There’s always been a hole at my centre. At the very core of me, there’s always been something missing; something I’ve always felt I could fill with enough of this, or enough of that, or enough of whatever.
I was born into a pretty ordinary family, no real dysfunctionality, apart from my Dad being in the R.A.F and therefore having to move around a lot as a kid. I grew up in Malta, my Dad got based at R.A.F. Luqa, and although my memory is sketchy wholesale, I remember two things vividly. The first was my Dad frying an egg on the bonnet of his Renault 12, and the second was trying to run across the road with no flip-flops…I couldn’t do it…it was just too hot.
The first thing I remember about the U.K. was landing at Manchester airport and feeling cold rain. It came from the sky and it was cold, what was this, had someone up there turned the warm rain off? I was 10 years old, and had to start school again, the new boy again, I didn’t have the luxury of already formed friendships, I had to try and act like it didn’t bother me…again. A year of school in Yorkshire until my Dad found us a house in North Wales near to where he’d been posted in R.A.F Sealand, near Chester, then another year (again as new boy), in yet another school. It was like a roller-coaster of trying to fit in, trying to adapt. It was like running all the time, just to stand still. Exhausting.
I don’t know if this was the reason that I always felt different….but I did. I never once, during my early years, felt like I belonged…to anyone, or anything. I always felt like a fraud, a trickster, someone who was constantly just managing to keep my head above water; never drowning but never letting anyone see what effort it took to stop from going under….it was taking its toll.
I was always pretty damn good. At home and at school. I could always make people think anything I wanted them to. I actually excelled at school, but never let any of my new friends know it was easy. I took to most things I put my hands to. I auditioned for the school play during the last (my first) year at primary school and got the lead part. It was whilst on stage at ten years old that I knew what I wanted to do with my life…I wanted to act, after all, I’d spent the first decade of my life doing just this.
During secondary school, I did finally make some real friends. My Dad stop getting posted here there and everywhere, so I finally had some stability, but the feeling of being the new boy never really left me. I always felt as if I didn’t really belong, or, probably, more honestly, that I didn’t deserve to. There was a hole inside me that I needed to fill, and I didn’t know how to. Despite my achievements, I never felt I deserved them, I never felt truly good enough.
I left school at 16 and joined the R.A.F…it didn’t work out.
Some people need a disciplined structure to their lives, routines and rules, regulations and they have the ability to take orders…I’m the antithesis of this. I’m creative, inventive, imaginative and exactly the type of person who shouldn’t ever have these things stifled…although of course, I knew nothing of this at the time.
I came out feeling like I’d failed at something for the first time in my life, and then I discovered a cure for feeling like this….alcohol. After a few drinks, it didn’t matter. After a few drinks, I felt just like I assumed everyone else felt…comfortable. Comfortable with the world around me…comfortable in my own skin. It was lovely.
Having discovered what I thought to be the elixir for life and for happiness thereafter, I took it to excess, obviously. My Mum nicknamed me All or Nothing when I was about 7 (show me the boy at 7 and I’ll show you the man), and once I was on this treadmill, there was no getting off…I’d found what I was born to do….drink. I was good at it, it came naturally….and then I discovered drugs too….surely this was what life was all about. Surely.
The next 20 odd years passed by in a haze, they actually passed me by, without me even noticing: I got married, I had a son, I got divorced, I got jobs, I lost jobs, so I got more jobs, lost more jobs, girlfriends, fiancés even, pregnancies/terminations… then ecstasy, raves, arrests, police cells, stories to tell down the pub, stories that meant I was someone, rooms I lived in, sofa’s I’d stay on, always with a drink in my hand or a spliff in my mouth….a crazy 20 years…the golden years I called them at one point. Ha…the golden years.
The thing is see…I saw madness as a competition…and I never lost. I needed validation…and I couldn’t validate myself. I needed it externally, I needed people to see me, and even if I couldn’t be the best at something, I needed to then be the worst…because at least that was a talking point.
I had no faith. No faith in the world around me, no faith in the words people said, or in the actions I witnessed, but more importantly than any of that…I had no faith in me. I was in free-fall, and I knew it, and I didn’t care.
I drank and I drugged for 23 years before something happened. Those 23 years were crazy, senseless and hard. They were exhausting and they left me emotionally and spiritually bankrupt, but I couldn’t stop…I knew nothing else. Then, 12 years ago, I was out one Saturday night, and I got beaten up, battered to within an inch of my life. I spent 8 days in a coma, sustained 3 skull fractures, and a subdural haematoma. I had to learn how to walk and talk again, but even this….all this wasn’t enough to stop me.
I’d been out of hospital for 10 months when I finally hit my rock bottom, and that Wednesday afternoon in August of 2007 was (I now truly believe), the first time that I allowed myself to feel God’s presence. I was finally getting ready to let him in.
I’d never been an atheist, I simply wasn’t that brave. Instead I took a stance of just in case, so I suppose that made me an agnostic, atheism for cowards maybe, I don’t know.
I knew I was on the precipice, I had a choice to make. Live or die. So….
I started going to meetings, to AA meetings, and I finally, one step, one day at a time, got sober, got clean and gradually began to know I was being guided by some kind of higher power other than myself. I started praying, for the first time in my life, but I never really knew what I was praying to, who I was praying to or who was listening to these things I was saying late at night whilst on my knees in the dark. But it didn’t matter…it was working.
I stayed clean and sober for over 5 years, but then something happened and I picked up again. I let my meetings slip; other things became more important, and I forgot what it meant for me to drink, because for me, to drink is to end all other things….life, and all the good things that life means.
I started to feel as if I was missing something again, that ‘hole in my soul’ had come back. I was praying but it seemed empty. The relationship I’d formed with my higher power couldn’t sustain me through times of hardship and temptation any more. I needed something else.
A close friend of my girlfriend gave me a shout about this thing called Alpha, a course that was meant to get you believing in a Christian God, and Jesus. I’d always cried shy of any organised religion, I couldn’t get the logical side of my brain to believe in an immaculate conception or even a resurrection, but I decided to go, to have a look, see what it was all about….and thank God I did.
I went along to the course in Walton-on-Thames armed with thousands of questions, and I left with a million more, but over the course of the 3 months that Alpha ran, I gradually came to believe in, not a higher power of my understanding, but in God, and Jesus and the Gospel and everything I now know that I’ve been looking for my entire adult life.
The hole inside of me is, and always has been…God shaped. I spent my life in fear, but now I have faith. I simply can’t hold the both things in the same hand, one has to squeeze the other out, it has to….and so, from now on, I choose faith…it’s that simple.
It’s only the truly insane that never question their sanity. I’ve been insane most of my life, making the same mistakes, repeating the same patterns of behaviour and expecting different results, but now I don’t. I know now who I’m praying to, and I no longer feel the need to change things; the way I feel, the world around me, or the people in it.
I’ve lived the last 12 years with M.S. I was diagnosed in early sobriety, the first symptom of which was the loss of sight in my left eye, but there are two different ways I can look at this. I can either feel sorry for myself oh no, I’ve only got one eye…or, thank you God, I’ve still got one eye….and one of the main things I give thanks for when I pray is that God has always given me a glass half-full mentality, and for that I am truly thankful.
I take part in life again thanks to my relationship with God and Jesus. I’m back on stage, acting, where I believe I belong. I’ve got a degree in English and a Masters in Playwriting. My first play is being produced later in the year and I’m busy re-writing another. This all fuels my creativity, something which is an inherent need in me, just like food, just like oxygen.
God hasn’t just given me a second chance, he’s given me hundreds. He never abandoned me when I was in the depths of despair from my addictions….I simply wasn’t ready to accept him into my life. I have something now which is more precious to me than anything I’ve ever had…a newfound freedom and a newfound happiness, all through the realisation of God in my life, and for this I feel truly blessed…So thank you Clare for letting me know about Alpha, thank you to Alex and John, who ran it, and thank you to everyone who did the course with me, everyone who helped out and specially the cooks, who didn’t half cook us some nice dinners along the way. Thank you all!
Steve Webb. (Alcoholic. Drug Addict…… Christian.)
