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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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Friends Process for Making Decisions

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.


clearness and clearness committees

 One of the special joys of a Friends Meeting is the recurring reminder that each person contributes to the spiritual strength of the loving community, and that the community is a guiding and sustaining force in the life of each individual. This mutual relationship strengthens the Meeting and produces a bond of love and trust among its members, helping the Meeting find unity in its spiritual life and harmony in its actions.

 Such spiritual unity is evident in a Meeting when members feel free to ask for help with clarifying personal problems and making decisions. These may relate to family adjustments, marriage, separation, divorce, stands on public issues, a new job, moving to a distant area, personal witness, traveling in the ministry, and other decisions. Meetings usually respond to such requests for help by appointing clearness committees. <The clearness processes for membership application and marriage under the care of the Meeting are described in the sections on those topics and in the Appendices.>

 A clearness committee is generally formed at the request of the person or persons seeking clearness, though Friends in the Meeting may initiate an offer of help. The seeker may make a request of the Meeting as a whole, Overseers, or the Worship and Ministry Committee, as appropriate. In every case, the request becomes the responsibility of the Oversight Committee. Overseers will sometimes find it desirable to have serious preliminary talks with the seeker on the nature of the issue. Such talks may convince the committee that the seeker needs professional counseling, rather than the help of a Meeting committee, and they will advise the seeker accordingly.

 If the Oversight Committee believes that a clearness committee is appropriate, it will, in consultation with the seeker, appoint a committee, and designate a convener from among its members. A clearness committee should be composed of persons who, because of gifts and background, seem particularly suitable to help with the problem. A clearness committee normally includes three to five members of varied ages and experience. If, in the judgment of the Oversight Committee, the Meeting is too emotionally involved in the problem to be helpful, members of the clearness committee may be selected from outside the immediate Meeting community, for example, from the Ministry and Oversight Committee of the Quarterly or Yearly Meeting.

 A clearness committee meets with the seeker neither as professional counselors nor as colleagues discussing a problem and giving advice, but rather as caring Friends, drawing on the same resources that bind the Meeting together in worship. Listening and patience are essential. All must listen not only to the person in need, but also to the movement of the Spirit.

 Friends seek clearness in the Light. Committee members seek to help an individual become clear about a problem or impending decision by maintaining a spirit of openness and prayerful worship procedures and by serving as channels for Divine guidance. Their purpose is not to criticize, or to offer their collective wisdom. They are there to listen without prejudice or judgment, to help clarify alternatives, to help communication, to provide spiritual and emotional support, to find God’s will.

 In a clearness committee, as in a Meeting for Business, all parties seek “truth and the right course of action.” Some clearness committees are formed to help a seeker see a problem more clearly or to make a decision in the Light. There is no need to find unity: only the seeker’s clearness is being sought, and once this is accomplished, the committee may stand aside. However, when the individual has a strong leading toward a specific action and wants the Meeting to affirm it, the clearness committee seeks unity on whether this is indeed a leading of the Spirit <See Concerns and Leadings p. 44>.When forming the committee, it is important to be clear about which type of committee is being formed.

 Friends who are asked to undertake the ministry of spiritual clearness and support should not be deterred from accepting this responsibility because of their own human weaknesses. They will learn from their mistakes, from one another, and especially from the ones they are called upon to help, when they reach out to each other with an attitude of prayer. Asking for help requires personal discernment and trust in the Spirit. Similarly, being asked to help invites Friends to seek inner guidance about how best to respond. Thus, asking for help and responding to such requests creates the opportunities for us to invite spiritual guidance into our everyday lives..