The concept of a “clearness committee” appears to be a twentieth-century application of this ancient Quaker conception. Except in relation to marriage, one does not find it in books of faith and practice before the 1970s. Today, unprogrammed Friends appear to be more likely to make use of clearness committees. My sense is that many pastoral Friends are not familiar with the idea. Mentions of it in Indiana Yearly Meeting, for example, have sometimes produced puzzlement.
Today, Friends use clearness committees as a way to test leadings and help discern the Lord’s will in a particular situation. Typically, a Friend feeling such a concern will request the monthly meeting to appoint Friends to aid in those tasks, although sometimes a Friend may directly ask other Friends for aid in a more private way. The process is, at its best, simply applying Friends methods of discernment in a meeting for business on a smaller scale.
Thomas Hamm is Professor of History; Archivist/Curator, Friends Collection at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana
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