Swapping the roller coaster for a walk in the park…
7.30pm on a Thursday evening. Not a particularly exciting time of the week per se – but over the last three months of 2016 it has held a special place for me. It’s the time of my Alpha Course.
For most of my life I’ve had a really up and down relationship with my faith, and with God. It’s got me through some tough times, helped me to think and act differently, and I’ve made some great friends through it – but then at others I’ve felt let down by the church, detached from the things I thought I believed in, and to be honest life has just somehow focused on other things.
Over the last two years, the St John’s congregation, Toddlers Praise and the invaluable Twins Club has once again started to bring me closer to God, and I started to feel some of the things I had felt at other moments in my life. But my great fear was that I would simply begin the roller coaster again, and this time as a Mother, Wife, as well as simply me, I felt that I wanted to do something about it. That’s why I looked again at the Alpha Course, and, in a moment of calm sat in front of a computer, I sent John Muggleton an email asking to join the Autumn group.
Fast forward six weeks, and at 7.30pm on the first Thursday in September, I walk into St John’s and into a sea of faces I didn’t know – but all of whom welcomed me instantly. It set the direction for what I was about to experience over the next 12 weeks. Unlimited amounts of support, friendship – and open mindedness for when you ask the questions that you almost feel stupid asking. A level of trust which encourages you to share your hopes, fears and often your biggest worries. And the right environment for you to scrutinise everything you think you believe in – or not. Plus, if you go to the evening Alpha you are fed with delicious food from amazing volunteers, and there are biscuits aplenty!
It is what you want it to be – you watch a video every week of a talk by the inspirational Nicky Gumbel, the Vicar at Holy Trinity Brompton, and founder of the course, and then for the last hour or so you discuss what you have seen and heard. There is as much listening as talking, and John and the people who help him always keep discussions moving, so there’s no awkward silences. Equally in a week where the video you’ve seen really connects with you, you can share a whole tumble of thoughts and no one will cut you off! What I learnt is that Alpha is about you asking the questions you need to ask, and finding your way with your faith and with God, in whatever direction that might be.
It’s now January, and I feel different; life feels different. I have a constant to my faith for the first time in my life, a calmness which makes it so much more enjoyable; I have a whole group of friends with whom I have laughed and cried over the last 3 months, and who I know will support me in my continuous journey as a Christian; and I have a certificate from my confirmation, the most amazing experience, and one which I had got so close to before and then walked away from numerous times.
However, there’s just one problem – the gap in my diary at 7.30pm on a Thursday. Luckily the volunteer rota is now open for helping with the meal on a Thursday evening so my Alpha journey hasn’t yet come to an end…
My Alpha journey
My Alpha journey started a year after my second child was born – although I had been attending St John’s church since my first child had been born roughly two and a half years before.
Like a lot of people, so I have now found out, I went to church every Sunday as a young girl and found it boring and rigid, not somewhere a child would feel they wanted to be. So at the earliest chance I ditched going to church for going out with my friends – but although I stopped going I still used to pray and I believed that there was more to life, but what?
I had been intrigued by the Bible and the stories of Jesus but frightened off by my earlier experiences with the church and the people in it. So when I started going to church in the hope of finding more knowledge and a sense of community and support I did not feel a connection straight away.
I then saw in the Parish Diary that there was a Newcomers Tea, and although I was definitely not new to the parish I thought that it may be a good way to meet some other like-minded people within the church community. I’m so glad I did as I spoke to a couple of people at the tea who I am proud to call true friends and they suggested that it may be worth my while joining the January 2015 Alpha course. It sounded like a great way to have my questions answered about God, Jesus, the Bible and the church and its protocols in general.
I turned up on the first evening on my own, anxious about the whole situation – although I needn’t have as I met John Muggleton and his many helpers who were all so kind and welcoming. There were 5 other people who had also come to find out more and had questions. I enjoyed the fact that our group was small, it made asking questions and forming bonds a lot easier.
Throughout my journey I have learnt a lot of information, particularly from John, but also from others, about the church, its community and about the Bible and Jesus and the other people within the Bible who play a vital role. But most of all I feel I now belong to our community and I now have a purpose.
My journey I have to say is not yet over, I have a long way to go, but I have taken some big steps along my journey which would not have been possible without Alpha. I also have some great friends now who are on the journey with me and I feel very loved and supported as a result of attending an Alpha course.
So if you have questions about God, Jesus and the Bible, or you want to feel like you connect with the parish community, then Alpha is definitely the course for you.
When we moved to Walton-on-Thames in September 2013, I had recently given birth to my second daughter and I was on maternity leave from my job as a clinical psychologist. I heard at one of the church services at St Mary’s that there was an Alpha course running in the Spring and contacted John Muggleton to find out more. John was very welcoming and told me it was possible to join the morning Alpha group where there was a crèche for babies and preschoolers. I’d always wanted to do an Alpha course but had tended to put it off and make excuses about having too much work or too many other commitments. For some reason, this time was different. It seemed like a perfect opportunity and I decided to give it a go. At the very least, as a newcomer, I thought it would be a good way to meet members of the church community.
Our morning Alpha group was made up of five people, including John, who led the sessions and Sally, who had done a previous Alpha course and was helping out. Being a small group meant it was very informal and we were able to share ideas, questions and experiences. Having the crèche in the room next door meant I could leave my baby and know that she was being well cared for. Each week we watched a video during which Nicky Gumbel (the vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Brompton) talked on the subject of the week (e.g. Why did Jesus die? How can we have faith?). The talks were always interesting, engaging, and filled with just the right amount of humour. Afterwards we discussed the talk, any questions it raised, and how it related to our own experience. We ended the sessions with some prayers.
One of the most striking things about Alpha for me has been the sense of spiritual and physical well-being I have experienced as a result of prayer. Having suffered with a painful and life-limiting autoimmune condition for many years, I have seen a vast improvement in my symptoms.
Alpha feels like it was the beginning of a journey and the start of a deeply personal relationship with God. It has made me re-evaluate my beliefs and values, the way I live my life, and the way I relate to my family and friends. It’s also been great fun, a real learning experience, and I’ve made some lovely new friends.
Following on from Alpha, I decided to be confirmed. The confirmation ceremony took place at Guildford Cathedral on 20th July 2014. It was a special and memorable occasion. I am now enjoying the Alpha follow-on course, ‘A Life Worth Living’ and I look forward to continuing to grow in my faith.
Paola Fuortes-Shah is a professional photographer and mother of two small children. She was received into the Church of England at the Dawn Service on Easter Sunday along with 21 other adults who were being confirmed and 2 who were reaffirming their baptism vows. 18 of these (including Paola) were people who had come through our Autumn & Spring Alpha courses and 6 had come through the Confirmation class. This is her story:
Part one – Lost and found
Who I am?
My name is Paola and I am an Alpha person. My life as a Christian started with my Christening in Italy some time around 1973 or 1974, I can only guess the Church in which the sacrament was performed as the only 3 people present at that point passed away a long time ago. I was brought up as Catholic for years, rebelled against the teachings and actions of my church when my mother died prematurely over 15 years ago and prayed on and off for my whole life – mainly giving thanks in the last four years for keeping my husband, my two children and myself alive and reasonably healthy.
Despite believing in the scripture regarding Jesus, recognising him as Son of God and feeling the presence of a higher being, my relationship with God was virtually non-existent. The church was a place one would find me for funerals, weddings (especially those I shot) and christenings, including that of my own children who were baptised in Italy and blessed in St. Mary’s despite my cynicism, scepticism and most recently apathy towards everything that the church represented. Despite what my experience was I felt that it was the right action to take for them at that time, I believed that there can still be something good in a church like there was 2,000 years ago. Both their Christening in the family church and their blessing at St. Mary’s by Charles were marked with an amazing presence of energy and love, which I know now, had started to make ripples in the canvas of our lives.
I need to explain that my life had been a dark tunnel since the age of three – I have seen and felt what no child should experience, my years as teenager were even worse and losing my mother was the tipping point in my life, so everything became even darker. I did resurface every now and then, pulled out by some miraculous event, like meeting my second husband, giving life to my kids and meeting Caroline Merrick, Dawn May and Gen Owen in September 2014 and subsequently John Muggleton in January 2015.
