When Quakers have a tough decision to make, we help each other listen by holding a clearness committee.
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- Have you ever had a clearness committee? What for? How did it go?
- Gil George emphasizes the role of members of a clearness committee to listen and not give advice. Why does this feel important?
Peterson Toscano: Early on in my time with Quakers I learned about this thing called a “clearness committee.” Basically the way it was described to me is that you’ve got something that you need to figure out, you have a problem you need to solve, or a question you need to answer. You don’t necessarily need advice. You probably know what you need to do, but you need to clear through all the things that are interrupting your ability to access what, in your heart of hearts, you know you need to do. So you can then have a clearness committee.
How to Have a Quaker Clearness Committee
Leslie Manning: I have a personal prayer: I am the clay. Mold me. I am the vessel. Fill me. I am the instrument. Use me. But in trying to decide how best to be used, I need the prayer and support and listening of others.
What is a Clearness Committee?
Roger Vincent Jasaitis: A clearness committee is a small group of Friends that gather and basically ask you tough questions about what your leading is, what your concern is, what’s happening inside you. What do you feel?
Pat Moyer: Well people regularly have what’s called a clearness committee for marriage. We have clearness committees about whether people are actually called to do a ministry that they’re thinking about. We have clearness for membership. Are you ready to join the Religious Society of Friends?
Anthony Smith: A clearness committee, I think, in Quaker terms, very much involves humility. You are submitting yourself, generally voluntarily, to an entity that is part of your Meeting, your congregation.
Cherice Bock: And so a lot of people will convene a clearness committee if they’re getting married, if they’re choosing what college to go to, or choosing which direction to go in their career, or that sort of thing.
Margaret Webb: So that’s where we get the name “clearness committee.” It’s about clearness. Becoming clear about a decision.
Who to Have on Your Committee
Gil George: When we call this group together, we’re looking for very specific kinds of people. We’re looking for people who are good at listening, and who don’t have a tendency to give advice.
Cherice Bock: These should be people that are important in your life and in the life of your community, but not so close to you that they’re going to be influenced by your decision one way or another.
Roger Vincent Jacaitis: They’re not there to provide answers. They are there to try and help you see clearly what the situation is, what’s happening, and what you should do about it.
Monica Walters-Field: It’s a gift of your spiritual community, saying, “you don’t have to struggle alone. Here are your companions that can work with you and go on this part of your journey with you,” which is, to me, phenomenal in this day and age. That we could be so blessed that our community says, “You don’t have to do this alone. We’ll help.”
Preparation for a Clearness Committee
Ashley Wilcox: The prep work for a clearness committee is that the clerk will find a place and time and put together the committee, and then the person who is the focus person of the committee will write a page or two in advance.
Gil George: And so you start off by actually describing the situation. Like, really sitting down, writing it out so that everybody has access to it and you can say, “Ok, this is what’s going on, and this is why it’s confusing to me. These are what I perceive my options to be in this situation. What am I missing?”
What Happens in a Clearness Committee
Cherice Bock: The steps involved in the actual clearness committee are to come together and for the person who is asking for the clearness committee to state what it is that they want clarity on. So they state their problem or decision point.
Gil George: Even though it’s been passed out beforehand, I say in my own words, “This is the situation as I understand it.”
Chris Mohr: Then the committee should ask clarifying questions that are really just about facts. Like, “Did you mean you’re moving to Georgia in the U.S. or Georgia in Asia?” That kind of thing.
Gil George: After this time of questioning, we sit and we wait. I’ve been in clearness committees where sitting and waiting lasted for 20 minutes, and I’ve been in clearness committees where sitting and waiting lasted for 3 hours.
Cherice Bock: So usually people will just listen and hold the space together, and ask the Spirit to bring to them clarity.
Chris Mohr: The committee starts listening together and asking deeper spiritual questions. Do you feel that God is calling you to do this? How do you see your life evolving if you follow this path? How do you see your life evolving if you turn away from this opportunity?
Margaret Webb: So the questions that a clearness committee asks are all going to be questions that are open ended and that lead to greater self-reflection, and to deeper prayer and to a more imaginative engagement with the problem or question.
Chris Mohr: At that point, the committee’s role is to step back and listen and let the focus person for the clearness process really respond to those questions at a deep mind, heart, and spirit level.
Cherice Bock: So out of that time, a lot of times people will share things that they noticed. Maybe they’ll share, “I noticed your eyes really light up when you talked about this idea,” or “I noticed a change in your body posture when you talked about this decision.”
Gil George: But my experience in this is when you’ve got this group of people gathered to listen around this issue, each person is going to hear a little piece of God’s voice. Of a way forward.
Cherice Bock: A lot of times the person themselves will start feeling that clarity in themselves and will be able to name it to some degree, and will be able to say, “Yes, when you shared that, I really felt like that rang true,” or “That felt right in my body or my spirit.”
Results from a Clearness Committee
Gil George: I’ve come into a clearness committee with a preconceived notion of what’s going to happen, and it gets blown out of the water every single time. It’s kind of hilarious that way.
Pat Moyer: I’ve been on clearness committees where the group found that people weren’t clear to get married, for instance, or that membership might need to take a little more time, or that there might need to be 2 or 3 more meetings spaced out over a number of months before we get at the clearness part of things.
A.J. Mendoza: I think that’s helpful in a couple of ways. It’s helpful in the “yes,” like: “Ah yes, so this was a leading. Okay, self-doubt, take that! There’s a committee of other Friends who have listened and heard!” It’s also, like, I can rejoice in the “no”. When a clearness committee ends in a “Wait.” or, “That wasn’t what I thought it was,” then that’s coming from God, and I can feel so much more comfortable in that “No” or in that “Wait” than just like, “I really said no, or wait, but it was my own self-doubt.” That’s gone. That’s out of the picture at the end of a clearness committee.
Cherice Bock: Sometimes you don’t come to clarity, so that’s kind of a bummer when that happens. But it definitely is not uncommon, so if that happens to you, don’t worry. You’re not a failure at Quakerism. You can try again or you can allow the wisdom that did emerge out of that community to inform your decision.
Gil George: In this space of faithful waiting and listening, and frankly listening with love for the person who has the question, means that when we bring that love together in the different ways each individual holds that, even if no clarity comes from it, there is a sense of being held in love by our community that can make the lack of clarity not as scary as it used to be.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.