A couple of weeks ago I attended the Unitarian Universalist Association‘s First Year Ministers Seminar in Boston. That’s how I happened to be at 24 Farnsworth St. (which I blogged about previously). During the seminar, I had the opportunity to be the focus person in a clearness committee, and I’ve been chewing that over ever since. I think I’m finally ready to tell you about it.

What is a clearness committee, you ask? Good question. First, relax. It’s got nothing to do with Scientology and getting cleared. It also has nothing to do with security clearances (if you’re not in the D.C. metro area that might not be a thing for you – but around here, security clearances are a big thing). No — a clearness committee is a Quaker invention – a tool for discernment. The Quakers have been doing this for about 200 years – it’s a tried and true method.

We were doing a lot of work that was leading up to this, and eventually, we broke up into six clearness committees. Our facilitator had asked for volunteers to be the focus people in each committee – the person who would have the questions for discernment. Since this has been an interesting time for me – with uncertainties and opportunities on the horizon, I volunteered.

We focus people met with the facilitator first to get some instruction on how the committees would go. We also had an opportunity to choose specific people (or to exclude, if we wished) to be on our committees. I didn’t feel the need to control the whole process, but I felt that I would be more comfortable if I had one person whom I knew on my committee. So I did request one person. I requested someone I knew reasonably well but not super-closely, and someone whom I thought would be a good team person. As it happens, the facilitator made this person my clerk.

Each committee has a clerk. The clerk is responsible for keeping time and in general facilitating the meeting. The person I chose did an excellent job of being the clerk – keeping us on time, and organizing us. I was glad to have him there.

We began by entering in silence. Well, mostly silence. As the focus person, I chose my seat first, and then everyone else sat down. The clerk lit the candle in the middle of the table, and when I was ready, I began to talk about the history of what I was wanting to discern. I had up to 15 minutes for this – but I don’t think I took the whole 15 minutes. It didn’t feel like 15 minutes – but I wasn’t the time keeper.

When I said I was ready, the committee (there were six people on the committee) began to ask me open and honest questions. No judging, no fixing – just questions designed to help me get at the heart of my question. There was a lot of silence. The silence was helpful. The questions were helpful.

Because there was no judgement, because no one was making any suggestions about what I should or shouldn’t do, I felt very safe and comfortable – it was easy to be open and honest with myself. Things were becoming clear. Oh – yeah – well – I guess that’s in the name, isn’t it? Clearness committee!

When the questioning was done (and this was a long time – we were cautioned that we would feel like we were done, but at that point to keep going because then we would go deeper – and we did) – it was time for mirroring. The mirroring was truly astounding.

The committee members had been taking notes the whole time. When the questioning was done, they had an opportunity to tell me what they’d noticed – when you said this, your voice was louder – when you said that, you put your hands in the air. You said this thing three times. You looked down when you said that thing. Still no judgements – no assuming what I was feeling – no “you were sad,” or “you were happy,” just – “you were weepy” or “you laughed.”  That was SO helpful. I was able to see myself in a way that I normally am unable to.

Finally, we had affirmations – the committee’s affirmations, and then mine. We ended as I chose (I chose to offer a prayer), they gave me their notes, and then I left first, and then they left.

There is double-confidentiality. I know that the committee members will not bring this up among themselves even, or with me – although, as I was the focus person, I may initiate a conversation about it with them if I wish. So it remains a very safe space. The helpfulness of that cannot be overstated. For my current issue, I wouldn’t mind talking about it, but I can see where it could be so helpful to be able to discern certain issues without the specter of having to hear about it again.

The whole thing took two hours. That’s a good commitment for a bunch of folks to get together and help one person figure something out. But oh so helpful. I’m grateful to my committee members. I’m grateful for the process.

The thing about real discernment is that it takes time and work. It’s so helpful to have trusted people who will walk with us in the process. And now I have some clarity! It really works.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.


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