How do Friends support one another in discernment? Sometimes, it involves gathering in a Quaker clearness committee.
- Subscribe to QuakerSpeak so you never miss a video
- Read Friends Journal to see how other Friends describe the substance of Quaker spirituality
- Learn more about the life and ministry of New England Quakers at NEYM.org
- Find out how Quakers are assisting military personnel stationed in 11 states
- Learn about the rich diversity of Quakers worldwide with FWCC.
- Work for peace with justice with AFSC.
- Have you ever had a clearness committee? What did the members of your committee do that was really helpful? What could have gone better?
- Ashley Wilcox says that we ask each other questions because it helps us hold back from giving advice. What is your experience of getting advice from people? Do you find open-ended questions to be more helpful?
Chris Mohr: Very few people have an experience like Saul on the road to Damascus where we just get blown over by the Holy Spirit and, suddenly, everything’s changed. So we have to listen to nudges and leadings and little quiet steps. So my experience is of feeling small nudges that feel like they are from God and that I need to pay attention to, and if I stop and slow down and have others sit with me to reflect on those nudges, I can sense whether they’re really something pushing me in a direction I need to go, or is it just a momentary fancy?
How to Serve on a Quaker Clearness Committee
Greg Woods: Clearness committees are formed when an individual, a couple, a group comes to a Quaker body and says, “We are wrestling with this issue and we want to discern the way forward.”
Robin Mohr: It’s important to know how to help people do their discernment because it’s not something that we learn automatically in our society. It’s not always something that we learn at home. So it’s a skill that can be learned, but we have to practice.
Preparing for a Clearness Committee
Ashley Wilcox: The prep work for the committee is to hold the person in the light and be prepared for the questions that may come up, and read the writing in advance to be prepared for holding this person in the committee meeting.
Greg Woods: Before the meeting, I find a grounded place and I would pray for that person, or, to use the Quaker saying ‘hold them in the Light.’ And, for me, holding people in the light, I visually try to see them being surrounded by a halo of light.
Robin Mohr: The first thing I would say is just to let the person talk. And I find that often, we don’t have a space to be able to talk about the things that really matter to us, and so just holding a space where somebody actually just gets to tell you the whole story—and why it’s important to them—is a gift.
Margaret Webb: So when you serve on a clearness committee, the first piece of that is listening deeply to the person who is requesting a clearness committee. So the first piece is to listen deeply and not just to listen deeply to that individual and to their story, but also to listen deeply for the still, small voice—that of God in that person—and how the Spirit might be moving.
AJ Mendoza: We’re all listening to the same Source; the same God is speaking to all of us. So, if I’m saying that, like, there is a leading that is coming from God that is telling me to do something, I have no doubt at all that another Friend, would be able to, like, with enough listening, totally hear that.
Ashley Wilcox: Asking each other queries is powerful because it stops us from giving advice. It’s an opportunity for us to ask open and honest questions of a person who has the wisdom within themself to find an answer. And so, instead of saying ‘oh, a similar thing happened to me,’ or ‘I know what you should do in this situation,’ we sit and listen to what the person is asking, and then we ask questions about things that they already know but haven’t discerned yet.
AJ Mendoza: Questions make the space for the Spirit to speak and to be listened to, rather than, like, kind of laying the options on the table and saying: “select, choose wisely; here’s which one I would choose.” It’s really—that’s not what Quaker discernment is supposed to ideally be, and, like, the questions open the door, I think, for just really exciting possibilities.
Monica Walters-Field: I always consider them as a gift. It’s the gift of another experience, and so you look at whatever you’re thinking about from that point of view. It might never have occurred to us, or to me, to look at it in that way, but hearing someone else ask a question allows us to broaden how we look, how we consider what it is we’re doing.
Margaret Webb: So you could say something like: “when you imagine yourself in five years, and you’ve taken that job that you’re discerning around, how does that person that you are in five years feel?” Or you could say something open-ended like: “ if the Spirit closed that door, and you weren’t offered that job, how would you feel about that?” So those kinds of open-ended questions that help the individual imagine the various possibilities.
Greg Woods: Even thought I might have my own desires for them, I try to acknowledge I have them, but I do try to keep them from influencing them. I ask them open-ended questions to really find out more about them and what they are asking for clearness for. And then, worshiping with them, and praying with them for guidance.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.