One of the best compliments I’ve ever received was from a ministry colleague who said, “one of the things I value about your leadership is that as a transgender person you recognize the need for ongoing transition, and you have helped More Light get comfortable with being in a place of transition and evolution into more and more of who we are called to be.” ::swoon::
This might be embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t know I was an adaptive leader before I joined the NEXT steps coaching faculty. In September Rev. LeAnn Hodges and I began coaching a cohort of pastors and religious leaders in Nurturing a Culture of Adaptive Leadership for Sessions and Boards. Over the past six months supporting and coaching this cohort, I’ve realized three things: most of the participants didn’t know they were naturally using principles of adaptive leadership either, adaptive leadership is absolutely critical to foster thriving congregations and organizations in the 21st Century, and adaptive leadership is embedded in the DNA of most More Light churches.
So...what is adaptive leadership anyway? It is a framework developed from 30 years of research by Dr. Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky. Adaptive Leadership is defined as “being able, both individually and collectively, to take on the gradual but meaningful process of change. It is about diagnosing the essential from the expendable and bringing about a real challenge to the status quo. Adaptive Leadership is purposeful evolution in real time.” One of the challenges the cohort has uncovered together is how frequently the status-quo definition of leadership pushes against the adaptive leadership methods of seeking-input, building consensus, paying attention to the “why” not just the “how” of our programs and priorities. However, I have also witnessed the participants claim a depth of leadership within themselves in order to provide a steady, transformational presence in churches and organizations who are in the midst of a sea change within the religious and denominational landscape. Our work together in monthly sessions and individual coaching has offered a place for reflection, respite, and community building to ensure that none of us are navigating these rocky shores alone.
Co-Leading this cohort has also inspired me to think through ways we can further equip, nurture, and support More Light faith leaders in the work we are called to do for LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and the transformation of the Church. As More Light churches, we know how frequently our practices and theology challenge a status-quo of scarcity that often puts limits on the love of God and notions of what church and worship “should” look or be like. More Light has deep roots in following the Spirit’s leadership through the ongoing evolution of what it means to demonstrate faith and love in action. Throughout my time with the first cohort of More Light Ambassadors, I was struck by the myriad of new and innovative ways ways people are embodying ministry, and in the coming months, we will be launching a new cohort of Ambassadors.
In addition to the training/community organizing model for our Ambassador program, we also want to focus on providing opportunities to deepen relationships with one another in an ongoing way in order to further the ministries More Light folks are engaged in all across the country. Starting this month we are launching an online get-together we are calling More Light Networking Night. You are invited to gather with us over Zoom (a video or call-in platform) to gather resources, build community, and be in a place of support for all of our ongoing work to further LGBTQIA+ abundant inclusion. See below for more information on the Networking Night and how to register to participate!
We are excited to announce an upcoming collaboration with Justice Unbound. Ashes to Rainbows: a Queer Lenten Devotional, will feature reflections from LGBTQIA+ people on what Lent means to them. Contributors include:
Ash Wednesday - Alex McNeill First Sunday of Lent - Slats Toole Second Sunday of Lent - Ophelia Hu Kinney Third Sunday of Lent - Ashley DeTar Birt Fourth Sunday of Lent - Bertram Johnson Fifth Sunday of Lent - Flo Watkins Palm Sunday - John Stanger Monday - Joy Bronson Tuesday - Daniel Morales Wednesday - Pepa Paniagua Maundy Thursday - Chris Glacer Good Friday - Shanea Leonard Holy Saturday - Jess Cook Easter Sunday - Lee Catoe
We will share the resources on our website and social media throughout the season of Lent, and will offer the collection in its entirety after Easter.
We are excited to share that Out of Order will soon be streaming! The feature-length documentary journeys with a small handful of LGBTQIA+ folks (including More Light’s Executive Director, Alex McNeill) as they seek to live into their call to serve as ministers in the PC(USA). The end credits show data about the number of openly LGBTQIA+ people who’ve been ordained since ordination standards changed in 2011, opening up the way for LGBTQIA+ folks to be ordained. In anticipation of Out of Order’s release on streaming platforms, the producers of the film would like to update this information.
If you’re an LGBTQIA+ person who’s been ordained as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA) either before or after ordination standards have changed, we’d love to hear from you! Please take a few minutes to fill out this survey! The information is being collected to serve as a data-point for an update to Out of Order, and will remain anonymous. Knowledge of the number of LGBTQIA+ people ordained and serving in the PC(USA) is helpful for furthering the work of inclusion in the Presbyterian Church. The survey is open until February 14! If you have questions, feel free to reach out to me.
