This coming week Craig and I are to lead a breakout group on Alpha and I just wanted to write a short blog on this course.
Earlier this year I saw an advert on Facebook for an upcoming Alpha Course. Now, I have seen and heard about Alpha many times during my life and often thought about attending so the question begs to be answered, why didn’t I? I would answer as follows:-
- Unable to get childcare.
- Course held in unfamiliar church.
- Don’t know anyone attending or leading.
- Alpha might not be for someone like me.
- Scared to speak in front of others.
- Don’t think I will fit in with Christian people.
The reason I admit to these fears is because I am confident I am not alone and that these are the very same fears many of you suffer from and are the same fears that prevent you also from attending Alpha so let us address them:-
- I would question myself as to whether it really was impossible to get childcare or whether I did not want to explain to anyone where I was going. It can be difficult when we are surrounded by non-Christians to have the courage to tell them that we are attending a course about God. This is humorously addressed in the Alpha course as we all understand how difficult this is, even those of us who have been Christians for years. The fear of being different does not go away but experience makes it easier.
- I am sure many of you feel this way. Going to an unfamiliar church can be daunting even on a Sunday when you can sneak in, sit at the back and not have to contribute so the thought of walking into a church you have never been to and taking part in something is very daunting. Sometimes the Alpha Course is also held in people’s houses, this would have been equally daunting to me! What if I need to use the bathroom and I have to ask in front of everyone where it is? What if I start coughing and have to ask for a glass of water? What if I don’t know where to sit? What if they serve food I don’t like, and I have to eat it anyway! My mind would have been awash with these and many other anxieties. Whilst I cannot speak for every host of Alpha (as I have not personally met them) I could be confident that if they are hosting Alpha they have a desire to reach out to those who have not encountered God and teach of His great grace and mercies. With this purpose in mind I think it highly likely that these hosts would do everything in their power to make you feel comfortable and at ease to show the love of God that we as Christians are called to demonstrate.
- I think realistically whether I knew people on the course or not I would be anxious. When I think about it, I probably felt more comfortable not knowing anyone as I was free to speak and ask questions without worrying about prejudices that I was conscious people that know me may harbour.
- I was scared Alpha was not for me for many reasons at different points in my life. I remember a friend of mine did Alpha about 20 years ago and then I thought “I don’t want to be involved with this Christian stuff, what’s the point in going away for a weekend with a load of boring Christians when I could have my own weekend away doing the things that I like to do.” As life progressed, I thought “I am too busy with the children to devote an evening for 11 weeks to this course and an entire weekend!” Later still “I don’t think I am good enough to go on a course like this, people will see that I am not capable of such faith.” When I eventually began Alpha this year I had been a Christian for some years and that made me think “this course is not for me because I am already a Christian so what can it teach me that I don’t already know. Perhaps people will know I don’t belong there because I already have faith and they will think it is stupid that I am going along.” After having attended Alpha I have to say that Alpha is for everyone. There were people at all stages of faith there and those of no faith. I believe that this contributes to better conversation and better learning opportunities because all stages of faith bring something to the table. Those that are new to the faith often have such enthusiasm that many long-term Christians have long since lacked. Newbies have so many questions that can push the long-term Christian to think over these questions of faith that perhaps they have long since forgotten or the newbie can challenge the long-term Christian to provide an answer that he doesn’t have and force him to learn for himself. The advantage of having long-term Christians is that they have had many experiences that they can share with newbies and can provide a comfort to them, they can introduce the newbie to prayer and answer questions that they may have, suggested books that may help, etc. etc. Believe me when I say there is no one out there in this whole big wide world we live in that would not bring something to Alpha.
- It can be terrifying for some of us to speak in public. For my husband, not so much, in fact he revels in it, for me it is so frightening. I constantly question myself about what I have said, was it correct? Will people think I am stupid? Did I sound like a know it all? Did I interrupt someone? Am I speaking too much? Am I speaking too little? When we attended Alpha, I was terrified, I told my husband before we joined that he was to speak for me if I was too nervous to speak. Everything changed as soon as we joined our first breakout group. Our hosts were so lovely, welcoming, and instantly made us feel at ease. Our group was fantastic, and at once I felt as though we had known each other for years. There were 9 of us altogether at different stages of faith and every single one of us looked forward to our weekly chats, a chat that continued throughout the week in our What’s App Group that we created. When it came to the last evening we were all really sad but we vowed to keep in touch and we have done so and still regularly chat on What’s App and one day we hope to meet in person whenever we get to the other side of Covid! It will be so strange seeing each other for the first time and yet knowing each other so well through group chat, one to one chat and following each other’s lives on Facebook!
