- Posted by Fiona Thomas
- On 24 May 2022
- 0 Comments
As a team vicar in a rural multi-parish benefice, Sarah Cawdell has used Appreciative Inquiry (AI) with churches emerging from the Covid-19 lockdown. She sees AI offering a more hopeful lexicon, and a way of reflecting forwards which ties in with the Christian hope of being transformed from one degree of glory to another.
Sarah writes: Before lockdown in 2020 we had a varied staff team including clergy, reader, youth worker, missioner, two curates and a good number of active retired clergy. In 2022 we have one and a half stipendiary clergy and a reader. But God is the same, and the number of active and lively church communities is the same.
I found AI to be a really useful tool to generate hopeful thinking and lively dreaming as we dared to come back to worshipping alongside one another in our church buildings. Some were, and still are, wary about mixing and socialising, so we had to adapt the method a bit.
As a benefice we are used to eating together once a year, with a slide show and a talk. This time everyone was going to have to do some work. Using the 5D cycle we could dream our way to new growth and development, engaging with the hope of the Gospel message. Even those who didn’t want to come out would be included. I published some early appreciative questions in the two parish magazines, and invited written answers in advance as well as thoughts from those who were coming on the evening. This meant that those people who like to think things through before they speak were able to engage confidently.
As the evening approached we prepared two courses, and invited the best pudding makers to make their favourite dessert. Scrap paper, pencils, sticky notes and flip charts were dusted down and pressed into service. At last we could get together again, and talk with each other.
Nibbles and drinks on the table, and an introduction to the evening, then groups were invited to remember what they love about church, and why they keep coming back. The smells from the kitchen were hopeful, and people shared their thoughts about what is best about church with their neighbours. These were transferred onto a flip chart so that all could see what others enjoyed before the main course of the feast began.
Then the hard work began in the gap between courses – If you fell asleep for five years and came to your church when you woke up what would you like to see? The dreams were written on sticky notes and handed in before a good array of puddings were served: chocolate, fruity, creamy and all delicious.
While others were eating I was arranging the dreams into groups by similarity – everything from basic survival to a robed choir, and a church full of children. And alongside the dreams came sentences of exhaustion – those who had worked on and on to maintain the church community through the rigours of lockdown, and saw more hard labour ahead.
Encouraged by desserts, and refreshed by a nice cup of tea, one or two design ideas were tried out – little steps of welcoming newcomers to the parishes, gathering for conversations about the environment, suggestions for prayer. Some of these will be fruitful, but best of all is the change of language from disappointment and sadness to looking for strengths and opportunities, recognising our passions, and mobilizing the resources we need. AI has offered us a more hopeful lexicon, and a way of reflecting forwards which ties in with the Christian hope of being transformed from one degree of glory to another.