This past spring, the Appreciative Inquiry committee—a group of 15 St. Brendan’s members, including myself, facilitated by Diocesan Cannon for Ministry, Kim Karashin, and Fr. Regis Smolko—was tasked with discerning where God is calling St. Brendan’s. We met 10 times between February and June to work through the Appreciative Inquiry process. What we found is that St. Brendan’s still has the same DNA it always has: as an open and welcoming church with a strong mission for outreach. Through this rediscovery of ourselves, we sought to clarify where God is calling us today and develop a plan for putting these ideas into action.
The Appreciative Inquiry (AI) process, however, is more than just a platform for brainstorming ideas about how St. Brendan’s can meet God’s call. The AI process helps ensure that these ideas are built on our collective strengths and culture, are situated within our mission, and are developed with a plan and process in place for seeing them through to implementation.
This past Sunday, July 16, members of the Appreciative Inquiry committee presented their process and products to the congregation for comment and feedback, after both the 8 am and 10 am services. A summary handout was sent out to the congregation via an email blast and with the Little Log. In case you weren’t able to attend the presentation last Sunday, here is a brief recap:
Appreciative Inquiry is, in its simplest definition, a planning process. However, unlike many other business planning strategies, the AI process is intended to focus on things that are working, not on things that aren’t. Appreciative Inquiry is designed to encourage us to look at St. Brendan’s with an “appreciative eye,” to identify the good that already exists, and to figure out how to build on it as we discern together who St. Brendan’s is and what God is calling us to do. Each session began with prayer and scripture readings, which helped guide our discussions and other exercises. We divided the overall process into 4 steps:
What is our story?: Sharing our stories about our experiences at St. Brendan’s.
What is our DNA?: Defining who St. Brendan’s is today.
Where is God calling us?: Discerning how God is calling us to use our gifts going forward.
How do we get there?: Developing a plan for responding to God’s call.
The first stage of the AI process was sharing our stories. This is the part of the process that many members of the congregations were involved in this past winter when several small groups gathered to share why they came to St. Brendan’s, why they stayed, and what they loved about St. Brendan’s. We used the same process in our AI meetings, and, as we each shared our individual stories, we recorded key attributes and phrases that describe St. Brendan’s.
In the second stage, we took that list of attributes from our storytelling sessions and grouped them into categories which we ranked and reorganized to come up with the key attributes we felt most defined St. Brendan’s.
We used an umbrella as a metaphor to represent these attributes because we are, first and foremost, a community of faith and that guides much of what we do and who we are. Within that image we chose 4 key attributes, or “ribs” of the umbrella, that we felt described St. Brendan’s: welcoming, worship & liturgy, family & friends, and faith in action.
We used this image to guide the creation of a culture statement, which is a description of who we feel St. Brendan’s is today:
St. Brendan’s Episcopal Church is an open and welcoming community of faith. We seek to serve God and support each other through worship and faith in action in an atmosphere of love, friendship, and compassion.
The third step was to determine where God is calling us. We used scripture to guide our discussion of a series of questions about the needs we are being called to meet and how we can use our gifts to respond to those needs. Since St. Brendan’s already has a mission statement, we decided to build on the existing mission statement to create a “mission focus statement” that goes into greater detail about where God is calling St. Brendan’s at this point in time.
Our existing mission statement: Jesus said, "I have come to give life—life in all its fullness" (John 10:10). Our mission is the realization of fullness through: the worship of God; service to the world; active concern for each other; and education to expand the mind and spirit.
Our mission focus statement expands on this by saying:
We reaffirm this mission as we strive to:
love and accept all people as our neighbors;
nurture one another along our spiritual journeys through worship, formation, and community;
walk beside those with needs, responding to a changing world without ceasing;
spread the good news of God in Christ and share the good works God is doing at St. Brendan’s.
Our final task through the AI process was to develop a plan for how we can actualize that focus statement and respond to God’s call to us. For each of the four goals of the mission focus statement we developed several objectives that we hope to achieve or that we want to continue. A committee or individual has been (or will be) assigned responsibility for each of these objectives and charged with developing a detailed action plan including specific—and measurable—tasks and timelines. These individual plans will then be compiled into one overall action plan and presented to the vestry, who will be responsible for ensuring that it is being implemented and regularly reviewed and updated as needed. The action plan objectives and responsible parties are included on the second page of the summary handout, which you can also download here.
What’s next? We’ve wrapped up the Appreciative Inquiry process, but this is only the beginning. Now we need your help to move things forward! Please read through the draft action plan objectives to see if you feel called to participate in either the planning or implementation of any of these goals. Also, expect Vestry members and other committee members to be reaching out the congregation for suggestions and feedback around these specific items in the coming months. The Vestry will also have information about the Appreciative Inquiry process and the action plan at the September ministry fair.
If you are interested in getting involved or have any additional questions, we encourage you to talk to a Vestry member. This action plan is not a static document, but a working and evolving tool to help guide St. Brendan’s along our journey.
Grace and Peace,
Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, biblical scholar, or official spokesperson for The Episcopal Church. If you read anything on this blog that is inaccurate or contrary to the teachings of The Episcopal Church, consider it my error and please let me know! If you have any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.