Two Committed People
Find Enrichment in the Clearness Committee Process"
by Ted Goertzel
reprinted from Pastoral Care
Newsletter, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of
Friends, Vol 13, No 3 March 2006, p. 3.
My fiancée, Linda, and I were apprehensive when we heard that we would have to face a "clearness committee" before we could be married in the Medford (NJ) Friends Meeting. I am a member of the Meeting and I knew about clearness committees from reading Faith and Practice. I also understood how Quakers have quaint and stuffy names for processes that are actually quite friendly and informal. Linda's background is in Protestant churches where couples are counseled by a Minister. Facing a committee sounded a bit like applying for a security clearance for a government job or fellowship.
We had been living together for several years and owned our home jointly. We had not legally married because of the substantial tax penalty for two mature adults in our situation, but we had made a strong commitment to each other. Now Linda was retiring, so the penalty would be less and we felt we could afford the luxury of a formal marriage. Two friends had just reached a similar decision after a living together for a "trial period" of twenty-five years. They chose to be married in a court house and told their friends about it only after the ceremony.
But we wanted more than that. We wanted a wedding ceremony with friends and family. The Medford Friends Meeting is my community, it's where I belong and I felt a ceremony there would be meaningful. Linda did not belong to a church, so there was no conflict about where we should go. I explained the process, as outlined in Faith and Practice, and she agreed that I should send a letter to get things started.
I thought the clearness committee visit would go smoothly, and it did. The two couples and one man who came to our home were people whom I had met, some of whom I knew well. We were surprised that they began by telling us about their own experiences and their relationship to the Society of Friends. This broke the ice and helped us, and especially Linda as a newcomer, to feel welcomed. The committee wanted to be certain that there was more to our decision than tax and insurance considerations. They made sure that Linda understood the role of the Meeting and was comfortable with it and they took the opportunity to encourage her to think about attending more often.
The committee's care in assuring that we understood how a Quaker wedding is conducted helped to make the wedding itself a great success. Many members of Linda's family traveled long distances to be there and to attend a Friends meeting for the first time. Discussing these things with the committee helped us to prepare them for the experience. They became very much participants in the event, not just spectators.
Looking back on the experience, I feel that the committee's carefulness and the whole Quaker process helped me to think through the spiritual implications of what we were doing. It helped to make the wedding a more enriching and fulfilling experience for both of us.
Goertzel is Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University of Camden. He
was raised in the Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan, Friends Meetings and
currently a member of the Medford Meeting. He also has experience as a
of a clearness committee