One of the unique things about the nature of More Light’s work is our “30,000 foot view” of things happening within the denomination. We frequently have people contact us who are in similar ministry or life settings, and who want to connect with others in similar contexts. To that end, we are planning our first More Light Networking Night on February 20th at 7:30pm ET. Join and connect - make friends, get support, ask questions. We will have breakout spaces with facilitated conversations for the following groups:
Parents of LGBTQIA+ youth
Starting the conversation - for folks interested in how to start a conversation about inclusion in their ministry context
Deepening our engagement - for folks looking to expand their welcome or dive deeper into conversations about LGBTQIA+ inclusion
(Be on the lookout for a Networking Night for LGBTQIA+ folks soon!)
We are consistently amazed by the ministry and witness of our More Light Churches. We are launching this new feature to share some of the stories of how More Light congregations continue to live out abundant inclusion in their congregations and communities!
Looking for a safe and welcoming space for transgender youth, a place where transgender youth can be themselves in a positive, supportive, youth-focused environment?
Then Camp Lilac is for YOU!
Camp Lilac was started by Ann Williams and JodiLyn Solomon (Jodi) in the Fall of 2016. The first session took place in the Summer of 2017. Ann’s grandson came out to her as trans five years ago when he was 13. She knew very little about transgender people and asked Rain, her grandson, if she could ask him questions. Rain’s response was, “How are you going to learn if you don’t ask questions?” Ann has always been very involved in Rain’s life. Since both of his parents worked on Saturday mornings, Ann took Rain to a trans support group in the Cleveland area. The one other teen there in those early days before camp started was Jodi’s daughter. After getting to know each other, and after both families had looked unsuccessfully for local summer activities for transgender youth, Ann and Jodi decided that they needed to start a camp for trans youth.
One of the first decisions was what to name the camp. Like many decisions about the camp, transgender youth themselves were involved. As Ann and Rain sat in the Ann’s backyard, they brainstormed possible names for the camp. Ann has a large, old lilac bush. One of many suggestions that came from looking around the yard was “Camp Lilac.” Rain liked that, because the color Lilac combines the three colors of the trans flag. He quickly texted some transgender friends to see what they thought. After much discussion, the involved adults and youth decided on Camp Lilac as the camp name.
In many ways, programming at Camp Lilac is just like the programming at any other summer camp. In fact, the campers themselves have asked that Camp Lilac should not offer specific programming about being transgender. The campers want to have time together to simply have fun and be themselves. Therefore, Camp Lilac offers mainly typical camp activities like swimming, hiking, archery, arts & crafts, ropes course, and campfires every evening.
But there are a few differences designed especially for transgender campers. On the first day of every camp session, campers have the task of finding all the restrooms in the camp. They design signs saying, “FOR ALL PEOPLE,” and run throughout the camp, hanging these outside all restrooms. Cabins are sorted by age group instead of by gender. Every cabin has adult staff, most of them transgender themselves, who keep track of their campers during the day and sleep in the cabins at night. Everyone, campers and staff alike, wears a nametag stating their preferred name and pronoun. These can change during camp, giving campers the chance to try out new names and pronouns. Some campers have even adopted a camp name permanently when they return home. Any kind of clothing is permitted at camp, as long as private parts are covered. Swimming is a special situation. All campers who choose to swim must wear a top and a bottom (which can be shorts and a t-shirt) both for sun-safety and for consistency for all genders. Many transgender teens are self-conscious about their bodies and have not swum since coming out. Initially they may hesitate to swim at camp too. However, in the trusting atmosphere of camp, and with everyone keeping themselves covered, by the end of the session, every camper has been in the water.
With the high rate of emotional challenges related to transitioning in a society where being transgender is not always accepted, Camp Lilac campers are at risk for emotional issues. The camp itself is not a “therapy” camp, and not appropriate for a camper who is in crisis. However, to support campers who may need some extra help during camp, Camp Lilac has a social worker on call 24/7. Tuition is paid by the families of campers, but if a family cannot pay the tuition, they can still send a camper to Camp Lilac. Families that are able are asked to cover the tuition for their own camper. In addition, the camp is always actively fundraising to cover partial and full tuitions for families who cannot pay full tuition. Camp Lilac has a partnership with REI, which provided camping supplies, and with Forest Hill Church, Presbyterian, which has supported the camp’s growth during its initial years. This year, Forest Hill Church has supported creation of a staff training program and handbooks, designed not only for Camp Lilac, but also as a model for gender-inclusive staff training. For more information, to make a donation, or to apply to be a camper or a staff member, see the camp website at www.camplilac.org.
We are so encouraged by all of the ways the More Light community is shining in this critical moment. We are so honored to be part of this work with you!
In abundant hope and deepest gratitude,
Rev. Alex Patchin McNeill he/him Executive Director More Light Presbyterians