God changing lives through Alpha in Avon Stour Pastoral Area
12th June 2017
Richard Martin, Director of Lay Formation in Avon Stour Pastoral Area, writes:
For the past 3 months, over 80 people have been participating in the Alpha Course held in Avon Stour Pastoral Area. Overall about 120 people have been involved, including leaders and helpers. On Tuesday 6th June, everyone involved was invited to an Alpha Celebration Evening to bring the Alpha Course to an end by sharing stories of their Alpha journey.
It was amazing! God has clearly been working in many wonderful ways in people's lives through Alpha, some very powerful, moving and life-changing. This applies whether they were already regular church-going Catholics or those with little or no connection to a Christian community.
So many commented on the new friends made and the sense of love, friendship, support, community and belonging, both in the small groups and the large group. Some said they were given new hope/purpose for their lives and many had existing faith strengthened and deepened.
Significant numbers moved to being open for the first time to a personal relationship with Jesus. Some had powerful insights and experiences of the Holy Spirit during prayer ministry and silent prayer time (some life-changing).
Many are now keen to take up the offer of further opportunities for growth and sharing, whether it be exploring the faith and continuing community in house-groups through our forthcoming 'Come to the Feast' initiative, gathering for praise, worship, prayer and reflection in our 'Welcome to Worship' evenings, helping to run further Alpha Courses in their local areas to bring others to encounter Jesus through the Holy Spirit as they have done, or other ways.
We had a wonderful team of people from across all six churches in our Pastoral Area helping to make it possible in so many ways, and the sense of shared purpose, mission and support has been powerful, unifying and exciting.
We can't wait to see what the Holy Spirit will do in this area next...!!
Come, Holy Spirit!
Fr Tom Grufferty, Co-ordinating Pastor for Avon Stour Pastoral Area, adds:
Outcomes from the Alpha Course were fascinating. As a result of a questionnaire we discovered that 80% of participants made new friends, 66% of those already going to church had their faith strengthened, 41% became open to a personal relationship with Jesus for the first time, and 43% of those who came felt more at peace as a result. Other aspects of the survey were equally encouraging. There is nothing else in Parish Life, in fact I doubt if there is any other organisation that could generate such positive results within three months. It would be interesting to ask the same questions in 12 months time. All the positive responses to the questions were confirmed last Tuesday when we held the recommended celebration evening to evaluate the experience. About 20 people spoke about what they received from the Course. Without exception there was a positive feedback from those who spoke with five exceptional testimonies on how Alpha gave a new direction to the spiritual wellbeing. One lady told us that she had a phone call from her son, when he asked what she was doing on that particular night, she said she was rushing to Alpha. “But Mom, I thought Alpha was for those who wanted to become Christian?” She went on to elaborate on how she had become a better Christian during the course even though she is a cradle Catholic. Another lady spoke about how she had no faith but a new light had been turned on even if she is still uncertain about what comes next.
I have a feeling that Alpha 2017 will reap a rich harvest and be talked about for ages to come.
Some comments from a few of the participants:
“I have found the sharing, friendship and common purpose a great boost to the practice of my faith” (regular church-goer)
“I was feeling lost and have found the course has helped me feel considerably more positive and has also helped me to understand more about the bible and in particular the Holy Spirit. I know I have a long way to go and I need to make more time for bible reading and prayer.” (non church-goer)
“I found the course has given me back my enthusiasm, which has been missing for a while, due to all the negative publicity about religion and clergy, etc over the last few years. I feel invigorated.” (regular church-goer)
“The Alpha Course has changed my direction in life. It has given me a purpose. I am now attending church regularly every Sunday, and have joined a Bible group. I have a great need to learn and understand more, and I have met some wonderful people who are also searching for more meaning in their lives. I have felt much love and care which has helped restore my faith in God, in this world and in mankind. I would definitely recommend Alpha.” (occasional church-goer)
“The Alpha Course has given me the confidence to be more open with friends and family about my faith” (regular church-goer)
“When I was being prayed with on the AwayDay, I just had this lovely vision of Jesus holding out His arms towards me. I haven't managed to take enough steps forward yet to be enfolded by them, as still too much rubbish in my life getting in the way. But the fact that I can see him wanting to enfold me is a big step in the right direction.” (regular church-goer)
“Alpha is special because it is a place where you can talk about things you usually don't talk about.
It is special because we all got to know each other and shared just this extra bit more of us which let us become friends.
Alpha might not always have a "massive thunderbolt", for me it was and is sowing small seeds which seem to be growing in sometimes very unexpected ways. Alpha made me open the door to Jesus just a bit more.” (regular church-goer)
“I enjoyed the whole of Alpha very much, the shared meal, the new friendships, the talks and discussions, but the session which spoke to me most was session 6 "How does God guide us?” …As I began to see and hear the amazing life-changing experiences that people had had as a result of a meeting with Jesus or the Holy Spirit, my thinking began to change and I thought, “Why doesn’t God make himself known to me if he does to some people?” Then I had a lightbulb moment! I realised I HAD had equally life-changing guidance from God 20 years previously but it wasn’t until that moment I realised it was God who had spoken to me. I am still living with the wonderful effects of that experience.” (regular church-goer)