Diane Randall is Executive Secretary of Friends Committee on National Legislation, where she has served since 2011. She is a member of Hartford Monthly Meeting (New England Yearly Meeting).
What faith did you grow up in?
Diane: I grew up as a Lutheran in Omaha, Nebraska, and my family attended what was then the Division of the Lutheran Church of America, predecessor to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and we were pretty faithful. I grew up going to church every Sunday, going to Sunday school. I was confirmed in the church, and involved in the Luther League — the “Young Friends program” of the Lutheran Churches-active in the church camp program. Then when I was in college and as young adult, probably in my 20s, I started searching for different churches. My family had left that particular home church, and that caused me to start looking around. I tried a lot of different faith places until I moved to Connecticut and started attending Hartford Monthly Meeting. I tell people it was the Peace Testimony that attracted me to the Meeting, but it was the matriarchs that drew me in. And in truth, it was really the spiritual formation of the Religious Society of Friends that called me.
What is important to you now about Quakerism?
Diane: I think it’s the notion of the lived faith, the lived Gospel, the idea that there is an immediacy of God in our lives, God in my life, that I can have a sensibility about. That is informed by a community of people with whom I worship, informed by the faith tradition of the Religious Society of Friends. The traditions of the Religious Society of Friends that speak to me, of course, are the Testimonies. They offer us a pretty broad understanding of how to operate in the world without setting rigid structures for what we must do, and I find that appealing. I find worship to be an incredibly hopeful part of my week. The idea of being with other people who are together, listening for God, is kind of miraculous to me. Particularly as I see the secularization of the world, it becomes perhaps even more precious. I think that there’s a way of being, I suppose for most people of faith, there are both the traditions that we have in some cases grown up with and adhere to, but also the choices we make of who we want to be with and be around. Meetings have a social dynamic as well as a spiritual dynamic which can be really important and informative, and that happened for us. When I started attending meeting I was a young mother. It was a place for us to have a community of support as a family, and it was the thing that we all did together as a family every week. So that became really important, because it was a consolidating element for us. I think the fact that there is a continuing practice of being a Friend, and a continuing revelation of what it means to be a Friend-both for me personally, and for the Religious Society-that isn’t driven by a council of elders, but is fomented and fermented by people around the country. It’s a challenge to us to steep ourselves in practice and in worship. You don’t have to be a Quaker head, or even a weighty elder, to do that. It’s there for everyone.
What feeds your spiritual life (examples: going to meeting, meditation, connecting with nature, music, etc)?
Diane: Definitely time in worship. There was a time when I started going to Meeting in Hartford where it was really hard to leave that Meeting. Some of it was because family was there, and I had obligations teaching or doing something else, so it just felt like I couldn’t go visit another Meeting. Now I get to visit a lot of Meetings, and I get to participate in worship with a lot of Meetings and churches, and it’s really a rich experience-one of the delights for me in this job has been that I have found community in almost everywhere I travel. I’d say what feeds my soul is definitely having some time in nature. I find that spiritual reading, and other kinds of literature, poetry, feed me in lots of ways. The times I’ve been in small spiritual support groups – that includes both worship-sharing and silent worship – has been enriching for me, and continue to be. And time with family is a kind of renewal time for me as well. Time with friends is important. So, all those things.
Do you attend a worship service on a regular basis? What is powerful for you about that worship?
Diane: My membership is still in Hartford. My husband and I attend Langley Hill Friends Meeting, which is in Northern Virginia, most regularly. We haven’t transferred our membership there, but I like the physical space, and it’s a meeting that has good vocal ministry and good silent ministry. I’m finding it difficult to serve on committees and do that kind of work that is really important for monthly meetings. I think that monthly meetings really are both the seedbed of how we grow, and the flourishing garden of what makes our community strong, and so I think it’s really important to be present in Meeting and to participate. Participating for most of us has to be on committees, and because of the job, that’s hard.
What struggles do you have with being faithful, generally? Where do you find renewal?
