Friends, since the time of George Fox, have responded as a worship community to the needs of individual Friends for clarity about a concern or spiritual leading and, also, to offer support in following a leading. Early Friends supported those who were jailed and the families and those who were suffering because of their Quaker beliefs.
In recent years, Friends have, on request, formed committees of support to assist a Friend (or regular attender) when illness, family issues, or some other hardship or complication has created a stressful situation that our community is capable of addressing (i.e., spiritual and personal support or practical assistance that does not include therapy, social services, marriage counseling, or legal advice).
Both marriage and joining a monthly meeting have, as a first step, appointment of a clearness committee to meet with the individual(s) making the request. Clearness committees are also used to help a requestor to discern a specific issue.
We have outlined, below, a process for initiating a request and some guidelines for discerning whether a Clearness Committee or a Support Committee is more appropriate.
Initiating a Request
- Clearness committees for membership and for marriage have their own structures. In these cases the process is initiated by writing a letter to the Clerk of Mt. Toby. The Clerk will read the letter in business meeting, then forward it to Ministry and Worship (membership) or Care and Counsel (marriage) for further consideration.
- In all other cases, speak to someone on Care and Counsel and discuss your situation.
- Get as clear as you can whether there is a need for clearness or support (see below).
- Write a letter of request to the Clerk of Care and Counsel.
- The Clerk will talk with you about next steps and a probable time line.
A committee of 2-4 usually meets with the requestor 1 to 3 times to seek clarity about a particular issue or concern. The usual format poses questions to requestor confident that, with Divine assistance, one can discern one’s own leading.
For example one might be seeking clearness around:
- becoming involved in some concern
- changing career or livelihood
- changing in family situation
- joining meeting
A committee of 2-4 meets to offer spiritual, personal or practical support. The duration of the committee is determined by the committee and the requestor – usually a year or less. If support is needed beyond a year the committee members may choose to extend their service or the requestor can write a request to Care and Counsel for a new committee.
Support may be appropriate if there is basic clarity on the nature of the underlying issue, but dealing with the accompanying stress, complexity, or desire for deeper spiritual grounding can be assisted by the worship community. Examples where support might be useful:
- following a leading or some form of service
- coping with a significant health problem
- dealing with difficulties within a family
- managing work or career issues
C&C procedures for handling requests for clearness/support (other than marriage)
- The person desiring a committee sends a letter to the clerk of Care and Counsel detailing the request. The letter is acknowledged by the clerk; additional clarification may be sought.
- Copies of the letter are distributed at a Care and Counsel meeting. These copies are collected and destroyed at the end of the meeting.
- Our minutes will not give the name(s) of those making the request, but only the general nature of the request.
- Care and Counsel may turn down a request if it appears to require a level of expertise or a time commitment beyond what our membership can reasonably provide.
- We cannot offer professional counseling or therapy, nor can we provide social services or specialized care.
- When we received a request from someone who had not attended for many years, we turned down the request and minuted “that the creation of such committees had to be within the larger structure of the gathered community of people who meet regularly for worship and know each other in that context.” (9/5/2011)
- If Care and Counsel feels that Mt. Toby can appropriately respond to the request, they will generate a list of people who might be appropriate, being mindful of the need not to burden friends with too many requests for such service. Care and Counsel will determine an ideal committee size and rank the names in the order they will be contacted.
- Care and Counsel will appoint a liaison for the committee. The liaison will ask people in the suggested order if they would be willing to serve. The liaison will ask one person to convene the first meeting. If it is a support committee, the liaison will make sure all participants have a copy of The C&C 2004 Support Committee Guidelines. If it is a clearness committee, the liaison will make sure all participants have a copy of Guidance for a Clearness Committee for Personal Discernment. The liaison will check with the committee from time to time to see that it is functioning well.