Why St. Mary’s?
The thought of having to face another winter alone and desperate, coupled with a recommendation from a mum my husband met on his train commute, made me decide to venture outside my tunnel and, empowered by a sunny day and some Rescue Remedy, I took my kids to Toddler’s Praise in St Mary’s Church Hall. I had known about this place for a little while, but a number of things, the fact the kids generally sleep at the same time the sessions were held, not knowing anyone there, and the sheer fear of going outside of the house with the two of them by myself, had kept me procrastinating about attending this service. The underlying factor though were the doubts about whether I belonged, whether they would welcome someone on the brink of breakdown, with two vivacious children who I kept on a leash (literally) every time we were in the scary outdoors. It’s amazing how fast and in different directions twins can run and mainly outrun an out-of-her-wits mother!
To my amazement the warmth of the reception we all received was quite overwhelming and the skin tingling sensation I experienced on that day, still happens when I speak to Caroline these day. She only asked if I was new to Walton, which I wasn’t – I had been a hermit for years having lost trust in virtually all people and ultimately in me. I opened my heart to her in a matter of minutes.
The whole encounter was quite surreal, I was so used to talk about the weather that a deep conversation involving my mental health and the need for help was not only unexpected but also unprecedented. I had spent my life shielding, hiding, denying, hurting, losing my way, losing myself, so asking help from a stranger was the last thing I would have expected from me.
‘I need help’ I think I think I said – at the same time I was thinking ‘I am lost, I am drowning, I am walking blind taking one day at the time’. And a few words later I just blurted out ‘And I love singing!’ Seriously?! How did that come out? And in a matter of seconds I was thinking ‘Oh my! This woman must think I am drunk at 2.00 in the afternoon!’. Given the state I was in it would have been possible although not plausible.
So instead of finding Caroline looking at me as if she thought it was time for a straight jacket, she just smiled and replied, ‘There’s a reason why you have come now and a reason why a choir is about to form. Our vicar is going to love you!’ – ‘Phew!’ – I thought ‘I got away with it, although these kind of talks are a bit spooky!’
The couple of months that followed this spectacular meeting are a bit of a blur, so much happened. My kids started Sunday school, my husband got involved in our new lives as ‘church goers’, I joined the church choir and mainly I listened to the sermons and caught myself thinking ‘These Anglicans are quite different!’. I met other lovely people like Dawn, who has been keeping an eye on me since the first Sunday school attendance and Mandy Watts who always has a smile.
After a couple of months another encounter became the catalyst for my next leap of faith: meeting Gen Owen. I didn’t know who she was when we sat at her biscuit decoration table during the Advent Day at St. Mary’s Hall, but she was welcoming, kind and sympathetic and I just wanted to know her and to meet people like her, I told her we were planning to leave Walton as there wasn’t much for us here, she told me her friends were mainly part of this Church, this community.
Community, this is what I was looking for, for my children, for my sake and their sake; that’s what I had been looking for all along, a network of nice people, I just didn’t know where to find them. Certainly my experience as Catholic didn’t teach me that there are lovely people in a church, whether they are on this side or the other side of the altar, to me everyone was a preacher and everyone who was present felt the need to judge yet disappeared when was time to help. In my head some went to church to wear their best clothes, some to gossip, some to confess and be pardoned, but nobody ever had talked about community. So what was this community and what did they do? Was it a cliquey group or would they accept an outsider, borderline atheist, confused agnostic with a bag of issues and questions on her shoulders? This was when Caroline came back with an answer which I hadn’t so publicly formulated: ‘You go and do Alpha’. I didn’t even ask what Alpha was…
Part two – Alpha Living
Alpha, what on earth is that? Certainly not a course on how to become a leader of a pack of wolves?! And there I was, I didn’t ask, I didn’t Google it, I did as I was told (something I have virtually never done) and put my name down, signing up for a life changing experience – and yet stepping into the unknown.
I think I missed the first session and I arrived half an hour late for the second (actually believing it was starting at 10.00 instead of 9.30). Everyone was seated and I felt quite under the spotlight as I scouted the room, surprisingly recognising one by one half of the people sitting in the circle, even John Muggleton, who I had never met before.
Ruth Crowson, my newly acquired lovely neighbour was there with her friend (all our eldest attend the same pre-school), one of my fellow choir member was looking back at me warmly, another friend I had met through my studio work was in the same circle and the lady who recommended Toddler’s Praise to my husband was there too! I don’t believe in fortuitous coincidences and the icing on the cake arrived when, after 3 weeks of meeting together, another Alpha group member told me she was the winner of a voucher I donated to Ashley School for Christmas, revealing the 1 (voucher) to 600 (parents) chance to be ‘planned’ rather than just random. So in front of me there were sitting 5 people that were already in my life as acquaintances but not necessarily close friends yet.
The first week was a bit strange, you open up your heart, you talk about Jesus, and I thought ‘I do believe in the scriptures but how do they apply?’. I had loads of questions. It’s like an open heart surgery going to Alpha, you are completely exposed, not because you are meant to – but because you want to; you want to share your stories and your troubles. Then after the process you go through to understand why you are there, in that group of amazing people, you start praying together and you start healing together, and that is powerful, so powerful it is actually unbelievable. I didn’t know how strong was the power of God before that. We made things happen together, I felt my whole body full of light and love and it had been such a long time; apart from the love that I have for my family, my husband, my kids; this is a love that goes beyond any imagination, it goes outside of you and you could be walking and you feel like you are ten people instead of one. All you want to do is spread the love, touch other people’s life, help them, offer them your hand; so from not believing that God existed in this life, in me, to all the questions I had about a God that let terrible things happen to good people, I became more peaceful and grateful. John once compared becoming a Christian to changing your diet, and once you realise it is good for you then you can start helping other people to change their diets, like your children, your family. I remember so clearly my reaction to that: ‘I’m not going to change anyone’s diet’; I believed that faith, if any, should be private, not something to boast about nor pester people with. I have now learned that faith can be both private and public but it doesn’t have to be forceful, there are many ways to reach a broken heart.
What has happened in 10 weeks or so of meeting up, sharing our beliefs, doubts, experiences, hopes and fears has had an indescribable impact on my life, the rest of the group members and the people connected to us whether by blood, friendship, creed or spiritual connection.
We have learned how to pray – giving thanks, asking for forgiveness, pleading for ourselves, those we love and those loved by others in the group. We have prayed for things whose outcome was at times unrealistic and yet amazingly granted, we have received responses to our prayers within weeks, days and minutes; hence reaffirming God’s love for others and reassuring us, novices to these amazing manifestations, that He is listening. I have experienced the love of Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit just by the touch on a shoulder from a hand carrying a prayer; His power has flowed like a river of light bursting from inside and emanating out, leaving me vacillating and yet ecstatic.
The ecstasy of my discoveries has changed me and I believe and hope it is for good. I am becoming a better person and I have accepted some of the sufferings I had to endure in the past. My kids love me more now, now that I am not as scary as I used to be, the miserable mamma who was just trying to get through the day.
It’s not all fun and games, I am still stressed, frustrated, resentful, impatient, I have a bad temper and there are still demons haunting me from the past – and I am sure there’ll be new ones that I need to keep at bay, but I have different resources now. I have John guiding me (he is one of the most amazing people I have ever met and a few words will never do justice to the person he is), my Alpha friends who I am sure won’t let me fall, new friends on the horizon, new people to help and inspire and share healing with. To keep the momentum going I have now started the ‘Life Worth Living’ course and I am very excited about this further progress in my journey; I just wish all my Alpha friends were there too, so I pray to God to come up with a solution so everyone of us can carry on this path together. I feel so privileged to be their friend, and I am thankful they are a part of my life as I believe it was a match that was meant to be.
To conclude, you won’t find me at the corner of the High Street giving out religious leaflets, nor knocking at your door to try to convince you about God’s existence, but in my own way I’ll try to reach as many people as I can so that someone else can benefit from discovering that there’s a lovely place at the end of the tunnel where in a flood of light they can belong too.