Diane: Well, that starts to get into the realm of being the Head of a Quaker organization, and marrying what’s a faith practice and what’s a daily piece of work. In terms of being faithful, I think just creating the time for God, creating a time to both listen and pray. That’s been something that I’ve found increasingly important, because this work requires a level of stamina that I’m not sure that I thought about before I took the job. Now that I’ve been doing it almost five years I see that there’s a certain level of physical stamina, but there’s definitely a spiritual stamina that’s necessary, too.
When you were 15, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Diane: Oh, a teacher-and I was a teacher. I taught English for four years in public high school outside of Omaha, in Millard Public Schools. I left there to go work for the Nuclear Freeze Campaign-wanting to take a leave of absence, but just assuming I would go back to teaching-and then went from one kind of nonprofit to another. But I really felt a calling to teaching. My mother was a teacher, and we talked a lot about teaching and learning, we talked about motivation and what makes people want to learn.
Where did you attend college? What was your major in college?
Diane: I went to the University of Nebraska at Omaha and I studied teaching. I actually wanted to be a health teacher, so I studied health and English.
If you did graduate work, what degree(s) did you pursue and what were their topics?
Diane: I did a little graduate school, but never finished. I don’t have a lot of regrets, but that’s one. I really wish that I would have done that. And there was a time I looked at divinity school. I looked at both Harvard Divinity School and Yale Divinity School when I got out to Connecticut, and almost went through the process of applying, and then it just felt like, “Well, what would I do with this degree?” In retrospect I think, “Oh, well of course I probably would have done what I’m doing right now.”
How would you describe your career path?
Diane: I think the idea of teaching is a theme. Even as I’ve gone from teaching to working in nonprofits- and I guess I’ve really gone from teaching to running nonprofits-I also think about the teaching element of engaging people. I think that has applied in the work that I’ve done leading organizations, it’s not just, “Oh, I’m in charge and I make all the decisions,” but “All right, I’m willing to put myself in this place where I will help manage and organize and provide a voice and a front for it.”
Have you had trying times in your work (struggling to find work or discern what career path you should be on?), and how did you work your way through those?
Diane: I’ve never felt like I couldn’t find work. I’d been a waitress at one point when I was in high school, so I felt like, “Well, there are things I can do. I can always go wait tables. I can do something.” So I’ve never had that sense of, “Oh my God, how will I live?” I’ve also had family and others who would be able to support me. So that hasn’t been a struggle. There are times now when I look back and wonder, “What if I’d stayed in teaching?” I’m pretty sure I would have been a principal. I might have had another kind of administrative job, but I think I’m definitely drawn toward leadership positions.
How would you describe your current position?
Diane: My current position as Executive Secretary of FCNL is to head up a staff of 43 people who work primarily lobbying Congress to influence them on legislative priorities that are set by Quakers around the country. My job is a mixture of administrative work, development work, fundraising work, and being a public face for the organization. This is an organization that has a lot of expertise and people who represent FCNL in lots of different ways, so I would say I’m probably the most visible face to the Quaker community, and to some degree in Washington, D.C. I see my role as being the person who clearly has responsibility to our governing body. And, different people staff committees, but I’m the “buck stops here” person.
How did you come to apply for this job?
Diane: When Joe Volk, my predecessor, was retiring, a friend of mine who was on the committee said, “You should really look at this job. You could be good at it,” because I’d done advocacy work. I kind of dismissed it, really, because I was in Connecticut at the time. Then somebody else from my own meeting said, “Oh, Diane, you should consider this, they’re really trying to build the pool.” I thought about it a little more, and then Ernie Buscemi, had agreed to serve on the search committee, called me. She didn’t know me, but she said in a very compelling way “We hope you’ll really give this some consideration, some prayerful thought, and consider whether you want to apply.” I think it was that call, really. It was like being asked, somebody wants you-and it wasn’t saying “Oh, this job is for you,” it was saying, “We want you to consider whether this is the job for you, and we want you to consider putting your application forward.” I liked that process.
