I've Done Alpha... Again
Yup, I have just finished Alpha for the second time.
Quick summary/ spoilers: I haven't converted and I would still recommend the course.
But how has it been the second time round?
Around 18 months ago I completed Alpha (for the first time), it made me think a lot; and it was a great experience (blog post). So when there was an opportunity to take part at Laura's church I was up for trying the course again.
The first time round Laura and I attended Harbour Church in Portsmouth. This time the course was run in Fareham and I attended with Laura's dad. So little different.
There were a few small differences, which all led to this experience being quite unlike my first. Here's a quick summary of the Portsmouth vs Fareham Alpha differences:
1 - Portsmouth started at 7pm, Fareham at 7.30pm (same finish time)
2 - Portsmouth started with dinner, Fareham started with cake
3 - Portsmouth included live music/ modern choir song of prayer, Fareham included traditional prayer
4 - Portsmouth included speakers, Fareham included watching the Alpha videos
5 - Portsmouth was attended by around 50 to 100 people (in groups of 10), Fareham was a single group of 9
6 - Portsmouth was held in Harbour's previous city centre location, Fareham was at a leaders home
Each of these subtle differences lead to a quite different experience the second time round. The biggest change for me was this was my second time having these conversations, so I had more of a formed view on my own beliefs and I was aware of where the course was going/ it's structure.
This time watching the videos I had the same issue as I did with the speakers; in that the talks were a little too long for me. Particularly with a video I found myself switching off a few times. It is a bit too much of the same 1 to 3 people talking every week.
That said, it was good to see the videos the course is based on and to see a resource I hadn't last time.
Another thing I struggled with (videos related) was my desire to take notes. In the 25 to 30 minute videos there would be a few things I really wanted to reflect on and discuss. However, they would often be in the first 10 minutes and by the end of the video I would have forgotten them or our conversations went in another direction.
While I had had some of the conversations last time (in Portsmouth), every group will be different and bring different topics/ points to the conversation. My Fareham group was all different people to the Portsmouth group, so even when a similar point came up, 'we' hadn't had that conversation.
It was lovely to hear some of the ways in which faith and belief have supported other people's lives. My interpretation of these events/ experiences didn't need to be shared, as they were my own views, and at times did conflict with other peoples interpretations of what had happened. But what I noticed was I am not the typical person when it comes to religion, if such a thing/ person exists.
I don't require 'proof' Jesus lived, or God exists.
I don't feel lost without religion.
I do believe there is something more to this world that what we see and understand.
I feel ok, with knowing (my interpretation of knowing) I will never know if there is a God.
I believe there are some key messages in the Bible, but also likely in other religions texts, that provide a guide of how to live well.
I believe there are some passages that are not in keeping with my own views/ values. While these maybe considered by some to be 'historical' views/ values, they are often still quoted or referenced.
I don't believe everyone has to live in the same way or with the same values. And I'm not sure I want them too.
I do believe that everyone should have the option to consider and reflect on what they do believe and what their values are. I think it is an interesting and very valuable discussion to have, even if its just with yourself; though with others would be advantageous as it opens your mind to other views, experiences and insights.
So, if you have a chance to participate in an Alpha course, do it!
I feel on reflection, maybe I would describe myself as having belief maybe even faith. But I do not have a religion. I am not sure if that makes sense to you? But it kind of does to me. And, I am good with that.
I also know that in the future my views, values, belief may change, in fact I think they should. Life experience plays a huge role in what we believe and have faith in.
For me personally, this course was also a great opportunity to sit down with Laura's dad and get to know him more. The conversations are very open, and often about your core beliefs, so I think it is a good way to get to know someone quite quickly.
Having the chance to talk away from our daily tasks and our usual 'roles' was something I found very valuable and enjoyable.
I did feel a little nervous when stating my views on sex and sexuality to a group of people that included my girlfriends dad. But it was all good.
I imagine participating in Alpha alone would be great, and it would be very freeing to attend and not know people. That said, I have enjoyed the experience both times attending with someone else. The car journeys home discussing the group conversations and our thoughts following the session, were sometimes just as valuable as the session itself. It provided and opportunity to get to know the other person in a way I'm not sure could be facilitated by many other activities.
This is not a sponsored post, I just think the Alpha course is great and would recommend anyone attend.
My couple of 'notes' would be:
1 - The first week is a bit slow and more of a getting to know you session.
2 - Accept you may be a bit cynical (I definitely am, that first time I was ready to be sold a tee from week one!), but it's about what YOU can/ want to get from the course.
3 - Everyone comes with their own experiences, while it's unlikely you will be the only one that thinks a certain way on a particular point. If you are, there is acceptance and respect within the Alpha groups for variation on views/ values and belief.
4 - Attend, discover your own views.