Zachary Dutton has been PYM’s Associate Secretary for Program and Religious Life since September 1, 2014. In these seven years he has been a leader on PYM staff. He also stewarded implementation of our seven strategic directions, and grappled with how best to meet a complex set of community needs with smaller staffing footprints. Overall, Zachary has been a facilitator of change and has focused attention on new issues.
With a Masters of Divinity and deep experience as a facilitator and manager, Zachary is now taking a new career direction. Don’t worry, this change is still a year off. In the meantime, we share this interview and the readiness to begin a search process for a new Associate Secretary with plenty of advance notice.
Q: You once said that when PYM had a drag Queen as a keynote speaker at Annual Sessions that your work would be done. Tommy/Pam was one of five Quaker keynote speakers this year. Of the five, Tommy/Pam got strongly positive feedback for their engaging, truthful, spiritually grounded, and fascinating presentation as a Quaker with a vocation for drag. Can you tell us more about why you reached out to them and what that meant for younger Friends.
Representation is important as long as it’s not tokenizing. The stages of change in organizations and community start with cultivating a common language and common analysis. This takes training, and it also takes raising the voices of those who are on the margins of our community.
I see Pam’s keynote as part of this stage of change for PYM. Obviously, Pam’s keynote is also deeply personal for me as a Queer leader in the Quaker community. I often talk about needing to do “double duty” as I say – my spiritual needs are not fully met in Quaker community because of the ways in which queer life and culture are not usually at the center of Quaker religious and spiritual life. So I have to find queer spiritual community in other ways sometimes; it’s really nice when the two can be merged.
Pam’s story about her entrée into drag mirrors my own (spiritual journey)—finding aspects of my power in this type of merging, in my wholeness, which includes my queer parts.
Q: In the seven years you have been at PYM, can you name some of the things you’ve most enjoyed?
I’ve most enjoyed the people I work with. I can think of what I value and will miss about each member of staff. I love them. Quakerism is about mutual accountability, and I feel like I’ve lived this deeply on PYM staff. I am a changed person because of the love and community of the PYM staff.
Q: What about the things you were most proud of?
I’m proud that after many years and lots of challenging moments we have made real progress! At this past Annual Sessions, we approved the creation of a cross-cutting group that’ll help us progress in our anti-racism. We made climate change our second of two yearly-meeting-wide ministries. The other has been addressing racism. And we approved a new type of membership that will help us deepen and broaden our community.
This represents an immense amount of work, a lot of learning, and a lot more work to do. I look forward to helping it go as a staff person for a little longer and then as a member of our community.
Q: In the PYM Councils (Administrative, Quaker Life, and Nominating), Friends must rely heavily on the talents of volunteers who bring discipline, selflessness and Governance skill to the work. Can you identify the types of leaders we need for the next decade?
The most important thing we need is love. Love is what makes everything we are trying to do not just about ego, power, or some other thing.
Love is what allows us to let God lead us, and it is what enables transformational, servant leadership. After love, we need leaders who understand that the councils’ roles are grounded in strategic thinking about how to fulfill our vision and mission.
We need leaders who are kind and who involve others in their work. We need leaders who will trust staff, community members, and volunteers to do their part. We need leaders who are willing to engage in generative conflict, who are transparent when they make mistakes, and who are open about how they have learned from them.
Q: Some people who are, or were, young adult Quakers have recently brought leadership around issues like Belonging and Membership. How do you see this growth as having come about?
For at least fifteen years, young adults have been among those who sounded the alarm, so to speak, on many concerns. They have been ahead of the rest of the community on welcoming trans and gender nonconforming people as well as BIPOC. They’ve also consistently spoken to an experience shared by an increasing number of people (including many youth, young adults, parents, families, and the elderly) that local Quaker communities can be inhospitable places for many.
There is a need for a culture shift that embraces change and openness while maintaining what is essential about the Quaker tradition.
We’ve seen some progress along these lines, and there is more needed. It has taken a long time for the broader community to begin listening deeply to the concerns. May the deep listening continue, and let concrete steps follow!
Q: Being a spiritual leader, with compassion for human frailty and a regard for difficult truths, can be exhausting. What should your successor bear in mind? How is the Associate Secretary role managed?
Get sleep. Exercise. Eat well. Cultivate family or chosen family. Find your communities outside PYM. A spiritual support group might be useful for the first year or so. Don’t let the work become all of you. Set boundaries; you can’t work insane hours sustainably. And mostly, remember that your team knows better than anyone what it’s like. Be open with them, and rely on them.
Q; The pandemic changed a lot. Can you name the changes that most impacted PYM programs? Are there more changes to follow?
We obviously moved to all virtual spaces, and I am excited about the future of programming and decision-making. Hybrid and blended opportunities are on the horizon. Geographic diversity and broader accessibility are much more possible now that we’ve realized we can sustain community with a combination of virtual and real-life engagement.
Q; As a queer leader, and thoughtful Friend, what are you most excited about as you transition away from this job? Are there any worries that come along with that excitement?
I am excited for PYM, for the new voice and new vision that will be coming on board. I am excited for what learning they will bring to us, and what we will be able to teach them. I am excited to be a source of support to them if that is desired.
Personally, I’m also excited to take what I’ve learned at PYM about non-profit management, Quaker governance, facilitation, and program evaluation into future study and service.
Q: Having done this job for so many years, what would you say you mostly do? What is the daily work like? What skills and gifts most matter?
Listening to and supporting my team members, most of whom are my direct reports, is my greatest joy. My team members each bring gifts and experience that are extremely important to our community. It has been my job to help my team discern their gifts, to enhance them, and to bring them fully to the work.
In my experience, the only way to do this well is to co-create a culture in which everyone feels able to show up as their whole selves. I’ve strived to cultivate as many spaces as possible in which we can laugh, have fun, express sorrow or frustration, begin to heal, and to gain the confidence that others will have our backs, as it were. A former member of the team once gave me a little box with a bird inside it, and the box had a message: “Thank you for helping us fly!” I cherish and will cherish this box until I’m too senile to remember what it is.
Perhaps the person who comes after me will have a different idea about what type of culture to co-create or about what it takes to get there. Surely, I haven’t always been able to perfectly embody that for which I have strived. Perhaps I have never been able to do anything perfectly!
Still, I think there are some basic skills and gifts that a leader needs for this job – the ability to see the big picture and the moving parts that fit into it. The job also needs a leader with a facilitator’s mind and a poet’s heart – someone who is capable of balancing different complex truths with their own truth, and with what will best serve the whole community. As I said earlier, the job ultimately requires the ability to love and cultivate compassion.