Over the course of the past year, one image has stuck in my mind as an illustration of the kind of leadership I'm trying to practice. Being a leader, to me, feels like being a gardener. I've done quite a bit of gardening and growing things in my life, but it seems like all of the lessons I learned in that sector had to be re-learned again as I worked my way through this first year of the fellowship. For instance, when you're getting your seeds and preparing to plant in the Spring, you don't just decide that you want to grow mangoes if you live in Minnesota--you do research first to see what plants will grow in your climate, and you listen when a neighbor tells you that they haven't had success with particular plants. In the same way, when I started out my fellowship I had a plan that I put together after a lot of research and thought. It seemed like I had done my due diligence and found what my community needed from me. However, just a couple of months in, it became clear the the community's needs had changed, and so, rather than trying to forge ahead with the plan I had, I decided to tweak things to better serve the community. In practical terms, that meant that I moved from planning to hone my leadership skills on educating and talking with churches in specific locations, to a plan that focused on supporting transgender and gender-expansive individuals all over the world, online. I've learned that, as the saying goes, a leader bent on their own plan but with no followers is just a person on a walk. You have to listen when your community tells you that you're going the wrong way, and when they point you in a different direction. I was surprised at the change, but glad to have the guidance. Ever since, I've been trying to prioritize listening, and to actively solicit feedback rather than just waiting for it to come to me.
I've also learned that it's important to remember that the land you grow things on doesn't belong to you. Sure, you may be here for a year, or a decade, or a lifetime, but eventually someone else will stand where you're standing now. Some of what I plant may come up well this year and then never again; some things may come up year after year, helpful and consistent; some things may be seeded once and then go wild and take over the entire plot if not tended. Over this past year one of the biggest things I've done is start a new organization, Transmission Ministry Collective, as a support network for trans and gender-expansive Christians. When I began plotting the trajectory of the org moving into the future, I used the fellowship to help me consult with advisors and activists who urged me to set up a successive leadership plan right from the start so that no one person's ego--including mine--could take the wheel for too long. That experience of learning to let go right from the start has been incredibly important because it reminds me every day that my leadership is about care-taking and not owning.
Last, as all gardeners know, I've learned that storms can come through at any time and totally decimate what you've worked so hard to build. During this incredibly difficult time as we respond to COVID-19 on global and local scales, leadership has sometimes felt like running from barn to greenhouse trying to nail down shingles in a hurricane. At the end of the day, so much is out of our control, whether we're world leaders or small group leaders. This is where strength is shown in flexibility. Many of the people in LGBTQI2A communities are especially at risk right now--because of health concerns, economic instability, lack of safe and affirming healthcare, lack of a safe and affirming home environment, etc.--which means that the need for support is high. I've been doing my best to be flexible in my leadership by moving back and forth between different approaches--sometimes highlighting hope and sometimes making space for grief; sometimes pushing for structural change and sometimes focusing on individuals; sometimes moving at high speed and sometimes taking unplanned rests. This movement back and forth reminds me of the way we used to plant cover crops at a farm where I worked in college, when we'd plant nitrogen-depleting plants in a field for one season, and then nitrogen-replacing plants the next, always aiming for a balance.
For me, this first year of the fellowship has been a time to re-learn and apply what the natural world has taught me. I'm hoping to listen more, pass on more, and practice more flexibility and balance in the year ahead.