Alex, was about to embark on his first Alpha session – run by Leigh Road Baptist Church – which had been designed to offer people an introduction to what Christianity is all about…and what life is also about.
The footy fan said: “I didn’t know what to expect… people throwing bibles at me, people telling me I was stupid for not knowing about what Jesus had done for me.”
“These were all thoughts that ran through my head BUT it was the total opposite.”
Instead, Alex found a friendly smile awaited him and warm greeting put his mind at ease after crossing the threshold.
He found a meal, a chat and a chance to meet and discuss the big topics of life with new friends awaited.
“At first you maybe shy with your questions, but as the weeks went on I was asking more and more, they were so eager to help me by answering them – it was great.”
The Alpha course, run in churches, café’s, schools, prisons, work places and peoples homes provides a more appealing formula for enquirers than a perceived hard pew in a cold church.
As a result, more than one and a half million Britons have taken part in the Alpha courses – despite a steady decline in Christian belief in the UK.
For many the Christian message has been written off as boring, untrue and irrelevant.
But according to local church leaders, the experience of many un-churched attendees has proved this stereo-type to be false for them. With many going on from the course to explore more with their local church and finding a real need in their lives is met by the teachings of Jesus discovered and explored on the course.
Local lad and former Essex Radio DJ Peter Holmes has found that his Christian faith is an integral part of his everyday life. He discovering God after attending church with is Mum and attending a youth club run by St Margaret’s in Leigh.
“I find that if I fail to chat with God on a daily basis, I feel as if my very soul is drying up and I seem to lose direction in all kinds of ways. I pray about everything – if I see an ambulance on call, hear something on the news, see a work colleague who’s upset. God and is a fundamental part of me every moment of every day!”
Church leaders believe that among younger age groups in particular, a deep spiritual hunger and longing to explore the big questions of life is increasingly evident…and that’s why they are busy running courses throughout the year.
Two million people across the UK are already estimated to have taken part in local Alpha courses which are now running at over 7,000 churches of all denominations.
What to expect
The Alpha course is a practical and contemporary introduction to the Christian faith and provides a relaxed and informal opportunity for participants to make up their own mind about Christianity.
Courses are constructed around one meeting a week for ten weeks, usually including a free meal or refreshments, a short talk addressing subjects such as Jesus life, his death and resurrection and topics such as the Bible, prayer, suffering and healing. This is followed by a time over coffee to discuss and explore with other guests the issues raised.
The Rev’d Nicky Gumbel, who presents the Alpha material on video at some courses, said: ‘We have heard so many wonderful stories of people – many of them young – whose lives have been changed by God through the Alpha course in churches of all denominations throughout the country.’
And as soccer nut Alex reveals “I found the course such a positive experience, I am so happy that I was brave enough to attend that first night. I urge anyone with questions about the Christian faith to find an Alpha course and sign up! I certainly didn’t regret, why not find out for yourself.”
What women want…
Marianna Rouillion (pictured above), attended a course in Southend Christian Fellowship, Southchurch road. Here she tells her story…
I attended the Alpha course out of curiosity, mainly. Although raised as a catholic, I was never confirmed, as I had a lot of questions unanswered and didn’t want to commit until I knew all the ins and outs! The attraction of the Alpha course was a chance to hopefully get some of those questions answered, as well as socialise with others, over some tasty home cooking!
The format was simple. Eat together. Listen to a talk on a specific area of Christianity. Break for coffee, then regroup and exchange our views on the talk.
Over the years, delving into many spiritual areas, I had comfortably managed to fit various aspects of Christ, reincarnation, karma, spiritualism, feng shui, heaven and hell, etc into a tidy package that somehow worked in my head. On the Alpha course, these aspects were respectfully questioned in the light of the teachings of Christianity, and I realised I’d based my beliefs on how I’d like the world to be and not, in fact, how Jesus tells us it is. The Alpha course helped me understand the bible better, so that I could then make an informed decision on my beliefs. I now feel that it’s not so important for me to have all the answers, rather to trust in Jesus to provide the answers as the need arises, which, I’ve found, he does!
At the end of the day, who you choose to believe in and what you choose to believe is exactly that…your choice. God doesn’t want puppets, He wants followers who have consciously chosen His path. That’s His gift of free will! I chose to believe in Christ and his teachings. Others may choose to believe something else. The Alpha course helps you make that choice an informed one. Go see for yourself!
Courses and contacts in your area
Details of local courses running in our town can be found at www.alpha.org.uk and by clicking the link towards the top right hand corner of this page.
Or call any of these numbers for the relevent churches to you.
Southend Christian Fellowship. Southchurch – Jenny Martin 01702 461616
St Andrew’s, Westcliff – Clive Lucas 01702 302255
Christchurch, Southchurch – Jill Poole 01702 588468
Shoebury Baptist, Shoeburyness – Keith Wheatland 01702 589747
Bridgewater Drive Church, Westcliff – Margaret Bates 01702 346763
Earls Hall Baptist, Westcliff – Marcia Tyler 01702 335278
The Well Church, Leigh – Gill Johnson 01702 714230
St Michael’s, Westcliff – Peter & Diane 01702 478462
St Clement’s, Leigh – Sheila Bradley 01702 527777
Leigh Road Baptist, Leigh – Angela Bowhill 01702 478698
St Saviour’s, Westcliff – 01702 475429
Canvey Methodist Church -Colin & Cathy 01268 684294