Alpha had always been one of those things on my ‘I’ll do that one day’ list. A friend had suggested it to me at University and then several years later it was recommended to me by a work friend. Initially I just don’t think I was in the right frame of mind to sign up and I couldn’t see how it was for me. I told myself there were other more important things in my life. But something changed around the time my first son was born and I started to think about what I wanted for his future and how I wanted to bring him up.
My husband’s family are strongly connected to the Church where they live and my husband was brought up in the Christian faith. I decided that was what I wanted for my children and I have to say in all honesty I didn’t really put myself into the equation as much as I now realise I should have.
I opted for the Tuesday morning course. The fact that there is a creche for those with young children made it much easier for me and I will be eternally grateful to the lovely helpers who looked after my younger son for all those weeks!
I can’t deny that I was nervous as I walked into our first meeting at St John’s. Would people be shocked that I hadn’t been baptised? Or that I knew very little about the Bible or Jesus? However, what became clear so quickly was that this was a wonderful group of people with lots of the same questions and thoughts as me racing through their minds. I almost instantly relaxed.
As the weeks progressed I found myself more and more engrossed in the meetings and relishing the debates, questions and support from the rest of the group. I was getting so much more out of it than I had ever expected to. Learning about Jesus and reading the Bible had captivated me and I just wanted to keep on learning. I would often reignite the discussions at home with my husband – and was so surprised to realise how much he knew – it gave us a new topic of conversation aside from talking about the children!
What gradually became apparent was that each individual in the group was in a very different place with regard to their faith but it didn’t seem to matter. If anything it made our group think harder, reflect more and look at things from different perspectives. In addition, John’s constant words of support and wisdom were so important and kept our discussions moving along. We also had two helpers Catherine and Ruth on our course who had both done Alpha a few years back and their input too was invaluable. It was so nice to hear them say that they were still learning new things, despite having done the course already.
Alpha has given a solid foundation to start me on my Christian journey and it has also opened up my eyes to what a wonderful community we live in. I have met a group of such fantastic friends and I am going to miss our weekly meetings. I am however, looking forward to our follow up Home Group starting in January. I also have such renewed energy and enthusiasm for attending Church, particularly as through Alpha I now feel like I understand more of what is being said and what it means.
As you have also probably guessed by now, what I got out of Alpha was for me. Yes, my children will benefit too but the focus rightly became more about me and my faith in the end.
What is so unique about Alpha is that you take from it what you want. If there are things that you want to understand and learn more about that’s great but equally there is no pressure if you find that for whatever reason it’s not for you. To anyone who is considering taking the course I cannot recommend Alpha enough.
Is ALPHA ‘Life changing’?
I wouldn’t say I came from a religious family, my parents pride themselves on going to church whenever invited – i.e. weddings, christenings and funerals. However I was christened as a baby and went to a C of E school, although that may have been based on location not faith. It was at school that I learnt the story of Jesus, Christian celebrations (Harvest, Easter, Christmas), prayer and sang hymns in worship. This was the foundation of my faith but it wavered through university and my early 20’s.
I met the love of my life and we started planning a wedding! It was important to us both to get married in Church and we wanted God to be part of our married life and future family. Hayden had had a much more Christian upbringing than me, regularly going to Church, Crusaders and studying the bible. I was obviously pleased that we shared our Christian faith and knew it made us stronger but I felt my faith wasn’t as secure as his, and I had big gaps in my knowledge and understanding of it.
We moved to Walton on Thames in November 2007 when I was 7 months pregnant and we started attending St John’s church at the top of our road. We instantly were made to feel welcome by the small but very friendly congregation. We agreed on bringing our family up within the church and being a Christian family, although I still felt I wasn’t necessarily qualified to teach my children about Christianity. We regularly attended St John’s, had Owen christened there and got involved when we could.
I’d heard about the ALPHA course but didn’t really know what it was, other than people saying it had ‘changed their lives’, surely that can only be a good thing? I hoped this was my opportunity to learn more and deepen my faith – and with Owen starting nursery I had a free morning to dedicate to ALPHA without a Bob the Builder sticker book in hand.
On our first session I was struck by how lovely the other attendees were, all friendly and not at all strange! I found the format was a really refreshing way of looking at the bible. The talks from Nicky Gumbel were interesting, funny, relevant and provoked lots of questions – yes you can ask questions, in fact it is encouraged! I always found the discussions a great way to develop my understanding of that week’s topic and often found a link to something personal to me; it’s a safe environment to openly ask questions and share. I always left our sessions feeling upbeat, happy, optimistic and ready to take on the week ahead.
One week the topic was on healing, the talk as always was captivating and inspiring as was our discussion. At the end of our session John suggested we pray for anyone that wanted or needed some help. I didn’t say anything but John turned to look at me and said ‘I feel you need us to pray for you Lucy’, without saying a word I had tears in my eyes. I’d been having some problems but didn’t feel it was worthy of praying for, but when John asked me, it felt like God knew I needed help and was offering it to me. The whole group all laid their hands on me and prayed for me. I felt an overpowering sense of love, a warm sensation throughout my body and although my eyes were closed I saw a golden light. It was an overwhelming experience on that day and also ever since as I felt I wasn’t alone and God was and is always with me. I took comfort from that day onwards and it has changed the way I feel on a daily basis.
The other big change in my daily life came through Prayer. After every ALPHA session we prayed together and sometimes prayed for each other but I found the structure of my prayers at home sometimes sounded a bit jumbled up and I was self-conscious that they didn’t make sense or weren’t heart felt. One night I went to check on Owen before I went to bed myself and as I saw him lying there I felt really emotional as I love him so much, I decided to sit next to him and pray. I laid my hand on him and thanked God for this precious gift in my life; I have so much to be thankful for that my adoration and thanks came straight from the heart and easily. I found it came naturally and filled me with such happiness and fulfillment that no matter what happened that day I went to bed thinking how lucky and grateful I was for all I have, and in turn I woke up feeling that way and being open to seeing the good, not the negative, and this has continued. It changed my outlook on life and therefore my general mood and therefore my experience of life. I feel content with myself and all the wonderful things in my life – which can’t help but put a smile on your face.
As part of the ALPHA course there is a weekend session dedicated to the Holy Spirit. It was really enjoyable with live music and meeting lots of new people. Near the end of the sessions we watched a film on people’s experience of the Holy Spirit; a bright light, falling to their knees, hearing a voice and collapsing to the floor. They spoke of messages, feelings of love, and one man spoke about his desire for the Holy Spirit but nothing had happened to him, until one morning at 4am he experienced the Holy Spirit in bed and was overjoyed. Well at hearing all of this I didn’t much fancy falling to the floor in front of all my new found friends so when everyone was encouraged to pray to experience the Holy Spirit, I prayed for the Holy Spirit NOT to visit me right there but that 4am one day would be fine. I left the event on a real high.
The following week John spoke about the Annual Parish Meeting, and that as members of the church we should go and participate in ‘our’ church. So I went along with a fellow ALPHA friend Paula. The meeting was like most AGM’s a lot of accounts and budget talk. Then it went on to talk of lack of volunteers, and David, the Church Warden, spoke of his frustration over nobody standing for Church Warden (and other roles). So again he was left alone with a huge responsibility, this frustration led him to think he wouldn’t stand again, until he remembered why he is active in the Church – the reason: because Jesus died on the Cross for us. Well that struck a cord with me!
On our way home Paula and I spoke about it, and how we were sure that the members of the parish were willing to help but maybe they needed someone to facilitate – to match the willingness with the need… well that night I was sound asleep until about 4am, when I woke and sat bolt upright and thought ‘I can facilitate it’! Lots of ideas of how I could do it flooded me, so I got my reading light out and wrote them down. It was an enlightening, empowering but peaceful vision, I put my pen down and went back to sleep.
The next morning I questioned if that was the Holy Spirit or baby brain talking, or maybe I could share my ideas and someone better qualified could fulfill it, as I’m certainly not someone the Holy Spirit gives a mission to, am I? Well I emailed my ideas to John and spoke to him that week at Alpha. He suggested I read Joshua 1 – it certainly helped and gave me another spur ‘maybe I can do this’.
