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Alpha: not a cult, but space for asking questions

by
29 February 2012

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From the Revd Rupert Martin

Sir, — Alex Preston’s novel The Revelations, with its sinister-sounding The Course, sounds like a good read (Features, 24 February). Unfortunately, in the discussion about the Alpha course on which it is based, there is the usual misconception that the teaching is simplistic and prescriptive.

First, as its name implies, the Alpha course is meant to be for beginners, although many people use it as a refresher course. The introduction to aspects of the Christian faith is designed to be a catalyst for further exploration.

Second, the Alpha course is a three-dimensional combination of a meal, the teaching, and then time for discussion of any issues that the participants want to raise. This is very close to the way in which Jesus taught, at mealtimes and through questions. I would argue that the most important part of the course is the opportunity to ask questions and discuss a wide variety of contemporary concerns in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust.

I have run some 25 courses in the past 17 years, and my experience is that no two courses are the same. Many of the questions recur, but the discussions over the meal and after the talk vary considerably.

Alpha has recovered two of the most important ingredients of Christianity: hospitality and the freedom to ask questions. It is relevant to all cultures and all ages. In fact, in our present course, every decade is represented from ten to 80.

I hope that Alpha will continue to flourish as an open-minded, open-ended introduction to Christianity which has helped many people to find a faith that can be nurtured in the ongoing life of the Church.

RUPERT MARTIN
333 Barnsley Road, Sandal
Wakefield WF2 6EJ

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