Historically, clearness committees have been used by meetings primarily as part of the membership and marriage procedures. In recent years, Friends have requested the support of a clearness committee in order to discern how best to deal with an important personal decision, whether to make a change in the circumstances of their lives, whether to test a leading or for some other reason. A Friend may approach the pastoral care or worship and ministry committee of the meeting and request that a clearness committee be formed. The request may include the suggestion of one or more potential members of that committee.
It is especially important for the members of the clearness committee to accept fully that their role in the session with the Friend is not to offer advice, nor to tell stories about their own possibly similar experiences, but to ask questions that enable the Friend to discern whether there is sufficient clarity regarding the issue or leading to move forward and take action.
In preparation for the initial meeting of the clearness committee, the Friend is advised to write a brief account of the issue or leading to be considered, including relevant background information and any possible steps that might be taken to address that issue or leading. The members of the clearness committee would then read and reflect on this short paper in advance of the meeting.
The first meeting of the clearness committee usually includes the following elements:
- Worship at the beginning, at the end and perhaps at appropriate moments during the meeting.
- Deep listening by the committee members to an initial statement by the Friend regarding the leading to be tested or the issue or potential decision to be clarified.
- Carefully formulated, open-ended, probing questions from the committee members, not to give advice or counsel but to help the Friend understand more clearly the nature of the concern, issue or leading and the possible implications of making one decision or another—for that Friend and for family members, the faith community and perhaps the wider community.
- An opportunity for the Friend to respond to these questions, and for the Friend and the members of the clearness committee to consider together whether there are now additional questions that need to be explored further.
- Consideration of next steps, such as additional meetings of the individual with the clearness committee, or further exploration by the individual and members of the committee of particular aspects of the issue or leading that remain unclear or are not yet ready for a decision.
The information provided by the Friend prior to meeting with the clearness committee, and the information shared by that individual in the session with the committee, is confidential; and both the Friend and the members of the clearness committee are expected to respect the need to maintain confidentiality. Still, it is also expected that a report, absent details, will be given to the care and counsel or worship and ministry committee which formed the clearness committee.
If the Friend has tested the leading with the assistance of the clearness committee and together they are in unity to seek the support of the meeting for that leading, the matter is reported to the pastoral care or worship and ministry committee and then to the meeting for business. If the meeting decides to support the leading, the clerk of the meeting will draft a minute of support. Such a minute acknowledges the role of the meeting in approving the implementation of the leading and the ministry it entails and may also recommend the formation of a committee to provide guidance, support and accountability for the Friend and the ministry.