In a previous post, I wrote about my experience of Alpha in a seeker-friendly Baptist Church back in the 1990s. Sometime after I joined Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in or around 2000, then a parish of the Traditional Anglican Communion, I participated in two, possibly three Alpha Courses the parish ran.
Being maybe a 10th the size of my previous Baptist Church, Annunciation’s Alpha was much more modest. Each time, we only had enough participants for one small group. Instead of a team preparing meals ahead of time, we had potluck suppers where parishioners took turns supplying the main dish and others brought salad, or rolls. We ate around one table in the parish hall, then watched the video(s) on our TV set. These days, Alpha talks can be downloaded or streamed. Back then, we used VHS tapes. Alpha has also adapted various versions to appeal to young people, for shorter coffee break type Alphas in work settings, all of which is new since I did the program.
We did the prescribed facilitator training, registered with Alpha Canada that we were holding a course and off we went. Then Fr. Carl Reid (now Msgr. Carl Reid and Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross) was the leader.
At one of these Alphas, we had a former television producer from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation who had been a recent colleague of mine. We had both left the CBC in 2000. We had a young man who had never been baptized, but had been doing a lot of reading and searching on his own. A Jewish man Fr. Carl invited joined us because he ran the breakfast restaurant where Fr. Carl and his wife regularly ate after Mass. The discussion was awesome. I think Fr. Carl did a bit more teaching than the training sessions called for, but the result was that the young man eventually was baptized at our parish and joined us for Sunday worship with his family.
Alpha is a brand, and in order to call it Alpha, one needs to follow the program, but depending on the cast of characters, Alpha can still be quite different each time it is run.
For a small parish like we were, Alpha offers some big challenges. It’s 11 weeks, including a weekend, so it requires a pretty hefty time commitment. Those who sign on are expected to show up, unless there are serious reasons for absence. For a community where many people drive great distances, having the people on hand to ensure the food and hospitality, including clean up, can also be difficult.
Often, the first Alpha a parish will run will include mostly its own people. It’s only after running several Alphas, as Fr. James Mallon, author of Divine Renovation: From Maintenance of Mission has written, that the courses begin to attract people who have never been to church. Consequently, running only one Alpha is not likely to do more than give parishioners a refresher course on some Christian basics on sharing the kerygma. The course will also teach some leadership skills that may be useful later. The course also provides a good way to fellowship, though our ordinariate parishes are pretty good at providing fellowship in other ways.
However, as several people have pointed out on Facebook, Alpha may not be consistent with the ethos of Catholics of Anglican tradition, nor may it be the best use of a parish’s limited resources. In a subsequent post, I will look at some potential concerns about Alpha.