Occupy and Convergent Friends

A couple of years ago I had an article published in the Quaker Studies periodical called “Convergent Friends: The Emergence of Postmodern Quakerism” that attempted to identify some of the features of convergent Friends.

Convergent Friends is a hybrid Quakerism that attempts draw together the best parts of the Quaker tradition without feeling the limitations of the plethora of binaries available within our tradition: unprogrammed/unprogrammed, bible/experience, contemplation/action, belief/practice, etc (p. 242). Further, convergent Friends are decentralized, and grassroots. The central characteristic of this group is building relationships with others, listening to one another’s stories, and sharing worship together (different styles and in different places) as a means to embodying Quakerism wherever they are. Convergent Friends is fully participatory. The cross-section between tradition and culture is the roots of this conversation: tradition is the only grounds for renewal (and innovation).

Taking these two features I identified at least six practices among convergent Friends:

There are six identified practices that I have identified within the convergent Friends community that blend tradition and mission: practice holism rather than adopt a dualistic faith; take seriously the need to have a public presence within society; meet and worship in whatever space is available; seek to incorporate fresh ideas of what it means to be the church in the twenty-first century by offering contextual examples of Quaker practices; work within the structures while not being contained or determined by them; place emphasis on friendships and hospitality (Daniels 2010: 241-244).

The examples of these practices continue to grow in our local meetings and even in some yearly meetings. Quaker involvement within the Occupy movement has afforded another opportunity reflect on the timeliness of these practices. I see four specially at work here: a) takes seriously the need for public presence, b) meet and worship in whatever space is available, c) seek to incorporate fresh ideas of what it means to be the church and d) work within the structures while not being contained by them. Micah Bales has been one of the most public Quakers working with the Occupy movement in Washington D.C. (You can read his posts here). Martin Kelley has written about it and so has American Friends Service Committee. Multnomah Monthly Meeting, here in Portland, has written a minute of support for Occupy Portland and has had a number of Friends helping and participating in the movement here. I have personally been involved in a couple of the Occupy actions and I know of other Quakers (not a part of Multnomah) in the area who have as well, and recently Camas Friends invited a panel discussion on Occupy Vancouver and Occupy Portland at our meeting house. I suspect this is happening in many other places as well.

But most recently what struck me was a post by Jez Smith on Nayler.org: “Occupy Quakers Call for Worship in the World.” It reminded me again that that there are new expressions and growing edges within the Quaker movement that align with the practices noted above. In the post, Jez puts the Occupy movement in conversation with Quakerism and suggests both connections and some difficulties. What they have found in London anyways is a growing interest in Quakers from people who are a part of Occupy. The subject of the post is  an epistle written by the “Occupy the London Stock Exchange Quaker Meeting for Worship,” in which:

“Quakers meeting for worship in London alongside Occupy LSX have published an epistle declaring the need for Quakers to take their worship out of their meeting houses and into the wider world.”

I love the challenge to take Quaker worship out into the world. They are calling to literally go sit on the steps of some place and hold meeting for worship because this is exactly what they are doing in London. The Quakers of Occupy LSX have been meeting for worship on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, they are not only aiding in the Occupy movement, but also bringing their worship into that space. While they may or may not connect with the label “convergent” makes no different to the point I am trying to make. The point is that this movement “out into the world” clearly fits the practices of hybrid Quakerism that we continue to see catch momentum. I am happy to see Friends entering into dialogue with movements such as Occupy and see that it can continue to encourage Friends to think and re-think our own practices, ideas of social justice, and what it means to participate in these social movements. These conversations between our tradition and what is unfolding within the culture around us are essential for renewal among Friends.

As they say in London: “Occupy the Light! And let the light occupy you.”

Citation: Daniels, C. Wess. 2010. “Convergent Friends: The Emergence of Postmodern Quakerism.” Quaker Studies no. 14 (2).


10 responses to “Occupy and Convergent Friends”

  1. While worship in the world, is positive and in keeping with early Quaker’s. I am not willing however to appear to align myself with Occupy participants, since I don’t believe their message is sincere, or legitimate. In my mind that will undermine Quakerism, not help it.

    • Hi Anne, thanks for the comment. I guess I see it differently.

