Anyone who is experiencing a specific "problem" or general uncertainty about some issue in their life and would like some help in discerning a clear direction can request what Quakers call a "clearness committee." It is actually a clearness "session."
You (the "focus person") can contact one of the clerks or someone on the Ministry and Nurture committee to help organize it. Four to six persons are asked to participate. You can request specific persons be invited as part of your committee. We look for a variety of personalities and perspectives, so maybe one or two people who share your business or professional perspective, others who bring wisdom or a contrary perspective/personality (ideal to have at least one person who might be sort of a "devil's advocate.").
The "committee" will meet at someone's home, or perhaps in the Library of the Browne Center, for about two hours, usually on an evening or weekend. The typical format is: everyone sits in a circle; after a time of silence, the focus person describes the "problem" or confusion that needs clearness, then everyone goes back into silence. Out of the silence, participants will then pose queries or questions that are intended to help the focus person to bring aspects of the problem into focus. This goes on for the next hour or so. Then, the facilitator will ask the person how s/he would like to proceed, if s/he wants to continue the same format or go into more of a discussion mode. Toward the end, there is often a switch to a "mirroring" mode, where individuals say something like "you were asked this, you said this" and it can help to further clarify their insights.
The basic rule is that only open and honest questions should be asked, no statements made or advice offered. Questions are not to be in any way directive or suggestive. They are all just intended to help you find the answers from within yourself. At the end of the session, you can decide if you would like a follow-up session or not. Most persons at this point either feel that they have all they need for the time being, or that they want to reflect on it, give it more time, and then possibly follow-up with individuals or the group.
There are some excellent resources on clearness committee processes, as well as Quaker discernment in a broader sense. Ultimately, most Quaker discernment follows the same principles of asking open and honest questions (we call them "queries"), and then reflecting on the answers that arise from within our own souls (from "that of God" within).
One of the best discussions of Quaker discernment and clearness committees is to be found in a book by Parker J. Palmer entitled A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life.
To inquire more about clearness committees, contact Mark Hepper (convener of Ministry & Nurture) at email@example.com or 616-304-6141.
For more on Clearness Committees, see:
Clearness Committees and Their Use in Personal Discernment, by Jan Hoffman, NEYM.
The Clearness Committee: a Communal Approach to Discernment, by Parker Palmer.
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