Alpha: A friendly, informal way to share the Christian message
Originally published in Catholic Outlook March 2013
|For Sue Ottery, Alpha is her life’s work: ”This is my calling and God helps me fit it all in.” Photo: Virginia Knight|
By Virginia Knight
Sue Ottery has been an Alpha facilitator for almost 10 years in Catholic parishes in the UK and Australia. Although juggling parish ministry commitments with raising her family of four is more than a full-time job, Sue admits that Alpha is her life’s work: ”This is my calling and God helps me fit it all in.”
Alpha is an evangelisation tool that has been implemented in Catholic parishes in more than 65 countries around the world. It is a 15-session, 10-week practical introduction to the Christian faith.
As a response to the Year of Grace and the call to the New Evangelisation, a workshop on Alpha in a Catholic Context was presented at the Proclaim 2012 Conference in Sydney, hosted by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
Alpha is approved by the Bishops as a means of presenting the core truths of the Christian faith around which Christians of every denomination can unite. The key ingredients of the course are: A meal, teaching, friendship, prayer, worship, Bible study and discussion.
While Alpha is for anyone from non-churchgoers and new Christians, it serves particularly well as a refresher course for practising Catholics and for those who have lapsed in their faith.
It was through Alpha that Sue found her way back to the Church. While she grew up in a Catholic family, like many of her generation she had drifted away from attending Mass and living out her faith commitment. She attended an Alpha course with her husband and found her way home to God.
“It was a turning point in our faith,” she said. “We understood who Jesus was and the Mass became more alive for us. The Gospel meant something, and every prayer that we prayed meant something for us.”
When the Alpha facilitator retired, Sue assumed the role and it was to be the beginning of a lifelong commitment and passion.
Sue and her husband moved to Australia and within months of arriving in her new parish in the Diocese of Broken Bay she was facilitating her first Alpha course. She has helped to train and equip parishes across Broken Bay and the Archdiocese of Sydney.
“The past 10 years have been very exciting. We have been running two or three courses per year and have had about 850 people go through. After Alpha, we find people go on to become more involved in other parish ministries and their Church community. There is a flow-on effect into parish life. Alpha is just a beginning.”
Fourteen people from her first Alpha group went on to enrol in the RCIA process and a number of religious vocations were birthed through subsequent courses. But for Sue if even one lost sheep returns to the fold the program has been a resounding success.
She said parish priests also gained a lot from the process. “The laity is involved in the organisation so it is an opportunity for priests to meet newcomers to the parish and become acquainted without adding organisation to their priestly duties. It is a fellowship meeting rather than just a few words at a church door, so parishioners get to know the priests personally.”
The course is hospitality based as each session includes a meal, a talk about faith and small group discussion, usually in the parish hall or someone’s home.
Sue said that many people succumb to the pressure of busy lives and drift away from their faith. “The New Evangelisation urges us to do something about bringing people back to a personal relationship with Jesus; the foundation on which we celebrate the sacraments meaningfully.”
She said Alpha was a friendly, informal way to share the Christian message. “It is a safe place to ask questions about anything to do with faith, and it is open to anybody from any denomination. We meet them where they are at and journey with them.”
Sue recommends that anyone interested in hosting an Alpha course should first attend one. There are Alpha courses being conducted in the Diocese of Parramatta by the Servants of Jesus Community’s Bread of Life Catholic Fellowship, commencing on 15 April.
Parishes interested in hosting an Alpha course can obtain more information from Chris Noone tel (02) 9624 3322, 0468 468 637, firstname.lastname@example.org
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