Then it was Easter and I spent the holidays in Bristol with family. On Easter Sunday we went to Church and had communion, I’m not confirmed so I just went up for a blessing. When the vicar came to me and put his hand on my head, I was overwhelmed with warmth and a glow, I didn’t hear his prayer but I felt fantastic as I returned to my seat. On our way out of the church the vicar shook everyone’s hand, when I came to him he held onto my hand and said something like ‘when I came to you today I couldn’t give my normal prayer as I saw you are embarking on a special journey, you may not know what it is yet but you have a great task ahead of you and I pray for your success’. I just said ‘thank you’ smiled and kept walking. My husband said ‘That’s the volunteering business you’ve been banging on about’. I still thought maybe it was something else! Surely it isn’t that important and surely nor am I? That night when I prayed I asked for reassurance. I had a wonderful dream and woke up feeling really confident I could put my plan into action.
The mission is still in its planning stage but my aim is to get it up and running before I have my second baby (early October) so please keep your eyes open for notices and your hearts open to the opportunity of being more active in your parish.
ALPHA has deepened my faith, filled me with confidence as a Christian, given me a more positive outlook on my wonderful life and future.
I am getting confirmed in December, which feels like another positive step in my new life.
So they are right ALPHA is ‘Life changing’ – and for the good.
Why did I do Alpha?
Even though I had previously attended an Alpha course in another town, I was still very nervous and anxious about what to expect at St John’s.
If I was honest, I would tell you that I was really not sure about it for the first three weeks. It felt a little uncomfortable. Maybe I was slightly intimidated by the knowledge of the seasoned, but kindly, Christians among us, or maybe I was just afraid of what I was about to discover and embark upon. In the face of all of this, I decided I would not give up just yet.
Whatever my fears were at the time, they would soon disappear with the warmth, understanding and trust of my group. Not just the leaders but the whole team. I not only discovered more about Christianity, but also how important my role as a Christian was in making a difference.
Before I went on the Alpha course, my belief was very shallow and I did not realise the significance of what it means to truly have a relationship with God, and what meaning that can bring to your life. All I knew was to pray when things got a bit tough.
The most important and life-changing part of these ten weeks, which has put everything into perspective, is my experience with the Holy Spirit on this last Easter Monday. Something so profound, I am still trying to digest it all and what has happened to me.
I can honestly say the Alpha course is one of the most important and memorable things I have done to date. How dramatic that may sound, I do not know. What I do know is I have discovered in myself a knowledge about God that I never felt was possible, and a hope that fills my days with complete appreciation – even through the most stressful times.
Alpha has been a real springboard into something I did not know was possible. I am very grateful to be on this wonderful journey that is more exciting and intriguing with every day that passes.
Life beyond Alpha
If someone had told me two years ago that I would be writing an article for Radius about my spiritual journey through Alpha and beyond, I would have laughed very loud and long. The only thing I could be described as in September 2002 was a committed agnostic!
By lucky coincidence at that time, the Alpha course had arrived in Walton and was here at St. Johns. This turned out to be a pivotal moment in my Christian life. I must confess that I spent most of the course determined to out-fox John Muggleton with some issue he couldn’t answer. I had some useful accomplices in Sarah and Ed Davey to help me but for all of you that know our beloved Mr. Muggleton, you’ll know that we had no chance. By the end of the course Nicky Gumbel and John had convinced me that there was a lot going for this Christianity thing – my head was convinced but not my heart!
Over the last 18 months it is fair to say that my life has changed in many ways. I did ‘Life worth Living’ and I was involved in a post-Alpha home group but my work life was becoming increasingly difficult – I felt that I was being asked to perform ‘mission impossible.’ By January my stress levels were through the roof and I’m sure I was not a great person to be around for Lu or the kids. It was then that Lu uttered some very special words: “You don’t have to deal with this all yourself; someone else will help you if you let him!” Simple words that had a very big impact. I then decided that Lu may have a point and so I called John and we had some lunch. I would describe John as my Christian coach and he was very helpful. After that lunch I decided to commit to read the bible for Lent and pray – this was a BIG DEAL for me. As soon as I started this things began to change.
At the end of February I had a long chat with my boss at work. The result was that I would be able to leave and get paid enough to protect my family for several months. I knew that God was telling me something – it just made sense. The Holy Spirit was working within me; I just didn’t know it at the time.
Everything in my Christian life finally clicked into place when I committed to completing the Alpha Course by going on the Holy Spirit weekend. I hadn’t been able to do this when I did the course previously and always felt that I should have done. I had the opportunity, along with my old Alpha companions Ed Davey & John Muggleton, to go on a weekend with 200 people from Holy Trinity Brompton (most of you will know it as HTB.)
Over the course of the weekend I realised the wonderful power of the Holy Spirit. Some of you may be disappointed to hear that I didn’t have some lightning bolt experience. I had a wonderful feeling of knowing. I knew that the Holy Spirit had been working with me ever since I picked up the bible and started to pray – it was only then that I realised what a support he had been. The other key moment for me was when the Holy Spirit helped me understand the importance of Barnabas in my life. For those of you that aren’t familiar with him, he was the great encourager – a wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit. I had seen a programme on Paul a few days earlier and Barnabas stood out to me. It was only at the weekend that I realised why. The Holy Spirit was guiding me, telling me that this is what I should do – encourage people. I now find myself embarking on a new career as a life and business coach. As a conclusion, the Holy Spirit means everything to me. Until the Alpha weekend my head was convinced that Christianity was right but something was missing. On that weekend my faith moved from my head to my heart. I know it was the Holy Spirit that made this happen.
Why did I do Alpha?
I recently attended the Alpha Course and wanted to share some of my experiences. Firstly a bit of background: my father is a Vicar and I have always been to church, but in latter years I haven’t belonged to a church or attended regular worship. When I moved to Walton I decided I wanted to change this, so my husband and I started attending St Mary’s and really enjoyed the services. After a year of attending I realised that I still did not know anybody, and it was time to take the next step. I saw the Alpha Course advertised and decided to attend. However, I only rang up to enquire two nights before the course started, and at that time was having doubts. I secretly hoped it would be full!
On the first night I stood outside St John’s church wondering whether to go in or not; it is hard to take that initial step, especially when you know nobody. I need not have worried as I was greeted by a warm and friendly group of people.
The Alpha Course follows a series of topics that are fundamental to the Christian faith. Each week we would have a meal together, watch a talk, and then break into small discussion groups. There was no pressure and always the opportunity to ask any question. I expected to enjoy the course on an intellectual level; I did not expect the experience to personally affect my faith. A pivotal point was the Holy Spirit weekend, where we joined with Holy Trinity Brompton and other churches for a weekend of fellowship. It turned out to be a fantastic event where the Holy Spirit was explored through excellent worship. My experience has resulted in a blossoming of my faith and making new friends. The Alpha Course is a credit to the church.
Alpha- a personal perspective
In September 2002, our parish teamed up with the Baptist Church in Walton to run a joint Alpha course and I was asked to be a helper. I had heard a lot about Alpha and seen the adverts on the back of buses and in the press so it was with some curiosity that I agreed to take part. I feel that I must confess that my preconceptions of Alpha were wrong. I thought that it would be very pushy and too ‘happy-clappy’ for me. I am a pillar-and-pew sort of Anglican and not given to sudden outbursts of ‘Praise the Lord’ and hand waving.
Alpha is an 11-week course and currently there is a morning course with a creche for preschool children and an evening Alpha that begins with a meal and a chance for a chat with the others on the course. The topic of religion is not encouraged at supper- that comes later! Then there is a video during which Nicky Gumbel (who is a member of the clergy team at Holy Trinity Church, Brompton) talks on the subject of the week e.g. Why did Jesus die? How can I be sure of my Faith? And afterwards there is the chance to discuss the talk in the small groups. These are a group of 10-12 people made up of a leader and two helpers and eight or nine guests.
Many of the topics provoke questions that trouble us all at some time in our lives and Church is not always the place to raise them but during Alpha we are given the opportunity to explore these ideas more fully, to explore the meaning of life.
There is a good reason why the logo is ? Alpha provides a safe environment to ask questions that have arisen from the talks or other areas of our lives.
