by Ron Hyink
The Alpha Course began its summer stretch at the Carmel campus of Northview on Wednesday, May 19, only this time with some tweaks. Rather than running 13 weeks with meetings on Mondays, this summer’s course will be trimmed to nine weeks with meetings on Wednesdays.
The compressed time frame will open up more opportunities to offer the course during the year. The video presentations will have a slightly altered format with a different host than previous Alpha classes, but the topics and message are still the same: to explore the Christian faith in a relaxed, nonthreatening and thought-provoking environment.
The Alpha Course has been a favorite for many, as evidenced by the number of people who keep coming back to serve as volunteers.
“I have been involved in Alpha here at Northview for over five years,” said Diane Sebastian, this summer’s course director. “I believe this is Alpha No. 13 for me! Each one seems to get better and better, and I laugh and say, ‘My name is Diane Sebastian and I am an Alphaholic!’”
It’s a good thing that it is so popular, as it takes about as many volunteers to run the course as people who attend the classes. Depending on the enrollment size, 50 to 90 volunteers are required to put on a smooth program, said Diane. “It takes a lot of coordination and many servants’ hearts to be Jesus’ hands and feet to our guests!”
But what is the draw? What is the attraction, to return time after time to serve as a volunteer?
For one thing, it’s a great place to meet old friends that were made during bygone Alphas. It’s also a great way to feel the pulse of the servant heart. But mostly, for those who host the small-group discussions, it’s about observing the changes in the lives of those who come seeking answers about God.
“I love to see people have ‘Aha’ moments when the light goes on, either in their discovery of Christianity and God for the first time or a reminder of something that they had forgotten or had taken for granted,” said Diane. “I hope others will feel the love and comfort in the Alpha program. It’s a great, safe place to come and meet people, share faith ideas and questions, and discover God’s meaning – all within a comfortable setting at their own pace.”
Even recent graduates have already been touched by the Alpha bug and yearn to come back and serve.
“I had no idea what to expect when I signed up,” said Bonnie Taylor, who attended the winter course and is back for the summer course as a volunteer. “I was thinking it would be more formal and maybe a bit uncomfortable because I knew so little. I was certainly wrong! On the very first night I experienced a wonderful meal, sat with really good folks I’d never before met, and left feeling wonderful!”
Preconceived notions about any new thing are a part of our human nature. Most of the time, as we all know, we soon discover that we might have been a little hasty to toss it off to the side before taking a closer look. In the case of the Alpha Course, it just grows on you.
“As time went on, I really looked forward to Monday nights. Good food, great company, lovely new people to meet and chat with, and the bonus of the actual course content and small discussion group afterward,” said Bonnie. “I came into the program not knowing much about the Bible, even though I’d gone to church as a child. I realized how very much Jesus Christ was the very center of faith, something I’d not caught onto before. Each week I wanted to learn more and more, and felt so comfortable in my group that I could talk and share and say anything that was on my mind; and was always supported.”
Bonnie said that she was surprised to find so many loving, caring and fun people. “I see what Christ has done in so many of the lives around me that I can’t imagine wanting to walk any other path.”
Alpha originated in a living room in Brompton, England, in the late 1970s as a means of presenting basic Christian faith to new Christians in a relaxed setting. In the early ’90s, it spread internationally and made its way to the United States.
“Here at Northview, this summer course will be the 21st course run – with over 1,000 people attending at the Carmel campus alone,” said Diane. “Alpha has proved to be a great starting place, especially for two different groups of individuals: those new to the area and church, and especially those new Christians seeking answers to basic questions about God and the church.”
Even long-time Christians can get something out of the course – and offer something to new Christians as well.
“It’s not just a beginners’ course. Anyone is welcome to attend Alpha,” said Diane. “The mix of people who attend works so well in the discovery process for all.” She added that new Christians discover things perhaps for the first time, but the “tenured” Christians often have an amazing rediscovery. Plus it’s a great way to make new friends. “Our best friends in life today are people we met in Alpha years ago.”