Alpha course ignites personal faith

Alpha course ignites personal faith
“Alpha fills you with a sense of belonging and changes you through the power of the Holy Spirit”, writes John Quinn

I began working with the Presentation Brothers in September 2015, taking up my appointment as their Evangelisation Officer. After four years of working as a youth minister in a busy South-London parish, I was ready to bring my experience home to serve the Church in Ireland. I was particularly excited about the work the brothers were doing with the Alpha course. I was familiar with Alpha from my time in London, having sampled the course at their headquarters in Holy Trinity Brompton.

However, nothing could have prepared me for running Alpha in the current Irish context. The brothers have organised seven Alpha courses in Glasthule, Co. Dublin, and recently they began courses in Cork, along with a Youth Alpha series. Barely a fortnight into my new position, we started running Alpha on Tuesday mornings and again in the evenings. It was an uplifting, Spirit-filled experience.

While Alpha is open to everyone, we encourage young adults in particular to attend our evening session. However, we were blessed with a wonderful mix of ages and backgrounds. This was a sincerely fantastic intergenerational, international group. There were atheists, agnostics and believers, each coming along every week to ask the big questions about life in a safe, informal setting. What resulted was an amazing group dynamic, with a genuine sense of belonging. This truly was Church in action.

Set over an hour and a half, a typical Alpha session consists firstly of time together over an informal meal. This allows for the all-important bonding to take place. Following this, there is a themed input, either in the form of a DVD or a talk in person. Finally, people break off into small groups to discuss the topic at hand. Those who come to Alpha are not students – they are ‘guests’. This is because the guests have as much to bring to the course as anyone, which means that no two Alpha courses are ever the same. The point of the course is to encourage people to ask the big questions, to see if there is room for Christ in their lives. What Alpha allows is for people to embolden their faith through grappling with their doubts.

By the end of the 10 weeks, people always feel refreshed by Alpha. Everyone feels a genuine sense of belonging to this small community with whom they have journeyed in a short few weeks. But what is perhaps most exciting is seeing people who have connected with God in a very personal way. Their lives are truly changed through the power of the Holy Spirit, and it is a privilege to accompany them on that journey.

We are running our next Alpha course in Glasthule from Tuesday, February 9, with a choice of two session times: 10.30am to 12 noon and 7.30pm to 9pm. I’m excited to see what the Lord has in store!

And for the follow on…

The key to Alpha’s success is getting people more involved in living their faith. Following the last course, we have started a group, meeting fortnightly. Feeling a great sense of belonging after Alpha, they chose to continue journeying together. Taking Matthew Kelly’s inspirational Rediscover Catholicism book as a guide, this group uses the book to help them reignite their own Catholic faith.

It is wonderful that the Dynamic Catholic idea of distributing free books to churchgoers can work in this country, too.

The book is proving a popular conversation starter, igniting passionate and thought-provoking discussion.

The problem of suffering

A common question asked during Alpha is ‘why does God allow suffering?’ The renowned English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge wrote towards the end of his life: “Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolate and painful. I now look back on them with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in 75 years in the world, everything that has enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through afflictions and not through happiness whether pursued or attained.”