Extra Resources: Y2 Sustaining Your Spirituality

A Clearness Committee

A Clearness Committee is a quaker approach to discernment. Spirituality can also be nurtured in a corporate context as well as an individual one and sometimes exploring together can be a more useful approach. There are limitations to this as Palmer notes, "by exposing our problems to others, we run the risk of being invaded and overwhelmed by their assumptions, judgments and advice - a common and alienating experience" (1999:43). A Clearness Committee is a communal approach to discernment that has been around for over three hundred years. The Committee has a basic premise, which is that we all have an inner teacher or voice of truth, which can help us resolve our problems. If we respect this concept then a Clearness Committee can help us access our inner teacher and find the answers we are looking for. The Clearness Committee is confidential, members will not talk about it afterwards between themselves, nor with the person who convened the committee unless asked. The process is as follows:

  1. The person seeking clarity (focus person) chooses five or six people they trust who are as diverse as possible.
  2. The focus person writes up the issue in three sections:
  • statement of the problem
  • recounting of relevant background factors
  • any hunches about what’s on the horizon in relation to the problem
  • The committee meets for two to three hours (subsequent meetings may be necessary). Someone is appointed to take notes, which are given to the focus person at the end of the session. Another person is appointed as a facilitator and they make sure that rules are followed.
  • The meeting begins with a time of centering silence with the focus person asked to break the silence by giving a brief summary of the issue. Committee members are bound by one simple rule: they may only speak to ask honest, open questions of the focus person, not offer advice, interpretation or analysis.
  • Honest, open questions are those where the questioner couldn’t anticipate the answer such as, “Have you ever felt like this before?” They should be questions that help the focus person rather than satisfying curiosity and should be short and to the point. Questions about feelings as well as facts can be beneficial. Intuitive questions can work such as “What colour is your current job and what colour is the one you have been offered?”
  • The focus person will usually respond to the questions as they are asked and this leads to more and deeper questions. Answers should be full but not long. The focus person always has a right not to answer a question.
  • The Committee is not a cross-examination and questions should be asked in a relaxed and gentle manner. Silence is fine and can mean new insights are emerging.
  • The Committee should remain attentive to the focus person throughout the proceedings, this means avoiding jokes to break tension, no chitchat etc. The focus person should be surrounded by quiet, loving space.
  • The Committee should run for the full time allowed. Twenty minutes or so before the end the facilitator should ask the focus person if they want to suspend the questions only rule and ask committee members to reflect back what they have heard. The focus person can respond to what has been said and more questions may be asked. In the last five minutes the facilitator should invite members to affirm and celebrate the focus person and their strengths.
  • The Committee is not designed to fix the focus person so should feel no sense of failure if the person does not have their problem “solved”. A good process continues in the focus person long after the formal meeting is needed.
  • As Palmer writes, "If the spiritual discipline behind the Clearness Committee is understood and practiced, the process can become a way to renew community in our individualistic times, a way to free people from their isolation without threatening their integrity, a way to counteract the excesses of technique in caring, a way to create space for the spirit to move among us with healing and with power" (1999:48).

    Parker J Palmer (1999). The Courage to Teach: A Guide for Reflection and Renewal. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, p43-8.

    Using the Examen

    The questions below provide a framework for using the Examen to reflect on vocation in the context of exploring God’s will and calling for your life:

    • Where / when I most feel / find consolation / alive / life / recharged / solace?
    • Where / when do I find desolation / dead / death / draining / despair?
    • For what moment today do I feel most / least grateful?
    • When did I give the most / least love today?
    • When was I happiest / saddest?
    • What / where was today’s high / low point?
    • When did I most / least feel a sense of belonging / contributing?
    • Where / when did you find the most / least satisfaction / fulfilment?
    • What did I most feel good / bad about today?
    • What do I wish I did not have to do ever again / or very little of?
    • What do I most / least look forward to?
    • What ideas / type of work / situation do I find you spend your time thinking about/ putting energy into even when I don’t have to?
    • What has God blessed me in the past?
    • What do I want people to be/ do/ discover?
    • What would I most like to achieve? When do I feel most at ease / dis-ease?
    • What do I feel will take life from me / give life to me in the future?
    • Which part of Gods salvation package do I want others to find and experience?
    • What is God like and what does he want me and the world to be like?
    • What do I feel passionate about?
    • If I could only do one type of ministry before you die what would it be?
    • Who are my heroes? Why?
    • What is important to you? What do you value?

