At the rise (close) of Meeting for Worship, the Clerk or Greeter usually says, “Are friends clear?”
What does that mean?
The short answer – is everyone sure that they have nothing more to say that rises to a need to share during the time of worship?
Going back quite a few years, we at Grand Rapids Friends Meeting added a practice of having the Greeter ask, five minutes before the end of the hour, if there are any further “sharing,” or prayers, concerns, joys to be expressed as the time of worship draws to a close. This is to provide an invitation and ample opportunity to share concerns or joys on people’s minds, that have not risen to the level of an urgent “leading of the Spirit” during the hour of worship.
After this final 5 minutes, at the end of the hour, “Are Friends clear?” is a final punctuation, with a slight pause, in case something is still weighing on a Friend’s mind, but they have been reluctant to speak.
In the broader context of either Friends meetings (worship, business, fellowship) or clearness committees, worship sharing, or other conflict resolution processes, the same principles apply. They all lead us to ask whether we are clear, in our individual lives or in community.
At the end of a clearness committee, we don’t say “are friends clear?”, but we do check-in with the person seeking clearness, to see if they are any clearer on their issue or their path forward.
The same applies to business. The Clerk composes a “minute” based on discussion of an issue, and after reading the minute, pauses for reaction, and then may say something like “are we all clear?” When heads nod yes, we proceed to record the action.
Likewise, in a worship sharing session, where a query is posed, followed by silent reflection, and Spirit-led responses by the participants, the convener will try to discern the sense of the Meeting over the issue at hand. When appropriate, a summary of that perceived sense of the Meeting may be spoken. Then, are Friends clear? If not, perhaps another query is posed, re-framing the issue in a way that may lead to greater clarity.
It may be clear that Friends have expressed themselves and others have listened and have gained better understanding, but there is no need for more than that. In this case, “are Friends clear?” may have more to do with whether they are clear in their own hearts. This may be an acceptance, even embracing, of uncertainty, of a mystery, and yet we are at peace. All is well with our souls.
As in all we do, the goal is not perfect unanimity or agreement, but rather a sense of peace and “unity in the Spirit,” an overwhelming sense that this is where we are, and where we are going, as a community, and that all is good – Friends are clear.