For those that don’t know, Alpha is an introductory course on the basics of the Christian faith. It is spaced over 10 weeks (and one away day) and the one I attended was on a Monday evening, with each session lasting around two hours or so. My girlfriend is a Christian; she suggested that I take an introductory course as I had been attending Church with her when I visited her every other weekend in Nottingham and she was very keen for me to be a part of her faith. The minister at her church in Nottingham knows Paul Beasley-Murray, who is the Senior Minister at Central Baptist Church (CBC) in Chelmsford and recommended that I contact to see if they were holding an Alpha course soon. I went onto the CBC website and found that an Alpha course had just started the week before so I phoned the church and asked if I would be able to attend.
I was sceptical at first, I wanted to completely understand and be involved in every aspect of my girlfriend’s life but to be honest I didn’t feel that Christianity was relevant and I didn’t think that anything was missing in my life; but I promised myself that I would go with an open mind, looking for answers to my questions and I would try to learn and to understand. In order to take anything from an Alpha course I think you need to go in with an open mind and heart, and be ready to think honestly about Jesus Christ and what he means to you. Perhaps I started the course for the wrong reasons (mainly because I wanted to make my girlfriend happy) but after the first few sessions I found that I was looking forward to it every week, that I was doing my own study at home and that I was curious and interested in Christianity.
Each Alpha session starts with greetings, a casual drink (for me, rather a lot of tea) and a chat and catch up with the leaders & helpers from the church and the other members on the course. Then a meal is provided; free of charge. To me, at first, this was unexpected, this was too casual, too relaxed. In the past I had felt nervous, out of place and often intimidated by churches. I didn’t understand them, I thought there was too much focus on tradition and ceremony, and they didn’t have their heads in the real world. People who went to church weren’t like me, we had nothing in common. But I was wrong. There was no lecture, no threats of damnation, and I never felt pressured or obligated in any way, it was just friendly chat with normal people, who were interested in finding out about me and just talking about everyday things. It was very relaxed and friendly and the food was lovely! Straight away my scepticism was put on hold and my cynicism had nowhere to go.
After the meal was a talk about the topic of the week, a basic concept about Christianity was outlined, explained and presented in an honest, face-to-face, simple way, covering topics like ‘Who is Jesus & why did he die?’, ‘Why & how should I pray and read the Bible?’ and ‘How can I be sure of my faith?’ Then, after the talk, the group was broken up into smaller groups, with 2 or 3 leaders / helpers and a handful of members to discuss that week’s topic, answer questions and to get people thinking and talking about God, Jesus, faith and religion. Often the discussion would drift away from the central topic but the leaders just let things flow. I found this sort of discourse very helpful because I could ask my questions and get answers as well as other viewpoints, and other people’s questions brought up things I hadn’t considered before.
I think it was also helpful that the ministers didn’t sit in on the discussions. At first I expected them to, because I thought they would have all the answers, but now I’m glad they didn’t. Instead the groups were led by people who had non-church jobs, a teacher in our case. I think this made it easier to relate to him, even when sometimes he didn’t have all the answers, it was his opinions, beliefs and experiences that put a personal twist on things, and that really made things hit home for me. Talking with other people on the course, who were in the same position as me and who had similar questions to me helped a lot too.
My most vivid memory, and what had the most profound effect on me, is after a talk from Leesa Barton, the Associate Minister at CBC, she led a prayer that we could join in with if we thought we were ready:
“Heavenly Father, I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life. Please forgive me. I now turn from everything that I know is wrong. Thank you that you sent your Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. From now on I will follow and obey him as my Lord. Thank you that you now offer me this gift of forgiveness and your Spirit. I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit to be with me forever. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”
While Leesa was speaking I found that what I wanted most in the world was to be able to say this prayer myself and to mean it, and that is now my aim.
And now; after Alpha? I go to church regularly, I read the bible, make notes and ask questions about what I don’t understand, I attend a Home Group with two lovely, friendly couples who are helping me a lot in my journey, and I pray. I pray to God to thank him for the people I have met who have helped me start my Christian journey and I pray that one day I will be ready to be baptised and offer my life in service to Jesus Christ.
Central Baptist Church Chelmsford is a community church which is open seven days a week. We are a Bible-believing Baptist church with a multicultural and all-age congregation.
You can find out more about us here.