    Patterns of Thinking in Ministry

    Applying the idea of fruitfulness to our thinking can be useful. We waste so much energy on thinking negatively on speculating about things that may never happen, ascribing motives to people that were not there… Most of us will have a particular form of negative thinking that we fall into. Spending some time trying to deal with this sort of baggage can be beneficial

    • Do you fall prey to these or other negative messages?
    • What is it that you should be thinking?
    • What are fruitful thoughts for you?

    ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things’ Phil 4:8.

    There is a helpful section in Brain’s book on rational and irrational patterns of thinking in ministry:

    I am only a worthy person if I do what others expect of me
    My self worth is not dependent on the acceptance of others. I am therefore free to choose my own actions.

    My happiness is dependent on others doing what pleases me, or giving me the respect I crave
    My happiness is determined by my own actions and attitudes and not by others.

    Because others expect me to be perfect, I must continue at all costs to live up to their expectations
    I am only human and therefore am imperfect. It is unreasonable for others to expect me to so distort my life as to live up to their expectations.

    I can be extremely happy without doing anything to achieve it
    Happiness is not automatic. It is achieved by hard work, dedication to God’s purposes and grace to accept failure as a means of growth.

    Peter Brain (2004). Going the Distance. Kingsford: Matthias Media, p253

    Exploring Sabbath
    Paul & Sally Nash

    As part of exploring the idea of a rhythm and rule of life we have found Sabbath to be a core concept, it is one of our shelters that we try and make sure we use on a weekly basis. There are different ways of looking at Sabbath. Nunally writes “In Jewish thought this is Yahweh’s time: The seventh day is to Yahweh, and one keeps it holy not by doing things for God, or even for one’s fellow human beings. One keeps it holy by doing nothing” (2003:118-9).

    This may not be a realistic goal for many of us but having a Sabbath mentality, where “The ‘seventh day’ is now pieces of days when we do nothing, see no one, go nowhere. Right now we need to find this time - to carve it out in bits and pieces from our daily lives and work. We need to look once again at how and where we spend our time” (Nunally 2003:118-9). Doing this can be helpful as Cameron suggests “When we structure spiritual interludes into our day, we are giving spiritual forces the chance to recreate us, to make us over in a better mold. We open ourselves to receive guidance and to experience contact with the divine” (in Whitcomb 2002:97).

    However, a Jewish Sabbath also contains elements of hospitality, and a communal liturgy. Another way of looking at Sabbath is as “a call to contemplate your first love (the first four commandments); then it is a call to contemplate how best to manifest that love toward our neighbour (the final six commands” (Groff 1993:66). Groff concludes that “the goal of Sabbath time is to make us prayerful, playful and passionate in all spheres of life” (Groff 1993:79).


    Ellen J Nunnally (2003). Deep Peace. Cambridge MA: Cowley.
    Holly W Whitcomb (2002). Practicing your Path. Philadelphia: Innisfree Press.
    Groff, Kent Ira (1993). Active Spirituality. New York: Alban Institute.




