Alpha in a traditional Anglican setting

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.




5 thoughts on “Alpha in a traditional Anglican setting

  1. You bring up a point that is worth considering: at this point, many Ordinariate communities are quite small and their members may live quite a distance from the church, so it may be difficult to organize programs such as Alpha. I wonder if there is a way to turn this apparent “disadvantage” (but inescapable fact) to our advantage? I. e., is there (or might we devise) a program that enables and encourages people to evangelize in their own environments? Maybe something family-based. Just a thought, i don’t have anything specific in mind.


    • The concept of “enable[ing] and encourag[ing] people to evangelize in their own environments” is spot-on — it’s precisely what every baptized believer should be equipped to do.

      Let’s back up a step here. Some years ago, I encountered the following math problem.

      You are offered a position with duties that you can easily handle and very comfortable working conditions with a guarantee of thirty days of employment. You can choose between straight pay of one thousand dollars per day or escalating pay starting at one cent for the first day of employment followed by twice the pay of the preceding day for each subsequent day of employment. Which pay scheme do you choose?

      If you do the arithmetic, you’ll discover that the pay for the thirtieth day will be $5,368,709.12 and the total pay for the month will be $10,737,418.23, thanks to the power of exponential growth. By contrast, at $1,000 per day, you would get a total of just $30,000.00. If you chose the straight pay, you just lost out on over ten million dollars that could have been yours through the power of exponential growth!

      Some years ago, an evangelical Protestant Christian named Robert Coleman wrote a book that he mistitled* The Master Plan of Evangelism in which he makes a very compelling argument for discipleship rather than simple evangelism. Basically, the gist of his treatise is that forming disciples who then go out and form more disciples brings exponential growth of mature Christian faith, and ultimately brings more converts to the faith than the linear growth produced by simple evangelism even though simple evangelism will bring more converts in the short term.

      Of course, evangelism is the first step of discipleship. People who don’t have a personal relationship with our risen Lord cannot be effective evangelists or effective formators in a program of discipleship! However, discipleship goes further, following evangelism with additional formation that leads to mature faith and the ability to evangelize and form others as disciples. This is precisely the goal first instituted by an evangelical Christian (but Protestant-leaning) organization called The Navigators and subsequently copied by Campus Crusade for Christ, Varsity Christian Fellowship, and, in a Catholic context, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) and apparently other organizations in ministry on the campuses of secular colleges and universities, but it also has been adapted to parish settings — some years ago, I encountered a program that sought to organize Catholic parishes into “cell groups” for adult catechesis on a similar model.

      Now, discipleship requires that a pastor or other formator have frequent contact for formation with those being discipled. There’s no way around it. However, it’s not impossible to implement it in a parochial community that’s geographically dispersed. It simply requires organization and scheduling that’s appropriate to the circumstance. There are a couple very good options.

      >> 1. The pastor or formator can schedule meetings with his or her disciples before or after events such as mass when they are coming together anyway.

      >> 2. Where there are clusters of disciples who live in close proximity, the pastor or formator can arrange to meet with them at a convenient location near to their homes so that the disciples don’t have to travel as far.

      One also must be realistic — there’s a limit to the number of people whom one pastor or formator can disciple simultaneously. Thus, implementation typically will require that the pastor begin with one or two initial core groups of disciples, then expand the program as the participants in those core groups become ready to lead discipleship groups. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and no disciple is ever fully formed in a day. The process of forming a disciple is always ongoing, but the frequency of ongoing meetings can diminish after some period of time so the formator can start a new group..

      Note that coursework in Philosophy and Theology at a seminary or other school of theology also can be part of a discipleship program, at least for those who have a sufficient level of intellect.


      * — The second word in the title really should be Master’s because it’s the plan that the master himself, our Lord Jesus, instituted with the apostles.


      • Interesting. You are right that the Master Plan was devised by the Divine Master. The question remains: what is the best way for an Ordinariate parish to put it in practice? We are already, for the most part, “small groups.” In fact, small parishes are part of our Anglican heritage, distinctively different than the mega-parishes that characterize too much of the Church these days (parishes so large that they must be divided into cell groups in order to have any sense of community). Is there a way we can form the “domestic church” of homelife (including for those who are living on their own), in a way that takes advantage of the intimacy of our small ecclesial communities? I’m thinking of something that could happen on Sundays after Mass that equips and encourages families and individuals (who might form small groups or cooperate with families) to live an active discipleship throughout the week.


  2. Pingback: Ordinariate parishes as schools of prayer | Anglicanorum Coetibus Society Blog

  3. Pingback: Alpha testimony from a cradle Catholic | Anglicanorum Coetibus Society Blog

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