Some of you may remember reading some of my blog pieces about the Alpha program I’ve helped run at my church. Alpha is a program designed to give people a place to explore the big questions of life- meaning, purpose, God, religion, relationships, etc.- without judgment or pressure. The program originated in the Anglican Church and is now used by churches of all Christian denominations all over the world. I mention that to demonstrate that Alpha is not “way out there” or cultish in any way.
This 12-week program offers weekly sessions consisting of friendship, a video about some basic principle of Christianity, and a small group discussion to unpack the content of the video and to wrestle with any questions that our Alpha guests have. The conversation is relaxed, candid, open, and uncharged with expectations. One attendee, an atheist, specifically mentioned how it was clearly a “non-coercive, relaxed environment filled with caring people.”
Alpha is for everybody. Some Alpha guests are unchurched. Some would not even identify themselves as Christian. Some have been sturdy lifelong believers. Many are somewhere in between. The intended audience is anyone who is questioning their spiritual journey in life or who is not as close to God as they wish they were.
I always think of Alpha as a “search party.” It is a “party” because one of its main foundations is friendship- having fun and good conversation together. It is a “search” because we are all searching for something.
In the past, running an Alpha program meant, among other things, providing dinner for our guests every week. The principle was that the catalyst for the evening is relational. The basis of the program is the sincere, genuine friendships that develop. It is frequently those relationships that spark the power of God into each evening’s proceedings. Sharing a meal together is one of the best ways to foster those relationships. If anyone questions whether the Holy Spirit actually works through the Alpha program, all they need do is consider that I pulled off multiple dinners for 50 without poisoning anyone. To put that factoid in perspective, you have to know that my first Alpha evening was the first time in my life I had ever hosted a party. I don’t even really cook. I eat a lot of peanut butter and pre-made food at home. I still look at pictures of the foil pans of food I prepared for Alpha dinners in absolute amazement. I’m sorry, but I have to take those pans of food as evidence that there is indeed a God.
Now that we are living in world where people must stay physically distant and sharing food in public is suspect at best, meeting in person and sharing a communal meal is not a good option. We want to spread the love of God, but not the coronavirus. Still, in a time when people are more isolated and lonelier, Alpha may be even more necessary than before the pandemic.
As Alpha pivots into a coronaviral world, we are finding that we can recreate the Alpha experience virtually. There are even some additional benefits from running Alpha online. There are no geographical limits. There is no necessity for anyone to walk into an unfamiliar location. Parents who have small children can participate even if they have no one to babysit their kids. If guests have to travel for work, they can still jump on Zoom for the discussion. When we “meet” people in their own environments, we get to know each other quicker than in even the most relaxed “classroom” type setting.
We can even adapt the elements of Alpha that seem particularly rooted in the face-to-face experience. We may not be able to serve dinner every week, but that does not mean we cannot find creative ways to share snacks. We may not be able to have light conversation around a dinner table, but that does not mean we cannot dedicate part of our virtual session to just being friends hanging out together. We may not be able to share physical hugs, but that does not mean we cannot encourage, comfort, and love.
So, it turns out that the Holy Spirit is perfectly okay using Zoom.
My church is going to start a new season of Alpha on Wednesday March 10,2021. We will be meeting on Zoom from 6:30-7:45 pm Eastern USA time. I thought I would take advantage of the “no geographical limits” benefit of online Alpha to invite you to participate with me. I would really love it if some of you would join us. If you do not want to commit to the whole program but would just like to “come and see” for a session or two, you would be very welcome.
In our crazy, coronaviral world, many folks are already using Zoom. For those of you who have not yet gone Zooming, it is really easy. It is free. All you need is a computer or tablet that has a camera, microphone, and speakers. Some desktops have all these things. Just about any laptop or tablet will. You can even use a smart phone, but it is a little less comfortable. If you wish to join us, I’ll be sending you a link by email. All you will need to do is click on it. The first time, the process will lead you through installing the Zoom app on whatever device you are using.
If you would like to hang out with me in an Alpha session, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please provide your name, phone number and whether or not you can/wish to accept texts at that number, email address, and mailing address (you never know what delightful surprises you might find in your mailbox!) I will keep your information private. There is absolutely no commitment and NO PRESSURE.
Please consider joining us for our next search party!
Have you ever heard of Alpha? What questions do you have? Does it sound like something you might find interesting? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com.