There’s no judgment, no proselytizing and no unwelcome questions. Alpha, a program that will begin this week at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Naperville, is designed to let people explore the Christian faith and its possible meaning in their lives through dialogue and fellowship.
“Alpha is a worldwide phenomenon. It’s found in over 169 countries. It’s run in tens of thousands of schools, prisons, homes and churches of all denominations,” said Linnea Smith, regional director of Alpha USA. “It’s given more than 22 million people the opportunity to explore the meaning of life.”
Chari Rosales, director of adult faith formation for St. Thomas, brought the program to the parish after having seen a presentation at Calvary Church several years ago.
“It is a program built to introduce or re-acquaint people with basic Christianity or give them a chance to articulate their faith,” Rosales said. “It’s down to earth. The speaker connects very well even via video, and engenders very lively discussion. No question is out of bounds. Seekers, doubters, people with faith in their lives … all can interact within this program.”
Rosales said that each session in the 10-week program begins with a home-cooked dinner at the church.
“The table groups remain the same for the entire 10 weeks so that the individuals have the chance to build up trust to converse freely,” Rosales said. “The only rule during dinner is that there’s no religious talk allowed, so that everyone gets to know each other on a personal basis.”
After dinner, there is a video about the topic of the week, followed by a discussion. Topics include: “Who is Jesus?”; “Why Should I Read the Bible?”; “Why Should I Pray?”; “What’s at Church?”; and “What do I do with the Rest of My Life?”
“They’re topics that people are really interested in,” Rosales said.
St. Thomas has hosted Alpha twice/annually since 2006.
“We do evaluations at the end of each series,” she said. “People say that, even though they’ve been Christian all of their life, they never realized what it’s about. They say it really awakened them, opened their eyes. Relationships can be healed through new understandings. People are generally very positive about Alpha.”
Attendees are mixed, according to Rosales. Joining “seekers” are “faithful church attendees who can find reassurance and confirmation of what they’ve believed. The program also helps give them language to talk with people they meet who aren’t connected to religion,” Rosales said.
Rosales explained the need for a program such as Alpha.
“With increasing secularization of society, so many people haven’t had any contact with any kind of religious tradition,” she said.
“In church jargon, people have been unchurched.
“But people have a hunger and need to find purpose and meaning in life.”