Talking Big in Small Groups

Talking Big in Small Groups

London, UK

I wasn’t the only one who came from a non-Christian background, who didn’t know much about the Bible, but who wanted to know more.

I was carried to Alpha by pure impulse. As a first-year student at university in London, I often heard some of my older friends talking about how great it was. However, being new to the big city and full of energy and arrogance, I expected to blow everyone away with my progressive attitudes and my controversial opinions on faith.

The first thing I noticed about Alpha was the eclectic crowd queuing outside. While waiting, I chatted to a man who had been forced to sleep on his brother’s couch after being made redundant and defaulting on his rent. I would never have got the chance to meet someone like this in my usual university bubble.

My walls started to come down as I realised I wasn’t the only one with questions to get off my chest. From my early teens I had felt a slight emptiness, a feeling of imbalance with the world around me that eventually developed into a heady dissatisfaction with life. I had attempted to consume information and great, almost spiritual, literature to fill this void. But nothing really provided me with what I needed.

I wasn’t expecting Michelin star cuisine, but the Spaghetti Bolognaise they served was better than anything I could have cooked up. Life doesn’t get much better than a free meal, does it?

According to Charlie Mackesy, who gave the first Alpha evening’s introductory talk, it does.

Expectant of a severe, traditional religious stereotype taking to the stage and preaching to the ‘sinners’ assembled, the message was refreshing. To hear someone talking about faith in the same way that I perceived it – with equivocation, bewilderment and scepticism – was music to my ears.

The ultimate message was that we are all hungry for spiritual fulfilment, and that there is no alcoholic beverage, no shopping mall and no vocational obsession that can contend with the love of God, and the direction that having a relationship with him provides.

I felt like I was finally in the right environment to address the questions I had about faith and life. The conversations we had in small discussion groups were the highlight of the evening. People’s stories varied, but all shared a uniform characteristic: a hunger for spiritual fulfilment. It was good to know that I wasn’t the only one who came from a non-Christian background, who didn’t know much about the Bible, but who wanted to know more.

Our general discussion centred upon the question: ‘If you could ask God any one thing, what would it be?’ This isn’t a question that comes up in everyday conversation, but it felt like we were all working towards something together, something serious, and something that would have implications for us all. People responded with questions like, ‘I would ask God why there is so much suffering in the world’, and ‘I would ask him what our purpose in life is.’

Being free to voice these questions was cathartic. This was the first opportunity I’d had to talk about faith without being judged. I realised that my controversial opinions were masks for questions and ambivalences that had been bugging me for years.  As I returned every week, learning more about Jesus step-by-tiny-step, the people in my Alpha group quickly became my close friends.

We are all innately hungry for spiritual gratification. By the first week of Alpha, I had begun to escape the pessimism that had grown in me. The opportunity to ask some of the biggest questions I had about life was too good to miss. 

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Sheela's Story

Sheela's Story

The idea of running Alpha in the workplace honestly stemmed from a practical reason – late working hours were a barrier to my colleagues being able to attend Alpha at church. It made sense to bring Alpha to the workplace for those who were interested to give it a go.

I remember feeling quite nervous and unsure the first time we ran it back in 2014. I didn’t know what to expect or if anyone would even turn up! ‘Ye of little faith’ I remember a friend saying to me when we ended up with a solid group of about 20 in that first round. Since then, we’ve run Alpha four times - sometimes with larger groups, sometimes with smaller groups - but each experience has never failed to be just as amazing.

The most interesting aspect for me about running Alpha in our workplace was the immediate connection that people made from having something fundamental in common – where they work. There was little need for breaking the ice and discussions took off from day 1 with guests feeling comfortable sharing their thoughts and perspectives.

Alpha in the workplace complements what the church is doing by reaching out to a community that might not have been able to be reached. So many of us know that being out there in the corporate world trying to make it in the great rat race can get tiring and it’s only a matter of time before one begins to ask “Is there more to life that this?” – which is a question that was on the minds of our guests when they came. Alpha provided that safe space for conversations that might not have taken place otherwise.

The most memorable account from a guest for me comes from a guy who had attended our first ever run of Alpha. Post-Alpha, he told us that while was hesitant initially about the whole idea, eventually the weekly sessions became a place of refuge for him in the busyness of work. He said that it was a truly unexpected experience - “Work is what I had associated with stress and a lack of peace but through Alpha, work became a place I found hope, peace and faith.”

It’s not smooth sailing all the time but it is stories like this and many more of that nature that remind me that even if it’s for one person each round, it’s still worth it. And I’d just love to encourage anyone who’s thinking about it to just give it a go! The training and material make the process really simple to get started. Your adventure of a lifetime in running Alpha is just around the corner… trust me, it’s worth it!

Work is what I had associated with stress and a lack of peace but through Alpha, work became a place I found hope, peace and faith.
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