A Celo Friends Meeting Primer

On Queries

By Debra Rice

Once a month a new question for reflection appears on the chalkboard at the door to our worship space. It is also read by the clerk at the beginning of that meeting for worship. While this practice of offering a question as a potential guide for reflection is found in many spiritual traditions, it does seem like a very “Quaker” thing to do. Quakers have used queries to guide personal experience of silence, to challenge life’s choices, and even, to greet one another. But what gift is there in continuing this long tradition?

For me, that gift reflects my experience with maps. Sometimes when I travel, one of the first things I grab is a map. Yes, a real hands-on map. Perhaps my journey will be long or to a new place, and I am feeling just a bit timid. Having a map with all the possible roads and land features can ease my fear. I can “see” the wider geography and get my bearings when I feel lost. That is often my experience when working with queries.  In the wonderful expanse of mystery, a query can give me a “landmark” from which to explore. Maps can also challenge me to make unplanned stops or detours on my journey. In those unexpected visits, my life can be made so much richer and deeper. Queries do that too.

There are also times when my travels into the deep gift of Light do not need a map, when I do not seem to need a query from which to launch my journey. But even in those times, queries can bring a different, deep gift. That is the profound gift of vulnerability within a community.

Author Walter Brueggemann, writing in An Other Kingdom, expresses this well.

“The practice of listening brings people together. It reminds us that we are not alone. When people gather, the right questions bring the sacred into the room—questions of connections, not opinions. If you bring questions of depth, questions that are personal, the experience of being together shifts. When we ask questions that are an invitation to hear each other, something is created. The Quakers understand this…. The question itself has force, spiritual force. It creates a clearing. It enables people to hold open the space for listening and depth. A good question always initiates this. Good questions can be considered as sacraments of silence.”

I am grateful for this tradition of queries. When I am led to let a query guide me, my journey is always richer.

On Clearness Committees

Catherine Peck

In most spiritual traditions, a person is appointed by a governing body to lead individual congregations. The rabbi, imam, pastor, priest, pandit, or lama not only oversees rituals; he or she is available to help congregants when personal matters arise. A couple seeking to marry, a person wanting to join the congregation, members who are in conflict, or one struggling with spiritual questions can call on the leader for help.

The Society of Friends was founded on the understanding that the wisdom of God cannot reside in one individual. Each one of us has the resources within to discover the will of God for ourselves. That does not mean, however, that we should work out our spiritual issues alone. Early Friends described the importance of testing any leading not only by praying for guidance, but by seeking the wisdom of the community and the wisdom of scripture (which in modern times might include the writings of Friends and other spiritual seekers as well as the Bible.) These were called the three legs of a firm seat.

And so when members or attenders of a Quaker meeting seek guidance, a clearness committee forms to help them hold their issue in the Light and discern the truth that will lead to spiritual clarity. A clearness committee never tries to provide foregone answers to spiritual questions. No one will ever say, “I believe you have reached clearness.” Rather, Friends will ask, “Do you feel that you have reached clearness?” Friends believe that the answers lie within the questioner, and the Light will reveal them. 

In Celo Friends Meeting, the clearness process begins when a member or attender asks the Ministry and Care committee for help. Ministry and Care will identify two or more Friends to serve on a clearness committee and will ask one of those members to act as convener. The convener might ask the “focus person” for more details, possibly in writing, and he or she might confer with other committee members to make up a list of questions that will help the clearness process. Then the convener will set a time and place for a meeting. After the meeting, it is up to the friend(s) seeking guidance to decide whether to meet again.

Most commonly, clearness committees are formed when a person feels led to join the Society of Friends or when a couple feels led to be married under the care of the meeting. In fact, the meeting considers clearness to be necessary in those two instances. Celo Friends Meeting will also form a clearness committee for those seeking guidance around marriage even if they do not plan to be married under the care of the meeting. Attenders who have joined the Society of Friends at another meeting and want to transfer their membership to CFM don’t need to go through the clearness process, but the meeting will provide a clearness committee if it is requested.

Clearness committees have also been formed for people feeling led to take radical action based on their religious beliefs or their political and social beliefs, as well as for couples struggling in their marriages or with a decision on whether to have children. Friends have sought clearness when they are in conflict with someone in or outside the meeting; when they are contemplating a job change; are feeling the need to move away; or need to take steps to live more simply. Difficult decisions and seemingly insoluble problems can be resolved when held in the Light and held by the community.

Ministry and Care holds all requests for clearness in confidence, and clearness committee members agree to keep absolute confidence as well. Requests for membership in the Society of Friends and CFM will be reported to the Meeting for Business once the clearness process is complete. Likewise, requests for marriage under the care of the meeting will be reported once the couple has reached clearness. Meeting members who request meeting approval for a traveling ministry will report to the Meeting for Business that they have reached clearness after a clearness committee has met. No other clearness committees are reported on or discussed with the wider meeting or the wider community.

Clearness committees serve the meeting by helping individuals discern the truth of their spiritual leadings and by bringing problems that are being held in darkness into the Light. As members and attenders grow more confident in their spiritual lives within the community, so the meeting grows to the benefit of all.  For guidance on whether a clearness committee can help you on your journey, contact any member of Ministry and Care.  

For more information, a wonderful video on the subject of clearness committees is available at https://quakerspeak.com/quaker-clearness-committee/

Becoming a Member of CFM

Gib Barrus, Co-Clerk

Membership in Celo Friends Meeting is sometimes misunderstood.  Friends believe it is important that each person choose their own spiritual path without being pressured, so we probably don’t talk about membership frequently enough. 

Those of us who gather on First Day Morning are either guests, members, or attenders.  In a gathered meeting, we each have the same responsibilities—to mind the Light, attend to the messages that are shared, and discern whether a message that arises within us should be shared aloud with the group.

Celo Meeting has always been a welcoming place for people of many spiritual paths.  It is important to us that it remain so.  Some people have attended Celo Friends Meeting for years and never felt led to join the Meeting.  Many of these attenders contribute greatly to the life of the Meeting. Others have decided that Celo is their spiritual home and ask for a Clearness Committee to explore membership.  There is no right or wrong way to be a part of the Meeting, but there are different ways.  If you feel like Celo Friends Meeting is your spiritual home and you would like to formally join the Meeting, feel free to discuss this with a Clerk or a member of the Ministry & Care Committee.

Membership in the Society of Friends (being a Quaker) is always through membership in a specific meeting.  There is no at-large membership.  Every Friend has a home meeting.  When we move to a new area and start participating in a new Meeting, we can ask to have our membership transferred.

Historically Friends have recognized birthright membership.  This means that children of members of the Meeting are automatically enrolled as members.  At Celo we have decided that as children grow up, they need to make their own decision about their spiritual path.  When a child of the meeting becomes an adult, they may choose to meet with a Clearness Committee and seek their own clearness for membership.

If you are an attender at our Meeting and feel like Celo Friends is your spiritual home, please consider joining the Meeting.