- Christians are just like you and me. Christians have the faith that God sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins and that through this and His resurrection those of us who believe are saved and are co-inheritants of eternal life. These Christians also have “normal” jobs, they have relationships, they play sport, they sing, they go to the pub or restaurant, they hang out with friends, they travel, they watch movies, they have “normal” lives and are “normal” people. Christianity, at times, can, unfortunately appear as though it is all bake sales, craft afternoons and tea dances (no offence to any bakers, eaters, crafters or ceilidh enthusiasts (I must admit to dabbling in all of these activities myself), however, I understand, for the young it may be off-putting! I thought it may be helpful to make a list of some confessing Christians who are in the public eye in order that you may form your own ideas of what a Christian looks like:-
Bear Grylls, Adventurer
Chris Pratt, Actor
Mark Wahlberg, Actor
Denzel Washington, Actor
Justin Bieber, Singer
Matthew McConaughey, Actor
Tom Hanks, Actor
Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, Rapper/Reality Star
Elijah Wood, Actor
Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, Singer/Actor
Alice Cooper, Singer
Tyson Fury, Boxer
Lionel Messi, Footballer
Sergio Ramos, Footballer
Usain Bolt, Athlete
Bubba Watson, Pro Golfer
Manny Pacquaio, Boxer
Lewis Hamilton, Racing Driver
We have looked at many of the fears one can have about Alpha and I have explained how, in my experience, the fears I had turned out to be unfounded. But I have something even more reassuring to share with you. Covid 19 has given Alpha the ability to come to you!! For the meantime, Alpha is virtual!
Attending Alpha online means:-
- You attend from the comfort of your own home. You can attend from your bed, from your sofa, from your dining table, from your garden, from anywhere you feel most comfortable.
- You can leave without any uncomfortableness. Although I highly doubt you would want to, there is reassurance in the fact that at the touch of a button you have left.
- You have your own facilities, your own food and drink on tap.
- If nerves overcome you or a situation arises you must deal with, just pop your camera, and microphone off and listen in. Just by the touch of a button you can listen whilst “invisible”.
- Here there is an opportunity to enter into this Alpha space, suss it out, see others that are taking part and test if you feel comfortable enough to continue and if not, the magic button is there to be pressed.
Although I have explained how simple it is to leave I write this merely because I know it helped my fears knowing that this was an option, however, not once, did I consider it and I highly doubt you will either. Sometimes we just need to know there is a safety net below us! If you have these concerns or indeed any others please get in touch with me, a local church, or a member of Alpha because we, as Christians, are here to help. It is part of our “job description” to love our neighbours as ourselves and this includes comforting and reassuring those who need it.
Now a little about how the evening will progress. The day before Alpha begins, and each week following, you are sent, by email, a link to a song which you listen to at 7.45pm (or whatever time the particular course begins), then at 8.00pm you click the link to a video which is really fun and informative. There is a quick break before it is time to log into the group chats where everyone begins in a big group before being divided into small groups in order to discuss what was in the video or, as is often the case, many other topics that come up, which, at times, relate in no way to the Christian faith or Alpha but these are the times of growing relations with each other which are beneficial in so many ways, not least that you can all feel comfortable with each other to share and support. A WhatsApp Group is usually set up so that your group can communicate with each other throughout the week, perhaps with questions you have thought of since the course or perhaps requesting support but mostly to support a friendship group. This, of course, is voluntary and you are not under any obligation to give your phone details out to anyone.
Stepping out in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people and unfamiliar discussions is daunting for the majority of us but Alpha is worth stepping out of your comfort zone for. You will learn so much, you will make new friends and your life may just change forever!
Lord our God I pray that those reading this will be comforted by my experience and thereby given the confidence to accept the invitation to try Alpha. I pray that their fears will be quenched by your comforting hand upon them and that their hearts will be open to learn more about you. Through Nicky Gumbel’s salvation you have created the platform that is Alpha in order that people can come to know your grace, mercy and love and I pray that through virtual Alpha many more may experience this course. In the merciful, loving, and mighty name of your Son, Jesus I pray. Amen.
Love and Blessings
If you would like to learn more about Alpha, please check out their Facebook page or Website where you will also find details of how to sign up for the course. www.alpha.org