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).