FM Clearness, Anchoring, and Support Quotes and Resources


60 minutes The Clearness Committee: A Communal Approach to Discernment from Parker Palmer’s Center for Courage and Renewal website

Spiritual Discernment: the context and goal of clearness committees Pendle Hill Pamphlet #305 by Patricia Loring

If the object of a clearness committee is to assist with the discernment process, it’s important that its members be people with a gift of discernment developed in their personal relationship with God. People whose own experience of concern has sensitized them to evidences of living concern in the words, behaviors, and lives of others are invaluable to the process. It’s important not to just update the rigid legalism of the elder system, but to evolve openings for intuitive discernment. Depending on what is to be discerned, it may also be advisable that those selected have an additional area of experience or expertise that will help them see more deeply into where the questions might be.

It’s also important that they be people capable of restraining the very human impulse to give advice, subordinating it to the discernment process of evoking rather than the authoritarian one of imposing. Some people also seek to have a balanced variety of personalities on the committee. Differences can assure that issues are probed from a variety of perspectives.

As the committee is engaged in a search for Truth, it is important that the group have the integrity not to feed back what they think the person wants to hear, from a misguided idea of being supportive. Support is given to the Truth of the focus person’s leading by God and not to what could be a passing attachment or mistaken judgment. Discernment begins in a questioning, eliciting mode. It can be useful although it would be subversive of the process to include someone who is hostile. The more discerning the committee members, the more apt they are to sense where questions need to be asked, where pertinent background needs to be probed.

[The author references Parker Palmer’s guidelines about only asking questions and not giving advice here.] …For many well-intentioned people, refraining from advice or commentary is an excruciatingly difficult discipline. For one thing, it violates the ordinary social use of verbal exchange as an occasion for display of oneself and assertion of one’s ideas. For another, our culture equates helping people with giving them something: whether material aid, ideas, or a plan of action. If we haven’t “given” something to the other person, we tend to feel we haven’t really helped them.

The clearness process is profoundly counter-cultural in assuming that the greatest help we give is to refrain from problemsolving, to create a situation in which a person may discern for herself what is needed. Our somewhat shapeless, non-hierarchical Quaker forms arise–and receive what shape they have–from the conviction of the availability of Inward Guidance to each person. to enter deliberately into the discipline of restraint in the clearness process can be to reclaim the traditional restraint of speech at its deepest level, which is to wait on Guidance.

Whether the committee is discerning on behalf of the community or assisting the individual’s discernment, the same respectfulness of the vision of the “focus person” is required. In neither case should the committee impose preconceptions or perceptions on that person. The committee’s own discernment process may be subverted if members attempt to thrust their views on others. The focus person’s discernment process may not only be thwarted, but she will undoubtedly feel violated rather than assisted by the imposition of someone else’s sense of reality, in place of encountering reality for herself. What is being sought is the same delicately evolving, unified sense of underlying Truth or Reality as is sought in a truly prayerful meeting for business.

The Quaker way of trying to invite and be open to divine guidance is to begin with a time of silence. This is not the “moment of silence” which is a mere nod in passing to the divine. Nor is it a time for organizing one’s thoughts. This is a time for what has been called recollection: for an intentional return to the Center, to give over one’s own firm views, to place the outcome in the hands of God, to ask for a mind and heart as truly sensitive to and accepting of nuanced intimations of God’s will as of overwhelming evidences of it. It is prssible that someone designated or undesignated may offer vocal prayer for the joint undertaking. Spoken or not, it is understood that each person present will be holding the undertaking in the Light, in his own way.

The entire meeting is conducted in the same reverent spirit of prayerful listening. This disciplined listening is the counterpart of the disciplined speaking mentioned above. It is listening with as complete attentiveness as we can muster. If we are listening for the will of God, it behooves us to listen with our hearts, the marrow of our bones and our whole skin, as well as with our ears. Such listening is one dimension of the discipline of contemplative prayer. It is also at least as evocative as any question in drawing a speaker past delf-definition and limitation, into the more spacious reality of God’s will. Douglas Steere says, “To ‘listen’ another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another.

If what we are about is discerning the will of God in the life of a person, prayer and prayerful listening create the only conceivable context for it. It doesn’t preclude laugher, a sense of the incongruous, the ridiculous or the unexpected, the possibility of celebration or joy. None of these has to interfere with the high seriousness of the undertaking.

Many clearness committees find a natural rhythm which includes a good deal of silence. There is periodic silence for recollection. There is also the comfortable silence that flows gracefully around questions and answers–when we give ourselves to really hearing them and considering them before responding. To truly enter into this attentive, prayerful listening is to let go of displaying our preparedness; our rapidity of thought, analysis or reponse; our intelligence or profundity. It is to allow the questions and the answers to sink into us in the silence which follows them; to sink into the questions and answers; to wait on whatever will arise from the depths, in confidence that–as in vocal ministry–when it is right and necessary, utterance will be given without our having fashioned and honed it in advance. We trust in the availability of God’s guidance in ways that may be unexpected, even surprising.

Parker Palmer suggests that the questions-only rule can be relaxed about a half an hour before the end of the session, to “allow the committee members to ‘mirror back’ what they have seen and hear.” This does not imply a relaxation of restraint. It simply alters the mode in which it is being exercised. A mirror does not reflect itself or interpret what it sees. In my own experience, in the company of seasoned and detached discerners, less rigor is required in the nature of the utterance. One may trust the experienced intentionality of those present.

Sufficient time in silence at the end may allow a sense of what has emerged to begin to crystallize. Clearness may only begin to emerge at that time, however. In closing, it might be helpful to take stock inwardly of particular insights or promptings of the Spirit that have come in the course of the session; of the ways in which people were and were not faithful to the process; of the gifts that came of having searched with this particular group of people. A gift of tenderness and love is often a fruit of gathering together in intimacy and openness to wait upon God’s guidance. It might provide satisfactory closure for each person prsent to speak briefly of the gifts of this time as they have experienced them.


40 minutes Debbie Humphries and Diane Randall write about forming what they call a “committee for oversight” for Debbie’s ministry in this Friends Journal article from September 2008: Engaging with a Monthly Meeting About Ministry.

30 minutes Anchoring Committees by Callid Keefe-Perry on the blog Jewels of Quakerism: Resources for Religious Education which he wrote with Kristina Keefe-Perry


30 minutes In this Friends Journal article from February 2003, authors Kate Hunter and Nina Sullivan write about forming a “care committee” which is another term for support committee: Sally’s Care Committee.

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