This text is Appendix 8 of Faith & Practice, the book that provides guidance for Friends in New England Yearly Meeting.
8A. Advices and Queries for Pastoral Care Committees
- As a meeting, we accept a degree of responsibility and concern for one another. We would not wish to turn aside from one another in times of need.
- As members of pastoral care committees we wish to ensure that each member of our community is able to draw upon the meeting’s care and concern. Useful ways to give support will necessarily vary from one situation to another. As we offer help we strive to be sensitive to one another’s spiritual, emotional, and material condition, and to the need of each of us to maintain our personal dignity and protect our privacy.
- Pastoral care committees should seek not to act beyond their competence or beyond the limits of their proper responsibility. Clear discernment of proper responsibility comes when caring arises from the heart of compassion and when people are held firmly in the light.
- Our feelings and motivations necessarily color our decisions and discussions about individuals. We need to be especially aware of our feelings about a person and that these may overcome our ability to discern God’s will. We should be prayerful in maintaining this awareness and, as necessary, remaining silent in our meetings.
- Do we reach out to ensure that contact is maintained with all of our Meeting community? Do we make clear that we are available to offer mutual support—spiritual, emotional, and material? Are all encouraged to seek and accept the support of the Meeting?
- Do we take care that each member of our community is held in sensitive awareness, with respect for personal dignity and privacy? Are we tender of one another’s feelings? Do we maintain confidentiality, avoid gossip, and refrain from unnecessary and inappropriate exchange of information?
- As we offer pastoral care, do we each maintain awareness of our own needs and motivations and the effect these may have on our own care-giving? Are we careful to distinguish personal feelings about individuals—positive or negative—from our charge to care for them? In striving to help others, do we seek the Spirit through prayer and silence?
- Are we sensitive to the limits of our capacities and the limits of our responsibilities? Are we prepared to express these limits and recommend professional resources?
- Do we remember to faithfully hold in prayer those to whom we offer care? Do we as members of pastoral care committees hold ourselves mutually accountable to the spirit of these queries?
8B. Guidance for a Clearness Committee for Personal Discernment
A clearness committee meets with a person who is unclear how to proceed in a keenly felt concern or dilemma, hoping that it can help this person reach clarity. It assumes that each of us has an Inner Teacher who can guide us and that the answer sought can be found by the person seeking clearness. It also assumes that a group of caring friends can help draw out the Spirit’s guidance from and for that person. The committee members’ purpose is not to give advice or to “fix” the situation; their task is to listen, setting aside their own prejudices or judgments, to help clarify alternatives, to help communication if necessary, and to provide emotional support as an individual seeks to find “truth and the right course of action.” The clearness committee works best when everyone approaches it in a prayerful mood (which does not exclude playful!).
Organizing the clearness committee
- The person seeking clearness always initiates formation of the committee, though a friend may ask, “Would a clearness committee be helpful?” The focus person may choose several trusted friends or ask ministry and counsel (worship and ministry, or pastoral care) to form a clearness committee for them. In either case, formation of the committee should happen through a discernment process, taking care to have variety among its appointed members.
- In advance of the meeting, it is helpful for the focus person to write up the matter on which clearness is sought, identifying it as precisely as possible, giving relevant background factors and any clues there may be to what lies ahead. This should be made available to committee members. This exercise is valuable not only for the committee members, but especially for the focus person.
- At the beginning of the meeting, a clerk and a recorder are appointed. The clerk opens and closes the meeting and keeps a sense of right order in between, making sure that agreed-on guidelines are followed and that everyone who wishes to speak may do so. (Any member of the committee may intervene if necessary to ensure that guidelines are followed.) The recorder writes down the questions asked and perhaps some of the responses and gives this record to the focus person after the meeting.
Conducting the clearness committee
- The clerk invites the committee to prepare for its work, reminds everyone of the guidelines to be followed and makes sure there is a common understanding of the degree of confidentiality about the meeting.
- All settle into a period of centering silence.
- When the focus person is ready, s/he begins with a brief summary of the question or concern.
- Members of the committee hold to a discipline of asking brief, probing question as led by the Spirit, resisting urges to present solutions or give advice. It is crucial that these questions be asked not for the sake of satisfying the questioner’s curiosity, but for the sake of drawing out the focus person’s clarity. The pace of questions should be kept deliberately gentle and relaxed to encourage reflection. Committee members should also trust their intuitions. Even if a question seems “off the wall,” if it feels insistent it should be asked.
- The focus person normally answers the questions in front of the group and the response generates more questions. It is always the focus person’s absolute right not to answer, whether because s/he does not know the answer, or because the answer is too personal or painful to be revealed in the group. The more often a focus person can answer aloud, the more s/he and the committee has to go on, but this should never be done at the expense of the focus person’s privacy or need to protect vulnerable feelings. It is a good idea for the focus person to keep answers fairly brief so that time remains for more questions and responses.
- Do not be anxious if there are extended periods of silence. It does not mean that nothing is happening; in fact, the Spirit may be powerfully at work within the focus person and the committee members.
- Well before the end of the session, following at least half an hour of questions and answers, the clerk pauses to ask the focus person how s/he wishes to proceed. This is an opportunity for the focus person to choose, if it feels appropriate, a mode of seeking clarity other than questions. The recorder continues to record during this time. Possibilities include:
a. Silence out of which anyone may speak under the same discipline as in other meetings for worship
b. Silence out of which people share images which come to them as they concentrate on the focus person
c. Continued questions from the committee
d. Reflection on what has been said
e. Affirmation of the focus person’s gifts
f. Questions to the committee from the focus person
- Before the session ends the focus person may wish to share any clarity which has come to them. S/he and the committee consider together whether another meeting is needed and, if so, schedule it at this time. It may be that the focus person will not need to meet with the committee again or it may be clear that a support or oversight committee should be appointed to help the person remain clear and/or be accountable to the clarity reached. Members of the clearness committee are free to release themselves from further commitment or to offer to serve on such committees.
(excerpted from a 1996 brochure by Jan Hoffman)
8C. Queries and Advices for Those Asked to Serve on Clearness Committees
- Is this your work to do at this time?
- Can you devote sufficient time and energy to this committee, knowing that it may take several meetings and many weeks or months to clarify the problem and provide support while the decision is made and carried out?
- Do you feel sufficiently at ease with the focus person and with the other members of the committee to work with them? Can you engage with them to provide an atmosphere in which divine guidance can be sought?
- If it is a decision to be made by more than one person, can you set aside your own prejudice or bias as you listen to each person involved?
- Are you willing to keep the committee discussions confidential and avoid gossiping or referring to them outside the committee unless those requesting the help of the committee are comfortable with a wider sharing of their problem?
- Can you keep an open heart and an open mind about the outcome?
- While the convener takes care of the practical details of setting up the meeting and keeps a sense of right order while it is in progress, remember that each member of the committee shares responsibility for maintaining a prayerful presence, asking for times of silence when needed, and asking questions as led by the Spirit. It is not an occasion to provide counseling but a spiritual exercise which aims to help the focus person or people to hear the Spirit’s guidance for themselves. Don’t offer solutions or advice but ask honest, probing questions to assist them in this process. Listen deeply to all that is said.
- If the meeting is for more than one person, try to give equal attention to each person present, whether adult or child.
- Remember that people are capable of change and growth. Do not become absorbed with past excuses or reasons for present problems. Focus on what is happening now that is perpetuating the situation or causing the need for a decision to be made.