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Faith and Practice

Pacific Yearly Meeting

of the

Religious Society of Friends

a guide to quaker discipline in the experience of pacific yearly meeting of the religious society of friends.
published 2001

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ii: quaker faith and spiritual practice

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Concerns and Leadings

pym in context
quaker faith & spiritual practice
testimony & experience of friends
organization of the society
activities & organization of the YM
sources of quotations
index of sources
subject index

We gratefully acknowledge the generosity of Friends who have permitted us to use material for this Faith and Practice.


 Concerns and leadings grow out of the spiritual experience and contemplative practice of the Meeting. They are the living fruit of Friends’ faith that the Spirit will lead us forward into right action in the world.

 The impetus for action is often a concern: a pull toward a specific issue, an experience of the stirring of the Spirit about a particular topic, individual or group. A concern may thrust itself suddenly into the life of a Friend or may grow out of a long-standing interest.

 A concern may be short lived or it may inform and direct Friends throughout their lives. For some, this call is experienced in terms of Christian discipleship:Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor… and come follow me.” (Luke 18:22) In the Hebrew scriptures a call can be seen in the prophets, such as Isaiah 6:8 “Here am I, send me.

 When it initially arises, a concern may not yet be linked to a proposed course of action, but may simply be a troubled sense that something is needed or something is awry. Action, when it follows, is often the result of a sense of being drawn or called by God in a particular direction or toward a particular course of action. Friends speak of “feeling led” or “being called.” The response may be shortterm and specific, or it may involve transformation of one’s life and the life of the Meeting.

 A leading, the experience of feeling called by God to act, takes many different forms, and always requires careful discernment. In Meeting for Worship as one considers whether a message is intended as vocal ministry, the central task is to discern whether one is called by God to give the message. One who is called to serve on a challenging committee may need the Nominating Committee’s help with discerning the appropriateness of the selection. Another may be called to speak truth to someone who does not want to hear what we have to say. In each case, Friends want to be clear about the calling before acting.

 At times a call may take a more profound hold, causing us to make significant life changes, to take risks, or to engage in specific social or political actions. Friends under the weight of such a concern should rely on the Meeting to help them discern the right course of action. Friends’ long-standing practice confirms the rightness of testing a leading with the Monthly Meeting, which customarily appoints a clearness committee to meet with the concerned individual. Together, the clearness committee and the initiating individual seek to join the mystical with the practical and to test the validity of the concern. (See Clearness and Clearness Committees p. 91.)

Achieving clarity about a concern is a particular exercise in discernment. It is a process that begins with considerable private reflection and the asking of some tough questions. Is this a desire that someone else do something or it is really a call to act oneself? Is it genuinely from God?

britain yearly meeting,
quaker faith & practice, 1995, §13.05

 During the clearness process, the Meeting has a duty to consider the matter carefully and sympathetically. The concerned Friend has a duty to participate in the discernment. Does the concern spring from the movement of the Spirit in the life of the concerned Friend? Is it consistent with Friends’ testimonies? If not, can the committee confirm that it nonetheless flows from that same Light that has steadfastly inspired Friends?

 If the committee affirms the spiritual leading of the concerned Friend, the committee then considers how it is led further to act. If the concern is confined to the individual and does not directly involve the Meeting, then clarity may be the primary gift of the Meeting. However, an individual’s need for careful discernment often comes during a period of change, and it is always appropriate to offer ongoing spiritual support to the concerned Friend. The existing clearness committee often takes responsibility for this support.

 The Meeting should determine what additional forms of support it wishes to offer, ranging from childcare and financial assistance to releasing the Friend from other responsibilities. The Meeting may support the leading of the concerned Friend; it may also wish to take on the leading as its own. This may relieve the concerned Friend of the burden of leadership; more often it affirms and validates the importance of the initial concern.

 The clearness committee, after listening carefully and laboring faithfully with the concerned Friend, may conclude the Friend’s calling is not divinely inspired. This may lead the Friend to feel relieved of the concern and lay it down. Some Friends may choose to carry on, without the support of the Meeting, taking care to represent the concern as a personal one. Any Friend may choose to labor further with the Meeting and the clearness committee, in pursuit of unity. The clearness process should substantially assist the concerned Friend; it may inspire the Meeting. Ideally it will do both.

 Depending on the nature and scope of the concern, the Monthly Meeting may wish to present it as a minute to the Quarterly Meeting. Similarly, the Quarterly Meeting may seek to engage a wider circle of Friends by bringing it before the Yearly Meeting.