The relationship between Appreciating Church and Appreciating People, which started over seven years ago is strengthening, deepening and broadening through the International Academy for Appreciative Inquiry (IAAI) writes Fiona Thomas, co-founder of Appreciating Church.
An emphasis on collaboration and co-creation has characterised our relationship since its early days. Without Appreciating People, it is unlikely that Appreciating Church would have come into existence, while the experiences gained by Appreciating People through working with the churches has helped to shape what is now being offered through the IAAI.
Early work by Tim Slack and I to draw together practitioners’ experiences of AI in churches resulted in the book Appreciating Church – A practical Appreciative Inquiry resource for church communities, published February 2017. A new entity now had a name, and Appreciating Church moved into the next phase of its life, underpinned by the active participation of practitioners. The More than Welcome pack of cards was published in 2018, prototyped by the United Reformed Church at Greenbelt 2017. This uses appreciative inquiry to look at ways in which churches are already hospitable and might extend this further within their own context. These two items can be bought as a ‘church pack’.
Appreciating Church started with training in appreciative inquiry and we continue to offer this. Often a denomination will carry out the basic course in-house, previously called Taste of AI and now renamed Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry, making spare places available to people from other churches and community groups. An intensive advanced course called Developing Your AI Practice used to take place over three days residentially. It went online from June 2021 as a five months course based on being a community of practice made up of facilitators and participants. Deepening your Appreciative Inquiry Practice, like its earlier format, works best when it is ecumenical, drawing on wide experience.
Over the years perhaps 300 people from eight denominations have taken the basic course, and 25% of them have continued into the advanced course. The materials developed by Appreciating People and Appreciating Church through this experience have been adapted as Modules One and Two of the IAAI’s practitioner course from April 2021. Nine people from three denominations who had undertaken both courses prior to February 2021 are currently engaged in a process overseen by Appreciating People with the intention of being accredited as Appreciating Church practitioners.
I discovered from attending the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference held in Nice in 2019 that the book Appreciating Church has found its way round the world, with contacts made then and since in the USA, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. Responding to the lockdowns of Covid-19 has given us time, space and impetus to focus on distance learning and holding conversations online. This is likely to have positive implications for the future use of the website www.Appreciating.Church as a space for telling stories and drawing practice together.
Having worked to embed appreciative inquiry in the life of the United Reformed Church, I turned freelance in September 2020 and have been working with others on the constitution for Appreciating Church as an independent organisation in good standing with ecumenical partners. Through growing and supporting a community of AI practitioners across many denominations, and by focusing on building AI capacity within churches and denominations, Appreciating Church has reached the stage of being an obvious organisation to turn to when a church is contemplating change. This is, in no small part, because of Appreciating People’s involvement.