Experiencing the Love of God and the Love of the Church: Evangelisation Essentials

Early morning at the river

Early morning Thames

I am loving the cold, frosty starts, the way the sun hangs so low in the sky, creating some beautifully golden afternoons in London, as the days get shorter and shorter. It’s around this time – late November – when the last thing you want to do is go out somewhere on your way home from work. We’re all searching for that little bit of mythical, stay-at-home ‘hygge’. What has been heart-warming, then, is how forty people continue to arrive at Alpha each Tuesday night. The warm welcome, glass of wine, and home-cooked meal help. But so does the friendship. We are nearly at the end of Alpha and the bonds in the small groups are so strong, it is amazing to think how this could transform a whole parish. Small group members are helping each other out with projects, meeting for walks in the park, and finding solutions to each other’s practical needs. And our leadership team is not behind any of it. It is beautiful to see.

There have been big changes in people’s lives, too. I keep hearing little snippets. “I have been so much happier since I started Alpha”, “I now see how God is in everything in my life”, “I am keeping an open mind, but I am pretty sure this is all true”. Countless little miracles have been worked, especially during the weekend away.

What strikes me about all this – as we begin intentionally to evangelise a whole parish – is that so much more than teaching on the faith is needed. We could have organised a series of 11 catechetical sessions for these folks, and I guarantee – it would not have had the same impact.

What has worked? How have people come to know personally for themselves the enormous love of God, their own sin in the face of this love, and the life-changing redemption Christ offers them through his sacrifice? Here’s what I would say: Alpha has created an openness to experience this, through the love of the Church. Through genuine friendship and hospitality, hearts have been warmed and opened, so that the message gets through. For many, the message is only beginning to get through (which is why post-Alpha is so important). And, experiencing the love of God and the love of the Church for themselves, we are beginning to see participants share it with others. Somehow, an irresistibly joyful buzzing group of people has been created and it is so joyful to watch.

Last night, the session was on healing. In no other catechetical programme I have ever run for adults has there been a session on healing. We probably think, “that’s what charismatics do”. It is too overwhelming to face up to the fact that so many people need physical and emotional healing, and it is much easier to teach facts, and let people work out how it applies to them in their own lives. Speaking about our personal lives is a little too awkward and intimate.

But if we succumb to our fears and timidity in these areas, we empty the Gospel of its power.

Last night showed there is nothing to be afraid of, and everything to be gained. As usual, the groups gathered around coffee after the film to discuss. And then they started to pray together. At this stage, they know each other well and they are not afraid of deep sharing. Over the weekend, most experienced someone praying with them. Each small group organised themselves differently. Some prayed in twos or threes. Some prayed altogether. Some prayed for each person individually. For the first time ever, we didn’t have an official end time, so that they could take as long as they liked. There were beautiful moments. I don’t have to spell it out… it is beautiful how tenderly the Lord mends hearts.

What I am excited about now is our post-Alpha plan… A lot of thought, prayer, discernment has gone into this. I am pretty certain right now that the majority, if not all, the Alpha participants will take the next step. And we can’t wait to see what God will have in store…

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