When I did a phone interview, and then when I went for the in-person interview, it felt like, “This is the right thing to do,” and it felt good. When they asked me to come be interviewed as a finalist, I thought, “Okay, this will be great, I know Quakers.” But, it was really different, being in a Quaker organization. But they offered me the job. I was pretty clear that if I had the offer, I would take it, and so I didn’t need to take a long time to think about it.
The search was happening, as you may know, as a part of this big transition five years ago. So one of the questions was, “American Friends Service Committee is looking for a head, and Friends General Conference is looking for a head. Why have you applied for this, and are you going to apply for those?” And I was just like “No! No! I wouldn’t want to apply for those jobs!” Because this was about advocacy for me, about public policy work, and that felt like it was what I wanted to do, because I really believe in systems change. The idea of working for a Quaker organization, to come here and be able to do that with Quakers, was a thrilling idea. But it wasn’t that I just wanted to work for a Quaker organization. That was certainly compelling, but I never had an aspiration to be the head of a Quaker organization.
How much, if any, influence did your faith have in how you responded to applying for it?
Diane: I think a lot. I realized there was potentially something there for me, and that part of following a path of faithfulness would be just allowing myself to be there, to be a candidate, and if I didn’t get selected, then that was okay. I had worked on housing and homelessness ,and I felt like the lobbying work I’d done was in the same vein: not being partisan, trying to talk to everyone, and really being open to who would support these initiatives. To do that with Friends at the federal level was definitely a different order of magnitude, and a different range of issues. It seemed like a good opportunity to test what I understood about my Quaker faith in a political arena.
What influences does your faith have in your job today?
Diane: I think about it all the time. We have this wonderful vision: “We seek a world free of war and the threat of war, a society with equity and justice for all, a community where every person’s potential may be fulfilled, and an earth restored”-also known as the Kingdom of God vision. It’s emblazoned on the wall downstairs, it’s on the little markers outside, it’s on a lot of our materials. We talk about it. That’s an active conversation. The Quaker perspective isn’t the whole faith perspective, but it is a perspective that’s important and useful and offers something. We were the first faith-based lobby in Washington, D.C.: so we’ve been here 73 years. So I am well aware of the grounding that we have from those Friends who started FCNL in Richmond, Indiana in 1943. But I am also aware of those Friends who signed petitions to King George, and who throughout history felt called by their faith to speak truth to power. That is awesome, and sometimes daunting, but it’s also just like being, as Daisy Newman wrote, a procession of Friends, being in the living stream of Friends. I feel that so strongly. But again, not me as a leader, but this organization and all the people that pick it up, are all part of that.
How would you describe your leadership skills?
Diane: Let me just define leadership overall, and I think I fit this. I think a leader is someone who is willing to stand up and speak, and stand up and listen, and/but to really occupy a space and be present for something. In that regard, it doesn’t have to be leadership of an organization or of an entity; it can be in our own right. There’s a certain ground that you hold and a presence that you convey. I think with regard to how I lead the organization, I try to be collaborative, certainly with the management team, the leadership team here at FCNL, so there’s a certain collaborative nature to it with the executive committee. I try to be clear about boundaries: what’s my work versus what’s the policy, what’s the board of governors’ work versus what’s my associates’ work-and I expect that back from them. I try to have clear expectations. A leader has to have some vision for where, in this case, an organization should go.
With a Quaker organization, because we are a community, it has to be a community. It can’t be a single person’s vision. I think a person can offer real ideas and a forward-leaning approach to the work, but I think you have to be really aware of the grounding and the backing that surround. I am constantly learning and being reminded that because of the role that I have here, what I say and do has an effect that it wouldn’t have if I wasn’t in this role. That’s an interesting place to be. I try to be cognizant of that and respectful of it, which means I have to sometimes not say what I want to say. Because it is different being the head of a Quaker organization than it is being a member of a Quaker meeting.
How did you learn leadership skills – within the Quaker world? Outside of it? In either case, describe some of the ways you’ve learned these skills?
