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 approved a three-month wellness leave for her. This is a paid leave during which she will have the time and space to rest and be renewed.
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 – this 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.
Accomplishments Thus Far
In the fourteen years Christie’s worked with our community, she has helped shift the culture to be more multigenerational and more integrated in our approach to PYM’s work. We’ve changed to a new governance structure and launched Councils, Committees, Sprints, Collaboratives, Resource Friends and Bridge Contacts.
Christie also realigned the staff structure to best support the strategic plan. She stabilized and strengthened our financial situation, standardized our accounting and made its administration more manageable for the current-size staff.
She instituted changes to fundraising so that the Annual Fund income increased last year, and we have new approaches to raising funds for needed initiatives. She brought our technology into the 21st century by moving digital records and data bases into the cloud, and updated our accounting software with a more supple database. She increased our support for communications, so we have dedicated print design and an integrated communications team.
Christie initiated and launched our staff into conversation and culture change around antiracism and inclusion, persevering through the friction-filled moments. All of these things lay an essential groundwork for a future in which Quaker community can grow and can be more culturally inclusive.
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?
Are the plans still in place given Covid-19?
Yes. We will continue to monitor the situation and what is needed and if a change is needed then we’ll make a new plan.
What will she be doing? Is Christie traveling or taking classes?
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, 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 6.
Twelve weeks seems like a long time. Is that common?
The range for wellness leaves can be anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months and even a year. In reviewing precedent across non-profits and other Quaker organizations, twelve weeks looked like a good amount of time for refreshment and not too long to burden the staff.
Isn’t the timing bad considering Annual Sessions is in July?
This is actually a good time for a leave of absence. It will start just after March Continuing Sessions and end before Annual Sessions.
The fall is too busy with closing out the fiscal year on September 30 and launching the new initiatives before Christmas. This timing allows her to be back for those important times.
Additionally, we head into this with a unique accomplishment; our program and business agenda for July Annual Sessions has already been laid out. Detail planning for the next three months can be carried out by committees and program staff.
Christie will be back in early July with enough time to be caught up and prepared.
Will other members of the PYM staff be able to take Wellness Leaves?
Yes. Admin Council is currently working with Personnel on a formal Sabbatical Policy that defines the timing, scope, and planning of a sabbatical leave 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?
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 General Secretary is needed, she has let us know she will be present for us all.