Alpha is strongly Bible-based and the methodical layout helps to fill in the gaps in our knowledge and experience but the talks are not dry and dusty. They are funny and encouraging, they seem to build you up and not judge you. I am left with a strong sense that developing my faith can be fun and uplifting and not a series of hoops to jump through or tasks to be completed.
Taking part in Alpha as a helper or leader has given me the opportunity to get to know people from different parts of the church community. There is a feeling of a shared journey whether you are a leader, helper or guest.
For me the real difference is that I now have a personal relationship with God through his Son Jesus. I am a ‘cradle’ Christian, brought up on Bible stories and prayers every night so I knew that God was there but my relationship with him was more like that of an elderly grandfather. I would visit on special occasions, ask for help in emergencies and then not bother him for months.
Alpha has changed the way I lead my life, the way I make decisions, how I use my time, everything. I would encourage you to come and find out for yourselves. No matter how long you have been coming to church don’t form your opinion until you have tried it. Be bold. Try Alpha. How bad can it be?
Thank you, Alpha
At the risk of sounding like the mother in Miranda Hart’s hilarious sitcom I never knew becoming a Christian was going to be ‘such fun’! I thought it meant being pious and serious and would mean doing all sorts of things I didn’t really want to do. And anyway doing as I was told had never been part of my make up! But I found none of this was true. Every day I trust that God’s plans for me are good and that He will always be at my side and yes, I am willing to do as He tells me.
I realise now that God started preparing me for this time about five years ago as I found myself having to draw on an inner strength I never knew I had. Looking back I realise that I was being prepared well in advance and that the Holy Spirit had set to work in my life some time ago.
I went to a Catholic day school in Weybridge and was taught by nuns from the age of four until I left at the age of sixteen. Although my parents were not Catholic they liked the school. I suspect that as the pupils wore white gloves in the summer they probably thought a school like this would turn me in to a young lady…that is for others to say whether this happened or not but I don’t think my parents choice of school for me was anything to do with religion but simply that they believed it was a good school.
Apart from the church services at school I only went to church occasionally with my family and can’t even recall which church we went to. It was a case of ‘hatches, matches and dispatches’ and like many others we would visit at Christmas and Easter and would not call ourselves regular churchgoers. My father tells me he always says his prayers at night and my mother describes herself as an agnostic though she did say that when I was seriously ill as a small child and in and out of hospital that she made a deal with God and only asked for one thing and that thing was that I would get better. So the prayers of an agnostic can be answered after all…
I was one of only three non-Catholics in my class at school and always felt something of an outsider. The non-Catholics were told ‘You are welcome to come to the services but you don’t have to’. Although I did go to the services this affected my feelings around religion in a profoundly negative way as I always felt that church was there but that I was not truly welcome.
When in 1992 Alex and I were married at St Nicolas Church in Cranleigh, a village near my family home, I loved the wedding ceremony more than any other part of the day. I felt so happy and at peace that I didn’t want it to end, I just wanted to stay forever in the church with my new husband, in God’s presence, that beautiful Spring day.
A few years later when our first child was baptised at St Nicolas I mentioned in passing to the vicar, Nigel Nicolson, that I would like to get more involved in the church in Walton-on-Thames. He told this news to the vicar at St Mary’s and one morning I found my local vicar introducing himself to me on the doorstep whilst I stood awkwardly in my dressing gown holding our tiny first- born child. To be perfectly frank this visit disturbed me greatly as I felt I wanted to come to church in my own time and this unannounced visit, though kindly meant, did not feel right. It was clearly not the best time for me to make any way forward as to where my potential faith might take me.
Over the next ten years or so something was happening as I still felt I wanted to get involved but didn’t quite know how to go about it. I now had two beautiful daughters and even though Linda (Muggleton) encouraged me to bring them to Toddler’s Praise, something still held me back. Although I had attended some of the services at St Mary’s and St John’s (school events, Christmas etc) I was aware of an overriding feeling that somehow I just didn’t belong.
Once again I felt the Holy Spirit’s presence when, in 2008, my mother became unwell and was in hospital for some months. She developed septicaemia and then was in a coma for several days. I drove home from the hospital believing she would not survive the night but that night, in a vivid dream, I saw a vision of her moving towards my bed and I was compelled to sit bolt upright. A vision of my mother stood before me wearing a pale green suit and a serene, peaceful expression on her face. I sensed that God was with her and that he was telling me that she was going to be alright. I slept soundly that night for the first time in several days.
Then I was truly tested. In 2010 we found out that our eldest daughter had been suffering from a serious psychiatric illness for some years although we were unaware of this. We were shocked that this had come to light and that her illness suddenly presented an alarming challenge for us all as a family. In 2011 she spent six months in a psychiatric hospital. She has now been discharged and we have much to be thankful for. She received lots of support (some good and some not so good from the psychiatric profession), most especially this support came from our friends and my wonderful bible group and she is doing well. Her faith is so important to her.
She had found her own faith at eleven years of age when she started going to the Christian Union sessions at her secondary school and did Junior Alpha. She had also formed a bond with the Lost Property lady at school! This special lady recognised that God was calling our daughter and encouraged her greatly as her faith developed.
I am guessing the reason you are reading this is that you are wondering what Alpha could mean for you. My advice would be to go along to the introduction evening with an open mind and see how it feels. If you still aren’t too sure you might just be curious to find out what it’s all about and feel you want to go again. Remember you don’t need to try too hard for if you seek God, He will find you. Taking the first step may be all you need to do in the first place. God will do everything else. And don’t be scared by how friendly the helpers are, you will soon get used to this and also get used to the delicious food that you will be served before the evening gets underway!
Nicky Gumbel’s videos are great to watch. He makes everything easy to understand, throws in some jokes too and the way his wife Pippa lovingly gazes at him as he speaks is just so lovely! After the video there is plenty of time to explore the video’s main topic and to ask all those questions that are on your mind. However silly your question might seem to you, it doesn’t feel at all silly to ask, as John Muggleton and all the helpers on the course make it feel so comfortable and natural to ask what you need to know.
The Alpha Weekend in Sussex is the icing on the cake when you will get to deepen your friendship with the other people on the course, get some amazing insights and it is great fun as well. The walk on the beach is always energizing and it gets you in the mood for the party in the evening.
After the weekend there are a few more sessions and then there is the Alpha Celebration Dinner at the end which is always a beautiful occasion. What follows may be an opportunity to join a bible group if you wish to, visits to HTB and events such as Pentecost at the O2, yes a proper Christian rock concert! – and much more.
So where did Alpha come in for me? Doing an Alpha course has transformed my life! That is not to say my journey to this point was always easy but don’t let that put you off, not for a second.
Alpha came along, just like God does, with perfect timing! Carol Abson, who has taught our girls Suzuki piano, told us about the Alpha course as our eldest daughter and I had mentioned we were thinking of getting confirmed together. It turned out that because of the difference in our ages it was tricky for us to do the same confirmation class at St Marys, but Carol told us that if we did the Alpha course together this could lead to us to being confirmed at the end of the course if we wanted it to.
Guess what, we did! We were confirmed together in December 2010 and haven’t looked back. This is my testimony but I have a feeling that further testimonies from the Phillips family may well follow, at least this is what I hope with all my heart. Thank you Lord for the amazing work you have been doing in my family so far and thank you very, very much Alpha!
Alpha was not for me
In the last couple of years I had been approached to do an Alpha course on numerous occasions, even by my own husband. However I felt it wasn’t for me. I already had a strong faith and had recently been confirmed a couple of years before. I already regularly went to Meditation evenings and attended numerous different church services. I religiously went to all the Lent Services and have done some courses e.g. Approaches to Prayer. I felt what more could I gain from Alpha? I had a perceived view that Alpha was for new Christians or for someone who was trying to find a faith. How wrong was I to be proved!
One winter’s night I was approached by Caroline Merrick, who said that she would very much like me to be on her daytime Alpha course. I said I would seriously think about it, but I didn’t have time to fit it in. I was adamant that it was not for me. However when I got home late that night, I wrote all the Alpha Course dates in my diary. I cannot explain why and I was so annoyed with myself, because I desperately needed some time out in my busy schedule.
