How would you describe your current position?

Barry Crossno, Friends General Conference

There’s what it is, and then there’s what I hope it will become. It’s an interesting position: I’m the hierarchical head of staff in an organization that makes its decisions through Quaker process at the board level. It’s fascinating to go back and forth between those two worlds constantly. There is a community of both staff and governance who are very well practiced in walking those two worlds simultaneously. A lot of my work is spent trying to guide the mission itself, fulfill the mission, imagine how the mission will evolve; trying to shepherd the resources necessary for the fulfillment of that mission; and trying to make sure that the right people are in place to make all of that happen.

Where I would like the job to go over time is that I would love to have a little more public role than I’ve had. I had imagined there was a larger symbolic role for the General Secretary of Friends General Conference (FGC) to play in the broader Quaker world, in addition to the world at large. Since I became General Secretary, there’s been a lot of shifting here, which has really required me to be in the nuts and bolts of making the organization work—that the money was raised, that we met the budget. We will see in future years if I can have the opportunity to be more of a public figure. In some ways, I view it as fairly important, because there’s actually not that many Quakers who try to function as public figures in the broader society and yet those who do have really helped many seekers find transformation through Quaker practice.  I find myself thinking of Parker Palmer among others. In trying to be a public figure there’s a delicate line to walk. What can the General Secretary of FGC really say in the public sphere about who we are, what we’re doing, and where we’re going?  It has to be thoughtful and done with accountability.

For more of Barry’s story, click here

Diane Randall, Friends Committee on National Legislation:

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.

For more of Diane’s story, click here

Jen Karsten, Pendle Hill:

My job description’s spot-on for administration in this setting. If we wanted to boil it all down, it’s about being a good listener to the needs of the community, including not just the staff, but board and wider associates, alumni, formerly deeply-involved people. And listening for Spirit’s nudge, so that we don’t do things only because it’s tradition or because we did it last year. If it’s something we’re called to do because it’s going to effectively lead to beloved community, then let’s do that. Let’s be responsible stewards. Listening to where there’s a loss of energy on any level is important. Listening for the voice of those who aren’t yet here, and the ghosts or the presence of those who were here a long long time ago, but need for someone else to recognize their cautionary tales about equity. Because if you look far enough back, there are always marginalized and oppressed people. So listening for Truth, listening for the hints that there’s always more to do, and any gains achieved in that regard are fragile and precarious. They need vigilance and constant re-working. I’m still learning to do this well.

For more of Jen’s story, click here

Shan Cretin, American Friends Service Committee:

Well, to be essentially the chief executive in an international organization, one major role has to be keeping the organization going financially. You have to do fundraising. And to do fundraising, you have to love and understand and be inspired by the programs, so that you can sell them with integrity to the people that you’re asking to give you money. I do love our programs, I am inspired by them-that isn’t to say they’re perfect but there’s always good things that are happening.

I think you also have to try to set up the internal workings of the organization to really align with Quaker values, and to figure out how you’re going to connect to the Quaker roots of the organization and to Quaker meetings. When I came, I was pretty afraid. A lot of meetings had, for different reasons, fallen out of interest in AFSC, didn’t know about it much, or were upset about something we were doing. So one of the things I have done to set up mechanisms for having all of our staff, all around the world, understand what Quaker values are and what it means to be an organization that’s guided by those values.

For more of Shan’s story, click here

Gretchen Castle, Friends World Committee for Consultation:

My job description is funny. I have done a good bit of discovering what it is. There are five or so areas. One is administrative, keeping the office open and staffed, reviewing staff performance, and all that. Then there is the element of working at FWCC where we work to connect the four Sections and see where there can be collaborations. It’s really supporting those other four Sections’ secretaries. I view myself as a peer, but bringing those ideas together, since every section has different Quaker traditions of worship, and every section has multiple languages.

For more of Gretchen’s story, click here

Gabe Ehri, Friends Journal:

I think the most important part of the job is to be really clear about what the vision of the organization is and reminding people about it – reminding people and repeating oneself more than one ever thought one would. I’m the person who holds that out there. I like to be a shameless cheerleader for what we’re doing and why it’s important. Cheerleading the work is such a big piece of being an effective organizational leader and that was something I learned on the job. No job description could quite put it that way. I had the great fortune of having a former board member to the organization who was an executive coach who offered as a gift to work with me as much as I wanted when I was starting out as executive director-just to have somebody to talk to and coach me on all the things I hadn’t learned yet. I would not recommend that anybody take an executive position without an executive coach. It was one of the most valuable things that happened. I’ve also learned about the importance of delegating. I like to help if people have a problem I could help solve, but my team has been really helpful at letting me know: let us work through this. You might be able to swoop in here and solve it, but let us work with it, because learning happens by solving problems. The team is good at solving problems on their own and asking me to be involved at the right level. It’s good to work with people that care about the organization and take pride in their work.