      I don’t think anyone thinks that having Quakers, or any other of the many faith communities who are participating, in the midst of Occupy makes people automatically assume that all Quakers everywhere agree or disagree with everything that happens. I don’t see how if this being the case “Quakerism” could be undermined by it? It does show that Quakers are out in the world engaging contemporary issues and are still a LIVE option, a church not afraid to get involved, even when it is not clear cut. Too often we want all the conditions to be perfect before we jump in, or we only will engage if people do so on our terms and in our spaces.

      From my experience, Quaker involvement in occupy is only growing more interest, creating more connecting points and more opportunity for dialogue. Partly because the people there who Friends are interacting with believe that their own message is in fact sincere and legitimate. And Friends’ have a conviction for taking people at their own words. I’ve yet to meet one person who has said, “I heard there are some Quakers involved in Occupy, I now disbelieve your message.” (And frankly, that person probably wouldn’t be drawn to the Quaker tradition if that was his or her response anyways.) I have heard “Quakers…? Tell me more.”

      I believe that being a listening presence goes a long way for building stronger and more durable relationships in the world. Friends have for too long been on the retreat (especially programmed Friends) too afraid to look “political,” assuming that was a negative thing. It’s no wonder our meetings continue to age and shrink. The world is moving, are we willing to engage in dialogue even we there are blurry lines? To find out for ourselves what is going on without taking others’ words on it? Are we willing to take people at their own words and experiences before passing judgement? Can we truly be are people who love our neighbors, or shall we pass them by?

      • I like your final response paragraph. Your writing is plain, with questions, and to the point. It causes me to think: Perhaps we are asking ourselves the wrong questions like, “who will be the greeters at the churches front doors this Sunday?” but instead asking, “rather than waiting for people to come here, what can we do in the community that will be more effective to build the Kingdom of God.” It seems to me that we have become very comfortable and busy in our everyday lives to put any time and effort into the things of God. (not only are people in the church unwilling to put time and effort into the things of God within the community, but there is great resistance to put time and effort into the things of God within the church itself) Many churches have a core group of people who are tired because they have been doing all the work. I visited a Friends church in another state with a fair amount of attendance only to find they are having difficulties in finding people to serve which causes the core group to pick up the slack. A recipe for burnout. What do you think Wess?

  2. As I read and learned more about the Occupy movement and the principles guiding it, the more I identified the movement in sync with Quaker practices and values. Before I found Philadelphia Friends Occupy Facebook page, British Friends involvement, etc., I couldn’t believe that Quakers weren’t an integral part of OWS. I haven’t been actively involved, but that’s more from my middle-aged temerity than lack of support for the movement. I find the movement and Quaker involvement that most hopeful things that have happened in this country in a very long time – sometimes I find myself weeping for gladness.

  3. Our sign, when a couple of us were doing this in San Diego last year, read:

    Quaker Worship
    (Everyone is welcome)
    blessings, thanks for
    Occupy SD

    But (since my main concern really isn’t with whether or not worship is ‘Quaker’) I’ve been thinking about the following, more generic version:

    Please worship with us
    in support and appreciation
    for this demonstration.

    Weather has been bad; people have been sick; there’s been some discord and injured feelings among us. But I’d like to see a few more of us return soon. Not to be ‘Occupiers’ (despite my gratitude and hopes for this movement) but to be Quakers again. At last.

  4. I’ve really appreciated this post, as well as others you’ve had up recently unpacking some of your dissertation/ PhD work for a more general audience. *Totally* using some of this when I co-lead the segment on Convergent Friends in Multnomah/Bridge City’s Quakerism 101 series in a couple of weeks! While I do also appreciate the recent “nakedness” meme circulating in Quaker circles, taking worship into the world resonates more deeply with me. It is meant to be a seamless relationship, and as Friends the world over have discovered, Occupy has turned out to be a valuable opening for reinvigorating the practice of faith as life, life as faithfulness.

  5. Wess – I would love to read your article on “Convergent Friends.” I’ve been attending a Friends meeting for a couple of months now and have had an interest in all things emergent for some time. A quick google search wasn’t productive. I’d be happy to pay for it if I could find it. Thanks, Travis

  6. This is somewhat tangential to the topic of the blog post, but I see what seems to me a missing element in your description of Convergent Friends. That is the incorporation of elements from other parts of the Christian tradition. From what I know of CF groups, that is pretty common among them.