A friend I used to work with, Matt is running an Alpha Course locally, so I agreed to go along. Actually he prefers to say "facilitating" than running. It seems they're really keen not to come off as preachy or laying down the law, saying "All opinions welcome." I'm not a believer, in fact I'm a philosophical naturalist, an agnostic atheist humanist and probably some other labels too. As you can probably guess, I've given it some thought. Matt's well aware of this as we've discussed religion in the past.
I arrived at the first session on my way home from work. It was being held in a coffee shop with a comfy function room upstairs and Matt was providing free cakes and coffees for anyone who wanted them. He greeted me enthusiastically and we chatted about work and family. I was introduced to the few others who could make the first session, apparently more were coming the following week. Everyone was very friendly and I did my best to remember people's names.
The course is meant for everyone, but from what I've heard the majority of people on it are already Christians. The first thing I noticed about the adverts online and offline is that they carefully avoid mentioning Christianity or Jesus. This seems a bit odd when, from everything I've read, it's a Christian recruitment course. The aim is to turn people into Christians, or at least give them a push in that direction. Instead the adverts talk only about asking "The big questions" or "the meaning of life". Some of them ask "What does God think of me?". Given the aims of the course wouldn't a more suitable subtitle be, "An introduction to Christianity"? Do they think that being explicit about the content would put people off? EDIT: It seems I'm not the only one who spotted the Alpha Course's apparently deliberate bait and switch tactic.
I voiced this query to the organisers in my rather ineloquent and clumsy way and they replied that it was of course a Christian perspective on the the big questions, but they're not big on religion, rather the relationship with Jesus. I get the impression this will be a recurring theme. Whatever the reasoning behind the adverts, it's good that the organisers and their friends are so keen to be welcoming to other opinions. I'll attempt to do them the courtesy of taking their opinions seriously and I hope they'll do the same for me.
Before the course begins in earnest next week we started by getting to know people with an introduction. We took it in turns to say what we hoped to get out of the course and name our favourite film. Thankfully, everyone also repeated their names. Like me, most people said they were interested in discussing the "big questions" and hearing other people's views. I chose Interstellar as my favourite film, citing the big moral dilemmas and moving father-daughter relationship. I also apologised that I'd have to run for a train a little earlier than most, probably just as things got interesting! After introductions we chatted informally and I spoke with the chap sitting next to me, Adrian who is a long-standing member of Matt's church. We spoke a bit of our careers and experience and his beliefs. I was enjoying the conversation, but as predicted we were interrupted by my phone alarm indicating that the train was leaving soon, so I thanked the organisers and got on my way.
They're a friendly bunch and I look forward to chatting more with them over the coming weeks. I probably won't be able to make all the sessions as my wife usually likes to play badminton on Monday nights, so to be fair to her I'll have to do my share of the babysitting. I hope I don't find myself asking a question only to be told "I'm sorry, James. We covered that to everyone's satisfaction last week!".
I noticed the adverts carefully avoid mentioning Christianity or Jesus.
Before the course begins in earnest next week we started by getting to know people with an introduction.