There are many reasons to convene a Clearness Committee. Some of the most commonly referenced Committees for Clearness pertain to Membership and Marriage. That being said, it is also common for an individual to ask for Friends to help them find clarity around a personal life decision, a challenge or a leading.
Friends in the meeting may request help in making an important life decision: to marry or divorce, to bear a child, change jobs or career, return to school or leave school, to undertake a witness or to carry out a concern.
This may be done by consulting informally with a few trusted Friends; by contacting a specific committee of the meeting (e.g.: Overseers, Worship and Ministry, Peace & Social Concerns); or by asking the meeting to appoint a clearness committee. The process of arriving at clarity is essentially a matter between the individual and God. The meeting's role is to provide support and assistance to the person seeking the leading of the Spirit.
Clearness for Membership is slightly more complicated because it might be said that no one (and/or everyone) can join Quakers, in the large. Community is a core testimony, and therefore the objective is for the local Meeting to provide spiritual support. Our meditation is a corporate worship. As Quakers, concerns and witness is generally brought up through our Quaker structure, which is unlike most other formal religions. The more common or familiar is a hierarchical structure, where decisions are made and then handed down (possibly through several layers) and ultimately to the congregation for implementation. In our process, things percolate up the Quaker structure. This is an unusual dynamic that requires much work at the "local" level.
Clearness for membership seeks Light on two questions:
Does the Focus person feel “Quaker” describes their current Spiritual spot better than something else. Is the Quaker tent big enough to hold their BELIEFS or do they find it limiting? This question is one of relationship with God.
Does the Focus person understand the Quaker PROCESS and feel comfortable in our Quaker community?
Not understanding our process or being able to abide by it can cause a lot of pain and disharmony, so this is important for the protection of our community. This question is one of relationship with God made flesh in our community. Thus, it is a question for everyone in the committee – as representatives of MM, not just the focus person.
If Clearness for Membership is imagined to be either a Gate-Keeping process that judges ones beliefs to be/not be suitably “Quaker” or “black-balls” membership in an exclusive club, then the scene is set-up for a pass/fail grade with membership being the “pass”. This is a real misunderstanding of a process where success is finding clarity and there is no failure – if one is not yet clear, work/learn/reflect/experience and re-convene. If one’s beliefs are in harmony with Quakers, but either one doesn’t have the time to devote to being an active member of the Community or there is no community near you or with which you feel in harmony, there is always the “Wider Quaker Fellowship” as an identifiable Quaker connection, where one can “walk with Quakers”.
Some additional reading:
Parker Palmer: A Communal Approach to Discernment (document download)
Center for Courage and Renewal (website, incl videos)
FGC : Clearness Committees and Their Use in Personal Discernment
New England Yearly Meeting's Membership
Videos of Clearness Committee
Parker Palmer's Clearness Committee
Quaker Speak - How to Have a Quaker Clearness Committee