Here in Richmond, we have been running an Alpha course pilot with about 20 of our parishioners. We are looking at ways in which we can use it as an evangelisation tool in our parish and community, and this weekend held our first “Alpha Weekend”. Here are a few of my quick takes and lots of questions:
1) An Urban Retreat
I was amazed at how many people have never had this experience to “go on retreat” and were so grateful for it this weekend. It wasn’t even a proper retreat, it was based in the parish and we had 4 sessions over the weekend: Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday evening and Sunday lunchtime. This meant people were free to go home between the sessions, they had some free time on Saturday and Sunday, they weren’t too far from home and they had the freedom to go to their usual Sunday Mass with their family.
I had first heard of this type of retreat at a Forming Intentional Disciples workshop by Sherry Weddell in 2014. It was mentioned as she profiled the activities of a number of evangelising parishes. I wasn’t all to sure how and if it would work. But it was perfect. People in our parish are so busy, with stressful jobs and families to look after. I think a full weekend away somewhere would have been a logistical nightmare for many and an obstacle to signing up for the retreat. But it worked, and I think it worked rather well for two reasons: it fit in with the busy lives of those who came, but it was also a more casual/relaxed experience for first time retreatants. People just seemed to be glad to have the time to be still to pray, to step out of their normal lives even if only for a few hours.
There’s lots of potential here to develop this concept in a parish, maybe targeting different groups such as mums, couples, men, women, young adults etc. An “urban retreat” as our priest named it…
2) The Importance of Prayer
A number of comments during the weekend focused on the experiences of Eucharistic Adoration. It was just so beautiful and something some people hadn’t experience before, or if they had then maybe not in the intimate environment we had created in our crypt. The overwhelming positive feedback from 24 Hours For The Lord, the chapel of repose on Maundy Thursday and now Alpha, suggest people are hungry for these experiences. So how do we help people encounter Jesus through prayer in the parish? How do we teach people to pray? Or more importantly, how do we stir up a desire for intimacy with the Father?
3) The Power of Testimony
Friday night, an inspirational young man came to share his testimony with the group. He spoke with such sincerity and love it moved many hearts. He also shared some of the ways in which God has used him since coming to faith, this stirred up a great sense of expectancy in people. His testimony was unpacked, unravelled and referred to throughout the weekend. This extended time we spent with each other, also meant there was a lot of testimony sharing going on- from joys, to sorrows, to encounters with Jesus and everything else you could think of. I sense this sharing was a vehicle of love, mercy, encouragement and healing. So how do we be build a community where people feel free to come as they are and have permission to be themselves? To become a community where sincere love transforms people’s lives, our church and our society?
4) The Attraction of Community
It has been so good to be part of this little Alpha community. There has been an overwhelming desire from people at all of our “At Home” events, to belong and to feel part of a community. I’ve only been in the parish a few months, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows how hard it can be to “fit” into a parish and make friends. Alpha has been such good way to get to know people on lots of levels. As I walked up to Communion today, surrounded by 3 people from Alpha, I felt like I belonged. I knew all of these people, I knew something of their stories and faith journey, I am coming to care about them more and more and I know they care for me. I want other people in the parish to experience this. And if not through a Alpha, then how can we create a sense of community beyond Sunday Mass attendance? How can we help people feel loved and cared for? How can we make a parish a place that people call home?
5) The Privilege of Ministry
Last night was powerful, during adoration we prayed for the Holy Spirit to come. And we weren’t disappointed. During the evening we offered to pray for those who wanted it, a number did and it was such a privilege to be part of it. I originally wasn’t going to be involved in this, but as the evening unfolded I just didn’t want to miss out on what God was going to do in people’s lives. It was such a privilege to do this with Hannah and so humbling to serve people this way. At one point, as we were praying with one lady, I looked at Hannah and just thought wow! A few years ago I don’t think neither of us could have imagined doing this with people, praying over people….but there we were last night. I just smiled at the way God leads us, the things he asks of us, the ways he chooses to use us and the fact that he lets you do this work with some of your best friends!!
The life of a missionary disciple is never dull….