Our General Secretary, Christie Duncan-Tessmer has served PYM as staff for over 14 years and served as General Secretary for more than five years.
With gratitude for the work accomplished and a desire for her to be at her best as she continues to serve Friends, the Administrative Council began planning a three-month wellness leave in the winter with final approval in February. This is a paid leave during which she will have the time and space to rest and be renewed.
Since that point Coronavirus has impacted everything. Christie’s leave was revisited by senior staff and yearly meeting clerks several times and the conclusion was that the leave should stand. Staff prepared efficiently for the transition to remote working and has created plans for decision-making and priority-setting as conditions around us change. The collaborative approach to leadership used in the PYM staff means that the Associate Secretaries are knowledgeable about all aspects of supporting our community and are prepared and eager to increase their leadership role at this time. Additionally, in the event Christie is needed she is always available.
Three months leave
Christie will be away from April 8th through July 6th. She has shared with us that she plans to work on her Urban Farm Project during this time. All who know Christie will understand why this will be refreshing for her.
During the 12 weeks the General Secretary is on leave, staff support for our community will continue as usual. Three Associate Secretaries will cover key tasks, with administrative support from the Executive Assistant.
The Associate Secretaries and the General Secretary work as a team, called the Operations Team (Ops Team for short). This team works collaboratively, and will continue to do so while Christie is out. This leadership model will expand and deepen existing strengths during the sabbatical period.
For circumstances in which a final decision-maker or a public communication is required, Linell McCurry, Associate Secretary for Business & Finance, will serve in that role. Linell is the Ops Team member who has been with PYM the longest and has a deep understanding of our history as well as our current practice.
We can expect that unexpected decisions will need to be made, so a decision-making rubric is in place that includes the Ops Team and the clerks of the yearly meeting.
Responsibilities have been lined up in the following ways:
- Linell will manage administrative logistics and practices, provide support for the Administrative council, its clerk, committees and most sprints and support for the Arch Street Meeting House Preservation Trust.
- Zachary Dutton, Associate Secretary for Program & Religious Life will manage Sessions-related activity, support for Quaker Life Council, its clerks, committees and sprints, and relationships with most Quaker and other organizations.
- Linell and Zachary, who regularly provide support for the Admin and Quaker Life Councils, will work closely together to support the Leadership Team of Yearly Meeting clerks, council clerks and the treasurer.
- Grace Sharples Cooke will organize the collaboration meetings of the Ops Team and facilitate staff meetings.
See You Soon!
We will say “see you soon” to Christie on April 7th and wish her well for the three-month period. We’ll welcome her back in July just in time to gear up for Sessions.
Below are some questions we expect Friends may have concerning the General Secretary’s Wellness Leave.
Is Christie sick?
No, Christie is healthy. The work is satisfying but requires sustained energy and focus. She has been on PYM staff for 14 years without a break. The Administrative Council is united in believing that Christie has earned some down time to renew and refresh. It is not an uncommon practice for non-profit organizations to provide time off for executive leadership with such long tenures.
Is Christie coming back?
What about Annual Sessions?
We head into this year’s planning for Annual Sessions with a unique accomplishment: our program and business agenda for July Annual Sessions has already been laid out. Detailed planning for the next three months can be carried out by committees and program staff. Changes to our Sessions plans as a result of Coronavirus will be managed by the program staff responsible for Sessions and by yearly meeting clerks.
Christie will be back in early July with enough time to be caught up and prepared.
What will she be doing?
We don’t know exactly, but we hear she’s going to be diving into her backyard farm work and may even build a pond. She says she has a large supply of rocks and she’s pretty determined.
Whatever it is, we know it will be restful and a change of pace that is regenerative.
Whose idea was the wellness leave?
This was a concept that was discerned through discussion with Admin Council, Personnel Committee, and Christie.
How long will Christie be out?
Twelve weeks. The Wellness Leave is scheduled to start on April 8th. Christie returns to work on July 6th.
Twelve weeks seems like a long time. Is that common?
The range for leaves can be anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months and even a year. In reviewing precedent of sabbatical leaves across non-profits and other Quaker organizations, twelve weeks looked like a good amount of time for refreshment and not too long to adversely affect the community or the staff.
How are you planning for other members of the PYM staff to take Sabbaticals?
Admin Council has approved a formal Sabbatical Policy for tenured employees.
Who is in charge?
As mentioned above, the General Secretary worked with the three Associate Secretaries to develop a coverage plan to make sure all planned activities are covered and there is a plan for decision-making. Linell McCurry will serve as the primary contact for external communication.
The leadership team of volunteers on councils and committees and on PYM staff is strong and experienced; council clerks meet on a regular basis (three times a month).
What if there’s an emergency or the impact of Covid-19 deepens?
We have a rubric for making decisions. This covers both mundane issues and mission critical decisions. The Associate Secretaries and the clerks of the yearly meeting are prepared to respond to whatever is needed. The staff has plans in place to actively manage the impact of coronavirus.
In the event that the current Covid-19 emergency requires the General Secretary’s presence, she will be contacted and will attend to those issues that arise.
Updated April 30,2020