Danny E. Morris ~ Spirit-Led Discernment: The Quaker Clearness Committee

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The “clearness committee” was established by Quakers. Initially, focus persons were seeking clearness about marriage. Invited friendswould gather to offer communal spiritual guidance. Eventually, reasons for calling a clearness committee were expanded. I was told by a friend that the Quaker clearness committee is currently used over a variety of subjects.

When considering prayerful discernment, reflect on this model developed by Quakers over 200 years ago. Within the Body of Christ no one should have to be alone when dealing with a heavy concern.

I have had the privilege of serving on a number of clearness committees.

The clearness committee was introduced to our congregation through a sermon on Communion Sunday. The history of its origin, the unique features that give it spiritual power, and a step-by-step description of the process were essential elements of the initial introduction.

We made it clear that meetings of clearness committees would not be announced in the regular church newsletter. There would be no tabulation of the number of groups. Nothing would be said about participation unless a participant chose to share something about her or his experience.

All of the groups I have been associated with have been unique. Here’s just one story I gained permission to share with others. We met with a couple for four sessions. At the end of the fourth meeting the husband spoke for both.

This has been a remarkable spiritual experience for each of us. Clearness has not come. We hope that someday it will come. We will continue to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Something special has occurred. We are deeply moved by your willingness to walk with us. Even if clearness never comes, we are different people because of the gift of your time and prayer concern.

The Clearness Committee

When you need “clearness” on a matter, ask four or five persons who are mature, and who know you and love you, to serve as a “clearness committee” for you, the focus person. (One person may be the focus person, or a married couple the focus.)

It is important to have mature friends of the focus person on their clearness committee. The participants should resist the temptation to tell what they would do in this situation, or to tell the focus person what they ought to do.

Initially, a person is selected to be the convener and time-keeper for the meeting that will last about an hour and a half.

Before the group gathers, the focus person describes the issue by writing no more than two or three pages that describe the issue. The focus person should write a refined and clear statement recounting the relevant factors, and a list of hunches theymay have. Give copies to the group when they assemble for the initial brief meeting.

After they have had time to read the statement, the convener asks (as if qualifying a jury) whether any have experienced something that would make objectivity difficult or impossible. The convener makes it clear that the focus person is not seeking their advice, their personal point of view, or their record of achievement or failure on a similar matter.

It is not their will, but God’s will that is to be discerned!

If anyone feels biased, the convener may kindly excuse that person from the committee.

Those who remain take the written statement as a prayer concern until the next meeting, a week later. There is great power in intercessory prayer—and the prayer of your clearness committee is intercessory prayer at its best. It will be gratifying for the focus person to know that they are praying.

Begin the second meeting with prayerful silence, broken by the convener when ready to proceed.

The convener reminds everyone in the meeting that they do not give advice or advocate a particular solution. They may only ask probing questions to be considered by the focus person.

Unhurriedly, lovingly, they ask deep and hard questions without evaluating, discussing, or critiquing the answers. Through prayer and their love for the person, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the committee helps them consider the issue in every possible way. Some of their questions will grow out of their times of prayer during the previous week; other questions will arise because of something a previous speaker asked.

The questions will be spontaneous, and offered in random order from any person in the circle. The meeting will likely be marked with significant periods of silence as additional questions are being framed. Laughter frequently occurs.

Near the end of the time for meeting, the convener asks if clearness has come. If it has, celebration of the breakthrough will be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Afterward, the group will be thanked and adjourned. If clearness has not come, the group will be invited to continue praying until they meet the following week.

Clearness is expected! It might come in one meeting or require several. All of us have friends who would be happy to act as a clearness committee.

No one should have to be alone when dealing with a heavy concern!

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Danny Morris is a retired United Methodist Minister. He served as a staff member of the General Board of Discipleship and The Upper Room, and played a signal role in developing spiritual formation resources, among those, the Academy of Spiritual Formation, The Five-day Academy, and The Living Prayer Center. He also helped guide the transition of the Catholic Cursillo into The Walk to Emmaus, which recently welcomed the one millionth Pilgrim. Danny is the author of a number of books in the area of discipleship and spiritual formation and with Chuck Olsen co-authored Discovering God’s Will Together, which has become a foundational book on discernment.

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