by the Subcommittee on Ministry & Leadings of Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Committee on Ministry & Oversight

When should I submit my leading to the discernment and care of the Meeting?

Friends may consult informally with others in the Meeting at any time. It is usually appropriate to explore a relationship of greater accountability to the Meeting when one or more of the following conditions are present: 

  • When a concern has begun to settle into a clear leading to action that may involve spiritual, physical, and/or financial burdens or risks
  • When others in the Meeting offer encouragement to test the concern in a more formal way
  • When the concern seems to have ripened to the point that it calls for fuller support and accountability
  • When Friends who are already engaged in public ministry seek discernment in order to stay more faithful to their ministry
  • When Friends face special challenges or personal attacks as they follow their leadings
  • When Friends find, as they pursue their concerns, that others in the Meeting have come to regard their work as a “public ministry” on behalf of the Religious Society of Friends
  • When the Meeting’s endorsement or financial support is a useful next step in the full expression of the Friends’ ministry.5
  • What steps should I take to submit my leading to the Meeting?

The first step in submitting a leading to the discernment of the Monthly Meeting is usually to write a letter to the Committee on Ministry and Counsel. (In some Meetings, the committee may be differently named — e.g. “Ministry and Oversight” or “Worship and Ministry.”) The letter may be brief (one or two pages), giving a short history of the Friend’s concern or leading and describing the kind of help that is requested.

How should the Meeting respond to such a request?

The usual first step in responding to such a request is for Ministry and Counsel to appoint a Clearness Committee to work with the requesting Friend.

The person bringing forward the request may suggest names of possible members for the Clearness Committee. The Committee on Ministry and Counsel may give weight to these suggestions, but should exercise its own discernment regarding the best composition of the committee for the purpose. A Clearness Committee usually consists of at least three, and usually no more than five persons from the Meeting. Friends from another Monthly Meeting who know the Friend with a leading and/or who have experience with the concern that animates the leading may also be considered for membership in the Clearness Committee.

In some cases, the Committee on Ministry and Counsel may feel clear to bring a recommendation supporting a Friend’s request directly to the Meeting for Business without a further clearness process. This is most likely to be appropriate when the work is well known to the Meeting or where it has been tested through other trusted Meeting channels, such as a small group within the meeting.7

What are the responsibilities of the Clearness Committee?

The Clearness Committee serves two main purposes: to assist the individual in gaining clearness regarding the leading, and to guide the Meeting in discerning its appropriate role in support of the leading. The first step is to assist the individual to come to a deeper clarity about the leading and whether way is open for responding to the leading. As the Clearness Committee reaches greater clarity about the leading itself, it may then explore the appropriate role (if any) for the Meeting in supporting the leading.

Below are suggestions of issues to reflect on in seeking clearness: 

  • What is the nature of the call? How has the person come to feel that she or he is being led to this service? How does this leading fit into his or her personal and spiritual life?
  • In what respects does the person already feel clear? What remains unclear?
  • What are the potential benefits of the proposed ministry—to the person’s spiritual development, to the wider community, to the life of the Meeting?
  • How ready is the person to undertake the ministry? Does it fit into other obligations such as family, work, or community? Does the person have the skills and resources to carry out this call? What steps might be taken to become better prepared? What are the risks—and how will they be borne?
  • Is the person in a financial position to support him- or herself while carrying out this ministry? Is he or she prepared to go forward even if the level of funds available may require living on significantly reduced means?
  • Is it appropriate to ask others to join in this ministry by providing spiritual, practical, or financial support? Sometimes there may be clearness that the ministry is something the individual is called to bear alone. In exploring whether there is a role for the Meeting, is the person prepared to engage prayerfully with others without resentment and disruption of his or her relationship to the Meeting community?9

The Friend seeking clearness and the committee may conclude that there is no call to service, or that this is not the right time to act on the call. In such a case, the Friend may continue to season the sense of leading, and may at some future time again request clearness. If there is clearness for the individual to go forward, the Clearness Committee seeks to discern unity regarding what support from the Meeting might be appropriate.

On some occasions, the Clearness Committee may not reach unity regarding the rightness of proceeding with the leading at this time. This outcome should not be regarded as a failure, but as an occasion for further searching and growth in the Spirit by the individual, the Meeting, or both. A further time of prayerfulness and humility may bring forward ministry that is deepened and honed in ways that would not have been possible, had the Friend pressed forward with his or her earlier understanding.

At the conclusion of the clearness process, the Clearness Committee prepares a succinct written report, which is then delivered to Committee on Ministry and Counsel.

What forms of support should the Clearness Committee consider?

If a sense of unity and clarity is reached as to the rightness of the leading, the Clearness Committee moves on to discern whether support from the Meeting may be called for—and if so, what form that support might take. There are many possibilities, including (but not limited to) the following: 

  • It may be found that the Friend is clear to move forward and that no further involvement of the Meeting is needed or desired beyond the Meeting being informed of the progress of the ministry and holding the Friend in love and prayer.
  • The Meeting may minute its readiness to hold in its care the Friend’s faithfulness to the leading.
  • The Meeting may appoint a Spiritual Accountability Group (traditionally named an “Oversight Committee”) to care for the Friend’s faithfulness. (See below, ##10-14.)
  • The Meeting may provide a letter or “Minute of Service” affirming the clarity of the Friend’s call.
  • The Meeting may provide financial or practical support.
  • In the case of traveling ministry, the Meeting may provide companions for travel.
  • The Meeting may provide affirmation or endorsement of the Friend’s call to another Friends’ organization.
  • The Meeting may affirm that it is in unity with the ministry and is itself under the weight of the concern.
  • The Clearness Committee may discern that another form of support by the Meeting is appropriate.

The Clearness Committee should consider which (if any) of these options seems in good order. When the clearness process is completed, a written report of this process should be given to the Committee on Ministry and Counsel, and should contain any recommendations that the Clearness Committee wishes to forward to the Committee on Ministry and Counsel.

What is the responsibility of the Committee on Ministry and Counsel?

Ministry and Counsel receives the written report of the Clearness Committee and seasons it with care, consulting as necessary with the Friend and members of the Clearness Committee. If it unites with recommendations contained within the report, the Committee on Ministry and Counsel minutes this unity. When the written report recommends support by the Meeting for the Friends’ ministry and the Committee on Ministry and Counsel unites with this recommendation, it brings the recommendation to Meeting for Business for approval. The recommendation will normally include provision for a relationship between the Friend and a Spiritual Accountability Group (see below, #10).

If the Ministry and Counsel does not unite with the recommendations contained in the report of the Clearness Committee, it may refer the matter back to the Clearness Committee for further discernment and seasoning. Alternatively, it may advise the Friend who has brought the concern that further time and reflection may be helpful. As was noted above (#6), this outcome should not necessarily be construed as a failure.

From the pamphlet Faithfulness in Action: Supporting Leadings in Pacific Yearly Meeting.