Diane: Well, definitely within the Quaker world. People whose way of being and speaking and leading I’ve watched have influenced me. My mother’s been a big influence on me, as someone who could stand before people and speak engagingly. I am an observer of how other leaders interact and react. I’ve read some books on leadership. I have had friends with whom I talk a lot about leadership, the strengths, and the different styles of leadership. I’ve thought about it a lot. I’ve worked with people, consultants and others who have done leadership skills training. I think naming leadership and having ownership of that within the Religious Society of Friends is important. I’m really grateful to Jay Marshall’s work at Earlham School of Relion about lifting that up as a conversation at a conference that they do. It has sometimes been something that Friends don’t want to name, and yet, we cultivate leaders. Clerking is cultivation of leadership, from my point of view: if you know how to clerk, you know how to lead. I’ve also talked a lot to people about how to you translate those clerking skills or other things that we learn as Friends into the wider world, the non-Quaker world. Sometimes you can, and you can see how they have an impact on people.
Do you feel your work brings you closer or further away to your faith and faithfulness?
Diane: Most days, closer. There are occasions when I can be frustrated and think, “Wow, this is a distant idea.” But most times, closer. It certainly makes me think a lot about the best of Quaker practice. I’ve also spent more time recently wondering, “Who am I, apart from this role and the Quaker practice? Who am I with God, apart from this role and Quaker practice?” I’m not very far along in that. I feel like a lot of my time is spent asking “Who am I in this role in relation to God and this organization?” But that’s a good thing. It’s interesting to contemplate.
How well do you feel your work is understood and supported by your meeting?
Diane: I should have asked for a support committee from my meeting before I left, and I didn’t do that when I got here. I feel very appreciated, and I feel like there’s a certain level of understanding, and then there’s a level where…I don’t really know how to talk about it broadly. But I think there are some people who kind of understand and are just like, “It’s great that you’re doing this and we’re so glad,” but I’m not sure that they truly understand the work or my role in it. I don’t feel that I have a meeting community that says, “We have a responsibility for this work,” and I think that’s significantly because I haven’t asked for it. So I’m not suggesting that people haven’t taken it up. My own personnel committee often acts in terms of trying to provide support, and they recently have said to me, “We are going to create a support committee for you.” I think that’s great, and I’m really appreciative, so I think that’ll happen soon.
Who have your mentors been (generally, spiritually, work, all of the above)?
Diane: First and foremost, my mother has had an impact on me. We’ve always been fairly close, and she has been a leader in her own work, which was education, and talked about her role as a woman in a leadership position. Both from what it was like to work with men when she was the only woman, and also what it was like to negotiate for salary. She would have never identified herself as a feminist, but I felt like I had this role model of how to operate in a world that’s not always open to women, and how to be a leader. That was really important to me.
When I was working at the Partnership for Strong Communities, before I came here, we were funded by the Melville Charitable Trust. The executive director, this guy named Bob Hohler, was a real mentor to me to think about the power of big ideas and the ability to change systems and what that takes, how to hold onto those big ideas and think about the arc of change from both a policy focus and from a political focus. Then there are people I work with who are lobbyists, just really good strategic people about how to to do a power analysis, just figuring out what’s going to motivate people, and trying to come up with a plan and execute it.
This is kind of an aside, because we don’t do political endorsements at all — but I was captivated by this idea that, Hillary Clinton just turned 68, and she’s running for this super-big job. It’s an amazing inspiration to me.
How do you balance your work and spiritual lives?
Diane: Giving time in the morning to some centered time, rather than at work, and just stopping after a certain point: not picking up my phone again, not looking at email, and doing something with my husband, hanging out. In spiritual life, too, just taking some moments to reflect. It could be just taking a walk around the block, just drawing in a little bit. I guess the other thing I’d say is, because there’s an element of my spiritual life, my faith life, which is about the work, I feel like I am being spiritual when I’m working, so that’s good. What I think about more is how to get out of this frame, and into a different one, so getting out into the natural world is really important, and having that break. And actually, sometimes just being outside of Washington is also really good, physically to see a different kind of landscape, and to be with friends who aren’t part of this mix.
What is something you wish you’d known at X, Y, or Z point in your spiritual path and/or career?