For more of Gabe’s story, click here

Christina Repoley, Quaker Voluntary Service:

That’s probably a really different question for me than for most of the other people you’ve interviewed. First of all being one of the founders-but also QVS is such a new organization that it feels like it’s changing every minute. In the very beginning, which was four years ago, I was called the executive director, which is funny because there wasn’t any other staff. It was the board and me. But in a way, we intentionally chose that title because that was the organization that we wanted to grow into. A lot of my role has always been about relationship building, whether it’s with a donor, with an older Quaker, or someone out of college who’s interested in doing QVS. I feel like all of our staff have to relate to people of all ages really well. We have local support communities in all of our cities who or give time and energy to QVS. Some of my work has been inspiring them and helping them understand our mission, and working with them when they have conflicts with each other or with the organization or they should be doing something different than they are doing. We work with a diversity of Quakers in terms of theological branches of Quakerism, particularly in Portland, Oregon. Some of my work has been conflict mediation for lack of a better word: helping people communicate better and navigating conflicts, helping folks get to the other side. A lot of my work is relationship building and communicating the vision and mission of QVS.

For more of Christina’s story, click here

Drew Smith, Friends Council on Education:

Friends Council on Education is the member organization of the 80 Friends Schools in the United States. Half of those schools are in the Delaware Valley, in the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting area. We also have affiliate schools around the world, and we’re also affiliated with Quaker colleges and universities. Our job is to strengthen the Quaker nature of Friends schools, and to serve as the national voice for Friends education. I think that the most important single thing that we do is offer a two-day program for new educators that introduces them to Quakers. In fact, it hasn’t been since I taught 8th grade social studies that I’ve felt like I’ve had that kind of deep impact on groups of people. Most people are unaware of how influential Quakers have been in challenging people to think deeply to end slavery, to allow women the right to vote. They’re just completely unaware of how influential we’ve been, and again, consequently influential in the way that they’re able to live their lives. So that’s what we do right now. And I get to travel around all over the place and tell people what to do and then go away. It’s an interesting job.

For more of Drew’s story, click here

Doug Bennett, Earlham College (Emeritus):

I’m not like Fred Calder, but Fred did leave me strongly inclined to think that if you’re not the chief strategist, no one will be. You need to be incredibly focused on what the biggest opportunities and the biggest challenges are. The only way you’re going to do that is to leave a lot of the rest of the doing to somebody else. It also seems apparent to me that you wouldn’t want to be a president who isn’t also present to the students and a member of the faculty. It was important to me to be a member of the faculty, so I insisted to the search committee that, especially following my Reed experience, they appoint me as a member of the political science faculty and tenure me, so I’d be seen right from the beginning as a professor of political science with the intention that I would teach a course at least every year. That was so I would be with that among students in a way that a faculty member was-so that the president was like a member of the teaching faculty serving in another capacity. What there was to know was probably not immediately knowable and only ultimately knowable by doing the job and committing to being part of it. I don’t know that much else was a surprise.
For more of Doug’s story, click here

Colin Saxton, Friends United Meeting:

I would define it as about building connections. How do you help this group of 34 Yearly Meetings be in fellowship with each other, and to be meaningfully connected? It’s not just some sort of organizational affiliation. It’s a real relationship that’s actually making a difference in the lives of meetings, churches and yearly meetings. A concern I bring to the position is just that: “How does an FUM umbrella organization actually serve its constituency, rather than being served by the constituency?” Because I don’t think the latter has any future. I think that if these organizations do have a future, they have to be actually touching the real lives of people who live out their Friends’ faith on the ground each and every day. So part of my role is to help us think organizationally about that. How does our vision get fleshed out through our programming, through the relationships that we establish, through the way we spend our money? Part of my work is listening, paying attention to what the community says is working and what we think we need and want from FUM. I think part of my job is peacebuilding, to help Friends who are across the aisles from one another sometimes, or along the spectrum in ways that feel very far apart, to stay connected to each other.

For more of Colin’s story, click here

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