Something made me attend the first meeting. I sat there wondering why I had come, and thinking of all the things that would I rather be doing. It was a precious Friday morning when both my boys were at school, I could be better off spending some indulgent time for me – but the course was later to change the whole foundation of my faith. It brought me closer to God and was a very moving, emotional ten weeks. Throughout the whole course I was very ill and I could so easily have spent the day in bed, but something made me drag myself out every morning to attend. I owe a huge thank you to everyone that prayed for me.
Initially, I had a conception that it would be a bit boring, going over issues that I had already dealt with. In reality it was very enlightening and Nicky Gumbel is a very powerful, entrancing speaker who brings a new edge to searching issues. However he made me realise that God does not force his way into our lives but through prayer it is up to us to invite him in.
While I was there I felt spiritually fulfilled, something I had never truly felt before. I was among fellow Christians and my faith was progressing to an even higher level than I had ever imagined would be possible. It taught me family values, everyday life issues, that God forgives us – and it forced me to re-evaluate my faith and look closer within. I also learnt that I could ask for help, guidance and forgiveness from God for myself. In the past I had always prayed for other people, not for myself.
The most moving experience was the Holy Spirit weekend when we had a wonderful day with lunch and talks. Nicky Gumbel had given an illustration that Christians are like coals – if you take them out of the fire they soon become dark and cold – when you put them back they quickly become glowing hot again. My coal was once smouldering outside the fire but now it was ablaze in the heart of the fire.
We can say that we believe in the Trinity, but it is another thing to put our trust in the Lord. Alpha opened my eyes to this concept. Since doing Alpha I have put some of my more personal problems in the hands of God and I have had several of them answered. A couple of answers were definitely miraculous – things that I thought were not possible. On reflection I am so glad that I attended the course. I got so much out of it, more than I could have imagined at first.
I have now gone on to attend two home groups – something I had also never wanted to do. However after doing Alpha I feel the need to go – to learn more about my faith and to keep my coal alight.
My confirmation path started me on my journey and a greater understanding of the Eucharist and I will never be able to thank Gay Horrex enough in helping me on my path. However Alpha has now greatly deepened my faith and given me an inner spiritual peace and an understanding of the Lord our Father.
Why did I do Alpha?
Alpha… Why me? I’m already a Christian. I already go to church.
My churchgoing life has been a regular one since I was born. I have sat through all types of sermons, long, short, funny, factual, boring, interesting, on any bible passage you can name. I went to Sunday school as a child and ended up teaching one of the classes a few years ago. So why do I need Alpha? I know it all!
Alpha is a back to basics course that concentrates on the core Christian beliefs and not the man-made traditions that separate the different denominations of the Christian faith.
So what did it mean to me? Alpha was a great way to look deeper into my faith and what I actually believed in. For my faith, church had become a routine that was only done on a Sunday, not part of daily Christian life with God.
So what do you actually do at Alpha? Well, when you first arrive you are greeted by very friendly people, who give you a name badge (your own name). This means, if like me you are terrible at remembering names, you can try subtly to look at someone’s badge and avoid the awkward question of “I’m sorry but what is your name again?” Then comes the fun bit – supper, a delicious meal followed by a nice sweet pudding. After everyone has been fed we get to sit and watch Nicky Gumbel talk on thought provoking topics including ‘Christianity: Boring, Untrue and Irrelevant?’ ; ‘Why Did Jesus Die?’ and; ‘How Can I Make the Most of the Rest of My Life?’.
In the middle of the 11-week course there is a weekend away, dedicated to the Holy Spirit. For me, the Spirit was just the third part of the trinity and not really anything to do with modern Christianity, but I found out just how wrong I was. The Holy Spirit, is now a major part of my life, helping me through any difficult times and giving me inspiration on my journey with Christ.
What are some of the plus points of Alpha?
Well, apart from the food and video, there is a chance to discuss the video and raise any questions you may have, unlike church, where you may hear a sermon but want to challenge a statement or to understand more about what was said. The groups are friendly and there is not a right or wrong answer, with such a friendly group you won’t be laughed at, however silly YOU feel your question is.
I have talked about how wonderful Alpha is, but are there any negative points? After lengthy consideration I managed to come up with only one, that is, if you like a cup of strong tea or coffee, you may be disappointed. I sometimes felt as though the ‘kitchen ladies’ were trying to perform a miracle by making tea for the whole group with only one tea bag!
Would I do Alpha again? Yes, without a doubt, there is always something new to learn. I have now done Alpha twice and am hoping to help with a small group this autumn. I would recommend it to anyone, Christians, and non-Christians. Alpha can give a new injection of faith into your lives wherever you may be on your journey. Hope to see you all in September.
Why did I do Alpha?
I first heard about Alpha back in 1995. Almost ten years later, the birth of my first son and my desire to raise him as a Christian persuaded me it was time to really explore my faith. Consequently I found myself sitting in Walton Baptist Church with John Muggleton and the rest of our group discovering that I was not much of a Christian at all, but that I very much wanted to be.
For me, Alpha was the Christian education I had missed in my youth. It taught me the basics of our faith and made sense of why my heart kept leading me back to church and God, when I felt intellectually sceptical. I questioned the authority and relevance of CS Lewis during a group discussion, as I’d been far too busy reading Booker Prize winners to realise Lewis’s Christian credentials. I wanted the word of a higher authority than that of a mere storyteller. Ah. Finally. I realised that higher authority would be the chap who had been trying to hold my attention for all these years. I simply had to acknowledge and trust Him.
Listening to the entertaining and engaging Nicky Gumbel (the presenter of the Alpha talks) explore Christianity each week kick-started my Christian journey. I gave up bad habits and found myself a more regular worshipper at church. We even became brave enough to go for a coffee after the service!
Alpha changed my life profoundly and helped me see the kind of person and Christian I’d like to be. I went on to take part in two further Alpha courses. My only regret is that I haven’t yet been able to attend the Holy Spirit weekend; I know that will complete my Alpha experience.
My journey so far…
My name is Kerry, l am 36 and have four children, three who live with me, and my eldest lives with his grandparents. This is my testimony, which l call ‘My journey so far’ because it’s really only just the beginning….
Like many people l didn’t have the best upbringing, but l tried to make the best of my life… I tried, maybe too hard, as l made so many mistakes. Yet somehow l got through, l always picked myself up, brushed myself down and got on with it, probably out of sheer determination!!
I was not really a happy person. Very stressed, easily irritated and argumentative!! I guess I constantly felt that l always had something to prove – I was not that “horrible person” that they made me out to be. I did not like myself at all feeling that l was not a very nice person, and made it hard for others to like me too. I never let anyone too close, and found it hard to trust people.
I met my partner (the better half lol) James in 2004, and we moved up here in 2006. I felt that l could no longer live in Devon, the ghosts constantly reminding me of my past. I know that if we had stayed, then we would not be together today!
James is an amazing person! He has been a rock, supported me, encouraged me and most of all has been patient with me, even today he still sometimes has to give me a “kick up the bum”.
In 2009 l had my third child, Mackenzie. It was a difficult pregnancy, the birth was a nightmare, and even though l had this beautiful baby boy, l didn’t know what to do, and found it hard, l got depressed as l felt so alone, with no friends – it felt like no one cared.
James’s Mum, was brilliant, a real rock. We are great friends and to be honest l refer to her as “my mum” because she has been more of a mother to me, she knows me really well, and is as a mother she should be, knows when to get involved and when to butt out!! She is a star.
Eventually, when Mackenzie was about three or four months old l found Linda’s Playgroup at St Mary’s, l went along and took mum along with me (moral support) and it was really nice! To my surprise l really enjoyed it. Linda was lovely, so warm and welcoming.
Linda got excited as her daughter Mary was coming back from the States and had a baby girl Leah around the same age as Mackenzie and she wanted us to meet. l have since become really good friends with Mary, and felt that we got a bit closer as we were both pregnant again at the same time. My son Malachi was born in the August and Mary had Hope in September.
Mary and I began to spend more time together, and this is where my crazy journey really all starts!!
