Alpha in a Catholic context

07 September 2017 | Mr Dring | Share this article

Alpha in a Catholic context will start at St Paul’s Catholic College on Tuesday 26th September and run for 8 weeks from 7-9pm. All are invited. Contact Dominic Dring for more information at ddring@stpaulscc.co.uk or by phone 07875 728436.

Time and Location: 7-9 pm Tuesdays (dinner included)

Launches: Tuesday, 26th September 2017 at St Paul's Catholic College in Burgess Hill



Why Alpha?

In his 2013 teaching document Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis stressed ‘the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the centre of all evangelising activity and all efforts at Church renewal’ (para 164).

He went on to explain that ‘on the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” … it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways. Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation.’ (164-165)

Alpha is the kerygma. It is a well-established tool, used successfully by Catholic parishes across the world since it’s inception in the early 1990’s. While it may be most commonly associated with other Christian churches, it’s value, doctrinal integrity and efficacy has been acknowledged and acclaimed throughout the Catholic community, not least by Pope Francis himself who invited coordinators of Alpha to participate at the Synod on the New Evangelisation in 2012. Fr Raniero Cantalamesa, preacher to the Papal household since 1980, has been actively involved in the development and promotion of Alpha:

Alpha is a wonderful method to introduce people to a first knowledge of faith in a way that is very appropriate to modern man. It is a way that leads people to Jesus. Not Jesus as an idea, but the real, living Jesus – the Risen Jesus.

— Fr Raniero Cantalamesa

How Alpha?

Alpha is an 8-week introduction to the Christian faith open to anybody. At the heart of the course is a spirit of hospitality – welcome and sharing – where participants are ‘guests’ and not ‘students’. Each session has 3 key ingredients: food, input through a talk or video, and small group discussion.

The course presents participants with an opportunity to explore, through open questioning and discussion, the key questions of life, purpose, suffering and death, through the principal truths of the kerygma.

You feel like you can ask a ridiculous question, but it’s important to you at the time.

— Alpha Guest

Who Alpha?

Alpha is a tool for evangelisation which is effective and appropriate for a wide range of people:

  • For practicing Catholics - renewing and re-energising our parish communities
  • For lapsed or disillusioned Catholics – for those who no longer regularly participate in the life of our parishes
  • For Christians of other communities interested in exploring their faith through another ‘lense’
  • For people of other or no faith interested in exploring and experiencing the Christian faith e.g. family members, friends, colleagues, neighbours.

It is possibly easier to appreciate the benefit of Alpha as a ‘doorway’ to parish, catechesis and the Sacraments, for non- Christians, however the benefits to existing parish communities and parishoners are significant:

  1. To renew and re-energise our own faith communities by revisiting together the central Christian proclamation of Jesus Christ, ‘which we must hear again and again in different ways, …at every level and moment’ (Pope Francis)
  2. To help develop confidence in discussing and sharing our faith with others
  3. To develop our capacity for evangelisation and encourage us to invite and accompany others who are not Christian to this course.

Hannah Vaughan-Spruce, is a renowned Catholic catechist and author who used to be very sceptical of Alpha because of its lack of specifically Catholic teaching on Sacraments, etc. However, she has recently completed running the first Alpha Course in her parish (a ‘pilot’ for existing parishioners) and has been astonished at its success. She says she now “loves Alpha” because “the transformation we’ve seen over the last 11 weeks has been greater than any transformation I’ve ever seen before, in any programme of formation”.

Alpha in a Catholic Context - Introduction

Post-Alpha

Fr James Mallon, author of Divine Renovation, is one of hundreds of Catholic clergy who use the Alpha course as an essential and integral component of their formation and evangelisation programmes – whether in seminaries, parishes, schools or in more secular spaces.

The fruit of the Alpha course has convinced me that it has been blessed by God

— Fr James Mallon

Fr Raniero Cantalamesa stated that Alpha leads people to the living Jesus – to a relationship. This quality of encounter develops a hunger for more. The ‘more’ is often an active engagement with church and a desire for further formation and catechises. In the Catholic context this can lead to participation on an RCIA programme, Baptism, Confirmation etc. The ‘more’ may be for others a reconnection and commitment to church and parish community, and for those already engaged a deeper desire and competence to share their faith and participate more activiely in the mission of parish.

In most contexts Alpha is run as a rolling programme – if it is effective and fruitful it is likely that others will be ‘knocking at the door’ for the next programme. The running of the programme itself is an excellent way to engage committed parishioners to service and evangelisation though supporting the administration of a programme, providing catering or serving as ‘small group hosts’ to facilitate discussion during the sessions.

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