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    Suggestions for further reading:

    Adair, John (2002). How to find your Vocation. Norwich: Canterbury Press.
    Bennett, David W (1993). Metaphors of Ministry. Carlisle: Paternoster Press.
    Borgman, Dean (1997). When Kumbaya is not enough. Peabody: Hendrickson.
    Brain, Peter (2004). Going the Distance. Kingsford: Matthias Media.
    Bunting, Ian (1993) Models of Ministry. Bramcote: Grove Books, P54.
    Croft, Steven (1999). Ministry in Three Dimensions. London: Darton, Longman and Todd.
    Coupland, Simon (2002) Success a Biblical Exploration. Cambridge: Grove Books, S31.
    Dean, Kenda Creasy and Foster, Ron (1998). The Godbearing Life. Nashville: Upper Room Books.
    Dwinell, Michael (1993) Being Priest to One Another. Ligouri: Triumph Books.
    Eanes, Beverley E et al eds (2001). What Brings You Life? Mahwah: Paulist Press.
    Edmondson, Chris (2002). Fit to Lead. London: Darton, Longman and Todd.
    Fischer, Kathleen (1983). The Inner Rainbow. New York: Paulist Press.
    Ford, Michael ed (2003). Eternal Seasons. London: DLT.
    Groff, Kent Ira (1993). Active Spirituality. New York: Alban Institute.
    Hebblethwaite, Margaret (1999). Way of St Ignatius – Finding God in all things. London: Fount.
    Helm, Nick and Allin, Philip eds (2002). Finding Support in Ministry. Cambridge: Grove, P90.
    Ingram, Gina and Harris, Jean (2001). Delivering Good Youth Work. Lyme Regis: Russell House.
    Leckey, Dolores R (1999). 7 Essentials for the Spiritual Journey. New York: Crossroad.
    Linn, Dennis et al (1995). Sleeping with Bread. Mahwah: Paulist Press.
    MacDonald, Gordon (1986). Restoring Your Spiritual Passion. Crowborough: Highland.
    MacDonald, Gordon (1987). Ordering Your Private World. Crowborough: Highland.
    Merton, Thomas (1972). Seeds of Contemplation. Wheathampstead: Anthony Clarke Books.
    Monbourquette, John (2003) How to Discover your Personal Mission. London: Darton, Longman and Todd.
    Nash, Sally (2005) "Youth Ministerial Formation - Three Biblical Metaphors" paper presented at International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry London Conference January 2005. http://iasym.org/conf2005london/papers/nash.htm.
    Nelson, William R (1988). Ministry Formation for Effective Leadership. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
    Nelson-Jones, Richard (1996). Relating Skills. London: Continuum.
    Nouwen, Henri (1996). Bread for the Journey. London: Darton, Longman and Todd.
    Nouwen, Henri (1971) Creative Ministry. New York: Image.
    Nunnally, J Ellen (2003). Deep Peace. Cambridge MA: Cowley.
    O'Leary, Daniel J (1997) New Hearts, New Models. Dublin: Columba Press.
    Peterson, Eugene (1993a). The Contemplative Pastor: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
    Peterson, Eugene (1993b). Working the Angles. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
    Powell, John (1984). The Christian Vision- the truth that sets us free. Allen, Texas: Argus Communication.
    Rediger, G Lloyd (2000). Fit to be a Pastor. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
    Rupp, Joyce (1995). "Rediscovering God in the Midst of Our Work" in Robert J Wicks ed Handbook of Spirituality for Ministers. Mahwah: Paulist Press.
    Sperry, Len (2000) Ministry and Community. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press.
    Taylor, Daniel (1996). The Healing Power of Stories. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.
    Trueblood, Roy W and Jackie B (1999). Partners in Ministry. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
    Trull, Joe E, Carter, James E (2004). Ministerial Ethics. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
    Wagenhofer, John P (1995). "Spiritual Leadership: A Matrix for Ministerial Education" in Robert J Wicks ed Handbook of Spirituality for Ministers. Mahwah: Paulist Press.
    Whitcomb, Holly W (2002) Practicing your Path. Philadelphia: Innisfree Press

    Author: Sally Nash

    Sally has worked with Youth for Christ for over 20 years in training and supporting youth workers, and is now Director of the Midlands Centre for Youth Ministry based at St John's Nottingham. She enjoys walking and good food (often combined), plays golf and supports Spurs.

    Books by Sally Nash

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