Why did you decide to try Alpha?
I heard about Alpha through TTC ads, a sign on the lawn of St. George the Martyr, and, most importantly, after being invited by close friends who are members of Knox and were hosting a table.
I wanted to try Alpha for a variety of reasons. I had, a few years prior, committed my life to Jesus, but despite this commitment and much “shopping around” I hadn’t been able to enter a church community. Also, a couple months before the start of Alpha I had been diagnosed with chronic trauma, and not only the symptoms but the shock of the diagnosis meant life was overwhelming and almost unmanageable.
In former years as an atheist, I held and demonstrated a disrespectful attitude towards both Christ and Christians. And more recently, as a believer, I sat there quietly and unspeaking as others did the same. It became clear to me that my former attitude, words, and passivity were something that I need to make amends for as part of my recovery from my traumatic past.
So I wanted to try Alpha because I had a sense that Jesus’s name could heal me, and that Alpha would be a way to bridge the gap I felt between us, to make amends for the past harm stemming from my speech and attitudes, and to find a way into church.
What did you think of the Alpha experience?
I liked Alpha because it is an open place for people to talk about important things about faith without being told what is right to believe and what is wrong to believe. I'm very sensitive about how being told what to believe can go wrong.
Alpha at Knox approaches faith discussions with the perspective that it is more important to be unconditionally loving, and to respect where a person is at in their individual faith journey, than it is to attempt to “correct” or “teach” an Alpha guest’s belief systems. This perspective is a subtle, humble, and considerably more helpful approach, as it relies on the Holy Spirit rather than on individual judgement of what the guest needs to believe. The atmosphere is based on an attitude of “Thy will Lord, not mine, be done.”
Another great aspect of the Alpha experience is the videos, which were full of thought-provoking and informative testimonials from many different walks life within and outside of Christianity, featuring missionaries, Hillsong United, and the preacher to the Pope.
Most of all I loved and appreciated the warm reception, hospitality and atmosphere that we received every week. It spoke to a type of caring community that was painfully absent from my life. At Alpha I found an environment where God's love is demonstrated through action ahead of words, and where listening and loving is more important than being right. It was truly the most incredible gift.
In what ways did you benefit from being part of Alpha as a guest?
Collectively, the respectful atmosphere, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the loving hospitality, and the spiritual information provided a setting where I could get the repair and reconnection in my relationship with Christ that I so badly needed. I found a way to ask for and to receive his forgiveness, and found that sharing my faith for the benefit of others is the way he wills me to make amends for the atheistic attitudes of the past.
Alpha taught me that it is safe to come to church. It was a gentle entry into faith community.
I come from a troubled family, and though I have wanted to come to church for a long time, I also thought that church would be like my family and that I had better avoid it.
I benefited and continue to benefit from the welcoming reception that I have been receiving at Knox. Prayer support has helped me through treatment for chronic trauma, two deaths in the family, and to take on a challenging employment opportunity, all within the last four months. And that is not even the best part—being in fellowship in Christ’s family—which for me is truly a miracle.
How has Alpha impacted your faith walk?
Alpha has really strengthened my faith walk because even though I believed in and was following Jesus, I hadn't been able to walk in faith in a group. I learned what folly it was to go it alone and how wonderful and safe it is here at Knox.
Further, Alpha provided very important spiritual information. Prior to Alpha, when I first returned to God, in November 2011, I felt so incredibly free. It was as if every problem that ever existed was solved, and no sorrow would ever have validity again. But I had been living with an undiagnosed mental illness my entire life, and it caught up with me. The down times that I experienced were very dark and deep, considerably more difficult than the malaise of atheism, and these episodes kept returning. While I had been led to many helpful treatments, systems, and tools, even my relationship with God, I did not know how to properly defend my spiritual self. Alpha provided very effective information on how to do that.
Another very important impact was learning the distinction between conviction and condemnation. With chronic trauma comes chronic shame and guilt. Awareness of the subtle distinction between thoughts that are beating me up versus thoughts that are urging me to step up is a life-changing awareness.
How has Alpha impacted your involvement with the Knox community?
In and of myself, I didn’t have the inspiration to maintain my faith, nor to enter a church. So Alpha has had a huge impact by bringing me into faith community at Knox.
Alpha has inspired me to share what I have experienced about how Jesus's forgiveness has changed my life. It has shown me how important it is to share how Jesus has liberated me with others. I have been attending service regularly since the fall. I have also started out with a Home Church and I am looking forward to helping out with our next Alpha.