what is and is not “Quakerly”, changing and challenging Quaker culture that can build barriers that keep many looking in from the outside. Convergent Friends are those who are committed to renewing the heart and spirit of Quakerism under the guidance of the Spirit. It is less of a particular group and more about a goal, attitude or methodology about what it means to be Quaker in the 21st century. Even still, many have tried to describe it as best we can.
The term ‘convergent’ was first applied to this cross-boundary Quaker renewal group in late 2005 on Robin Morh’s blog “What Canst Thou Say,” and in January of 2006 she wrote more fully about this phenomenon among Friends:
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.
It could be considered Postmodern Quakerism, a kind of Quaker conversation that focuses on the emergent features of today’s Quaker faith that is at once contextual and traditional. It falls in line with other “emergent” hybrids found within the church as pointed out by Tony Jones and Steve Knight and could be considered what Australian Jarrod McKenna and others have called the emerging peace church.
In 2003 Martin Kelley, the creator of QuakerQuaker.org, was the first to blog about the connections he saw between some of the post-evangelical/emergent Christians and the Quaker tradition. Since this time the group has grown through the grassroots, participatory nature of the Internet into something that has overflowed into the ‘real’ world. Convergent Friends have been invited to speak at various yearly meetings, and lead workshops in meetings and para-church organizations like Pendle Hill, Ben Lomond and Woodbrooke Quaker Study Center. Quaker students like Rachel Stacy have done their research projects on the group, academic articles are being published on the subject, and a number of meetings have begun to identify themselves as ‘convergent’ or ’emergent.’ There have also been books, like the one recently edited by Liz Opp, which includes a section on convergent Friends, and Wess Daniels’ “Convergent Model of Renewal” (2015). Because the group is so nebulous and is more of an attitude, a conversation, or a growing group of Quakers joining together around friendship rather than theological categories there have been many misconceptions or myths about them as well.
On this website you will find ample resources for learning more, how to start your own convergent worship group, and where to connect with convergent Friends.