Diane: Hannah Whitall Smith has this great line in a letter she writes to her daughter, “I make it a practice to never live with regrets.” I agree with that a lot. I told you that I regretted not getting an advanced degree, and when I think about things that I regret in my life, choices that I’ve made, that’s probably one that I have.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve gotten about spiritual/ faith journeys? What is your favorite piece of advice you like to give others about spirituality/ faithfulness?
Diane: Brian Drayton, from New England Yearly Meeting, has done some work around ministry, gospel ministry and the call to ministry. He came to Hartford Meeting a few years ago when we were doing a deepening our worship event. He talked about our spiritual diets. “What’s our diet of consumption?” That has come back to me recently. I think about that in terms of our political diet. What are we hearing and understanding about it? But also, as a spiritual people, what are we consuming? What are we listening to? What are we digesting? If part of what you’re digesting is whatever somebody’s ranting about on TV, as opposed to what Lloyd Lee Wilson is writing about…even though that may not be related to immigration debate, it still relates to how we treat other people. We can be grounded in a spiritual faith that still allows us to speak powerfully into a political world. The point of the advice is: What’s our diet? What are the things that we’re consuming that allow us to be in this world? I think that’s really important. The other thing Brian says that I think about sometimes is, he was talking about people getting together and offering support to each other and just going over to one another’s house and sitting in worship-and he was like, “It’d be like wildcat prayer! Out of control!” I think about that phrase sometimes. What if we just allowed ourselves to erupt into prayer? That’s not advice I’m giving, so much as the images that come to me.
We have a lot of young people who work at FCNL, a lot of people in their 20s, and one of the things we’ve done is to talk about mentorship, and think about what it means to be a mentoring community. It’s a work in progress. In addition to being that kind of community, we’re also a very busy community, where people are focused on trying to get their job done, and there’s a sense of urgency about it. But I think the part about it being a mentoring community is, again, having some availability to listen to people, to listen to them about where they are and how they’re growing, and the kinds of questions they ask. People in their 20s are asking a lot of questions. That is a rich, rich time for all of us. Sometimes I have to remember, I didn’t know what I was doing when I was 25, I didn’t know where I wanted to go. The hard part is that we have these great people who come in and work for a while, and then leave us and go work somewhere else. It just breaks my heart, but that’s a natural thing to do. So, trying to be available to them — and this is not just me, there are other people here who are senior staff and who play this role with the younger staff here — both in terms of what our commitment is to social justice, how that comes from a place of faith, and trying to be available to talk about and listen to the kinds of questions people ask. Some of that may be: when you think about your work life, think about who you’re meeting and who you want to be around and who you are watching. Because the fact is that we all watch one another at some level. I think the millennial generation thinks a lot. For the people I meet, authenticity is huge, and so that’s not a far thing to talk from authenticity to integrity. That’s also a piece of…not advice, so much as just a way of living, or trying to be and support.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received about your career/ work path?
Diane: I got typical advice which just seems kind of canned now, but I think it’s very true, which is to follow your heart. I think there’s some truth to that. And I think — there’s a Biblical reference to this — don’t be afraid. Be not afraid. I think about that, when I think about what either intimidates me or puts me off. When I think about it, I have had people who say, “Don’t be afraid of this. Just do it.” A lot of it has to do with speaking to power, and leveraging my own power, which comes from a sense of groundedness and purpose. So the advice is to use that power, and go to the highest level. If you have the opportunity to talk to the person in charge, go to that person, don’t go to the three people underneath them.
What is your favorite advice to give to other people who seem to be or are already on similar trajectories as you are on (i.e. someone who is a potential head of a Quaker organization)?
Diane: There’s not one send-off thing I say to everybody. Here in this work, I definitely encourage people to network, and that is not a natural thing for many people to do, particularly people who are introverts. That’s a hard thing, to walk up to strangers, people you’ve just met, and stick out your hand and say, “I want to talk to you.” But I do think that’s the way we make connections like that across social media and we should be doing it in person. I think now, actually, I would advise people: put your phones down and look people in the eyes and have conversations. I think there’s something completely powerful about that. That’s the way the world changes, where you can have an effect that other people might not be able to.