I wanted my boys to go to Ashley School, mainly as it was close to where l lived at the time, and l had heard it was a really good school. I also wanted the boys to have the best education they deserved, and after conversations I realised that it was down to me to ensure that they got into that school, and l was prepared to do what was required of me to get them in! Then Mary suggested l did an Alpha course, and l said l would think about it… She was really gentle with the Alpha course recommendation, she was not at all pushy and did not keep going on and on about it – if l asked her a question, she would answer it, but l guess the seed had been planted and then it was down to me, and l did think about it, quite a lot!!
Mary and l spent time together during the summer break of 2010, and l began to feel very drawn towards Mary which felt a bit odd… One day we were walking along the road chatting, and l found myself really looking at Mary – l saw love coming off her in waves, and l felt a sense of calm, so warm and loved. All l wanted to do was throw my arms around her, give her a really big hug and tell her that l loved her!! AWKWARD!!! I felt this to be a bit weird as l had never felt this sensation before, and could not tell her, l was very embarrassed!! Mary was going to be leading crèche at St Mary’s and asked for support from friends, so l said that l would go, the boy’s enjoyed it, and so did l and from them on
I thought even more about the Alpha course, and I decided l would go to the introduction evening, l told myself to be open minded and see what it’s all about… After this l thought umm OK, and maybe if I just go to the first few sessions, see how l get on, l can always leave if it’s not my thing… I had to make a decision, but l was still so unsure, Then I thought – right that’s it!! I cannot think about it any more, it‘s doing my head in and giving me a headache! I will definitely go.
I attended the Alpha course in September 2010, and really enjoyed it! It was an amazing journey to go on and after a while l felt that l needed that little bit extra help, and John suggested l get myself a study bible, that way l would be able to read into our sessions a bit more, so Mary and I arranged a day out to go and buy one. We had a wonderful day out and we also got a beautiful Bible, I say we because Mary I and went halves on it – and I learnt so so much, not only about myself but also about God and how much he loves me and wants the best for me, just like a dad would… I made some wonderful friends on Alpha who l care about very much, and have since gone on to join a study group, with a wonderful bunch of girls!! They are all great and l hold them all close to my heart!
I decided that l would become a Christian, and committed my life to Christ and since then my life has kind of taken off!!!
I have found that my approach to life has changed, l am a lot calmer, and I think I am more patient, and l try really hard not to let things get me down. I am a BIG believer in the power of prayer. The results are really amazing – prayer has done so much for me and my family!! Some examples… We lived in a small two bed roomed flat, myself, James, my daughter Peta and the boys, Mackenzie and Malachi. After praying lots (believing, trusting and having faith in God) we were given a beautiful three bed roomed house, not by the council, or housing authority – but our landlord and lady bought it for us!!
My daughter Peta was being a bit difficult, and l prayed for help from God. After a chat with Mary, Peta decided to go on the junior Alpha course, which she really enjoyed, and resulted in her coming with me to the 02 Arena for the Pentecost celebration. She absolutely loved every minute of it! She has also jumped at the chance to come with us to visit different churches to experience the different styles of worship! I feel so lucky and blessed.
In the spring of 2011 l offered to help on the morning Alpha course and I really enjoyed it, watching everyone grow in their belief was a true honour! But the sad thing was that there was no Mother and Toddler group any more, as it folded, so the Alpha crèche leaders had to try and muddle through, but they did a great job in entertaining the children! It really bothered me that there was no more Mother and Toddler group, what would we do for future morning Alpha sessions?? It ate away at me and in the end l put my hands up and OK, OK, enough already! I will offer to set up and run a new one…
I had a vision as to how it should be run, and decided that l wanted it to be Christian based, with crafts themed on Bible stories and for the children to have a bible story read to them at story time. At snack time the children would have healthy snacks like fruit and raw vegetables, their drink would be water, none of this sweet stuff and E numbers to send the kids banana’s!! It took a lot of hard work but now the Mother and Toddler group (called New Creations) is up and running… Every Tuesday from 9.30 till 11.30 at St John’s church in Walton on Thames. Numbers have been steadily rising and everyone seems to have a wonderful time!! So mission accomplished!! lol
I love my new life!! And I am looking forward to being baptized and confirmed. I am also preparing for my next mission too!!!!
It’s great to be a part of God’s family, I am never ever alone, and if l feel that l am slipping, l will speak to God (the boys often ask who l am talking to) and some how either through reading the Bible or speaking to a member of the clergy team or even just chatting in general, the answer always comes to me!! And do you know the best thing?? This is only the start of my journey!!
So with all of this in mind, please pray with me to thank these special people – without their guidance l would not be where l am today!!
Thank you Lord for these wonderful people: Mary Kurz, Linda and John Muggleton, Kim Wright, Jackie Richardson and Sheila Samuels – without their love support, guidance and faith l would not be where l am now. And special thanks to James (my partner) For his faith and patience. Amen
I had been meaning to go on the Alpha Course for a few of years, after hearing about a couple of people that had been on it and really enjoyed it.
I have grown up with both parents being Christians, but have never really investigated it for myself. I finally got round to going on an Alpha Course this year. It has been a brilliant introduction and provides the basics, without overloading with too much information. I have really enjoyed the Thursday evening sessions (especially the food!) and really loved meeting people and making some great new friends.
Nicky Gumbel’s talks are clear and to the point – also with lots of humour. It has encouraged me to want to find out more and carry on and study the Bible. The weekend away was also a brilliant experience, lovely food, very interesting talks and a chance to bond more closely with the people on the course.
To sum up I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole course and I can see why some people say that it changes their life. I am very pleased that I did it, and a little sad that it has ended, although a few from my group (me included) are going to continue to have Bible studies together which I am very much looking forward to.
I would definitely recommend the Alpha Course.
What Alpha meant to me
I originally went along to Alpha simply because I wanted to ‘learn more’. I had recently started to attend St Mary’s after a long absence from the church. What I had not expected to find on the Alpha course was the warmth and friendliness of the people involved. I kept thinking how ‘nice’ everyone was (I don’t know quite what I’d expected!) Plus I was so impressed with the number of people willingly giving their time, not just in running the actual course, but also in providing the supper.
So the first thing Alpha taught me was about Christian warmth. That warmth was amply reinforced by Nicky Gumbel on the videos, as he talked about the many aspects of the Christian faith, often including amusing anecdotes.
The second thing I discovered was that Alpha really was ‘non threatening’ and there was no pressure of any kind. In the group discussions, after watching the video, it was okay to ask about anything at all that you didn’t understand. I was constantly amazed that other people had similar doubts and questions to me. I was never once made to feel ignorant or even guilty. In fact, it’s very rare for me to speak up in a group, especially where I don’t know anyone – but I found myself joining in.
I had previously been rather private about my own faith and didn’t talk about it very much but the third thing that Alpha taught me was the joy of sharing. The Alpha group I was in was very varied, with people from several different churches plus we had non-believers right through to committed Christians. So we had quite a mix in our discussions and there is something very special about learning, and growing, together. I have made some very special new friends through Alpha and have continued studying with some of them.
Number four was commitment. Although I was ‘a believer’ I had never made a commitment to God and had not fully understood about actually forming a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. I feel much more secure now.
I went along to Alpha to ‘learn more’ and I certainly did. The fifth thing that Alpha has given me is direction. I can’t say I know exactly where I’m going in my life – but I’ve got some idea now, and most importantly – I know who is guiding me!
Fifteen years of Alpha
Short talks from people who’ve done Alpha in Walton-on-Thames
Recorded at 15 years of Alpha – Evening Praise – September 2017
The Alpha Launch 2015
Short talks from people who’ve done Alpha in Walton-on-Thames recently
Recorded at the 2015 Alpha Launch
St John’s Church – Thursday 10th September 2015
The Alpha Launch 2014
Short talks from people who’ve done Alpha in Walton-on-Thames
Recorded at the 2014 Alpha Launch
St John’s Church – Thursday 11th September 2014
The Alpha Launch 2013
Short talks from people who’ve done Alpha in Walton-on-Thames
Recorded at the Alpha Launch – Thursday 12th September 2013
Ten years of Alpha
Short talks from people who’ve done Alpha in Walton-on-Thames
Recorded at 10 years of Alpha – Spirit Level, Sunday 13th January 2013