Alpha is about helping people have a relationship with Jesus and to know him, and—as you know—when that happens, it’s the best thing that ever happens in your life.
—Matt Romeo, Alpha pilot participant from St Mary’s, Ascot Vale

As we are emerging from lockdowns, many parishes are considering how they might reach out to people who aren’t attending church and draw them into community and into a relationship with Jesus. The Take the Way of the Gospel process is encouraging parishes to work together to become more missionary and bolder in proclaiming the Gospel. Alpha is one tool that parishes are considering, since it is particularly aimed at those with little or no faith background and because it prioritises hospitality and friendship. In this post-lockdown world, many are yearning for the connection that something like Alpha offers.

With the support of the Animation team from Proclaim: The Office for Mission Renewal, two groups of parishes have decided to work together to ‘pilot’ the Alpha process and train potential leaders for upcoming parish Alphas. The Greater Geelong group consists of the parishes of Meredith, Corio/Lara, Drysdale and Geelong. The Northern Region group includes the parishes of Moonee Ponds, Avondale Heights, Ascot Vale and East Keilor. Each parish has sent a table of 4–8 leaders.

We interviewed participants from each of these groups. They are reporting joy-filled, enthusiastic and well-attended sessions with great food, good discussion and a sense of excitement about bringing the process back to their parish communities.

What led you to participate in the Alpha pilot and how are you finding it?

From Corio/Lara parish, Lani Victoria is attending because Fr Daryl Montecillo asked her to attend. Likewise, Matt Romeo from Ascot Vale accepted an invitation from his parish priest, Fr Justin Forde.

Matt has been wanting to get more involved in evangelisation in his parish but has been unsure of how to begin. He says that Alpha was ‘a good icebreaker in how to go about it—new tactics in how to go about evangelising, a softer approach and a gentler way.’

I’m loving it—really. It’s exactly what I was looking for. I really like the fact that team leaders let the discussion happen. You are free to have conversation; nothing is scrutinised, we feel comfortable to talk and there’s no judgement.

Lani says she ‘loves hearing about different experiences, especially personal experiences with the Lord. Sometimes they’re different to my experience, some are eye-opening.’ She says, ‘I know we have to bring Alpha back to the parish and now I’m excited. It’s a beautiful experience.’

Mary Foster comes from Meredith parish, which covers a large rural area in Melbourne’s west. Mary says that she likes the videoed talks and the way they promote Gospel truth but don’t ‘push’ it. She says:

The discussion afterwards is probably the key thing that I like. In the discussions, you get to see people’s heart. It’s sort of like a safe sharing space where you can explore how you are feeling and thinking [about God].

Fr Jaycee Napoles is the assistant priest at Geelong parish and the emcee of the Greater Geelong Alpha sessions. Fr Jaycee says that ‘the social aspect that Alpha brings just makes it a little bit special.’ He adds, ‘I find it quite fun personally, because people come into the evening straight from work and we are entering into something quite deep. It’s good to make it a light and comfortable evening—I tend to lessen the serious mood of it all. As an emcee and as an extrovert—I love it.’

Northern Region Alpha pilot meeting, St Mary's Parish, Moonee Ponds. Photo supplied.

At both venues, a lot of effort is put into preparing the room and the tables for the guests who are attending. Fr Jaycee says, ‘My favourite part is the preparation of the venue: making sure everything is where it should be, that the cutlery is clean and that everything is ready for some good hospitality. When everything is set up nice, it makes for a good discussion.’

Matt adds that at Moonee Ponds ‘it really does feel like a community. Everyone’s there with the same purpose. Everyone is supportive of you and where you are on that journey. There is no judgement, and it is a comfortable place to share your opinions.’

Mary comments that ‘the food is always good!’—a sentiment echoed by those attending at Moonee Ponds, where a generous parishioner cooks for the group each week.

How have your found working with other parishes?

One of the aims to the Take the Way of the Gospel process is that parishes begin to work together more and to share resources. These two collaborations between parishes have shown the benefits that can occur when groups work together.

‘It’s about communicating properly and joyfully, and it’s not that stressful. In terms of the spiritual side of things, people are excited and ready to get out of lockdown mentality and come back to community life,’ says Fr Jaycee.

Lani thought it might be difficult but finds she really enjoys it: ‘We welcome the chance to interact and mingle with other parishes. It’s so easy’.

Mary says, ‘It’s been nice meeting them and hearing their stories and the makeup of their parishes. It’s all very friendly. I’ve had great discussions with people from Meredith, Corio, Drysdale and Geelong’

How is Alpha part of your parish’s plans for missionary renewal, and what are your hopes for your parish Alpha?

Matt describes Alpha as being about ‘inviting those people who are in their early journey of seeking and faith—those asking questions’. He remembers a time when he was searching and says that ‘Alpha is for people like me who have no one to turn to and are seeking help. It’s about helping those people to have a relationship with Jesus and to know him, and—as you know—when that happens, it’s the best thing that ever happens in your life.’

At Meredith, Mary hopes that the parish will begin a renewal journey through Alpha. ‘I’m hoping it’ll be a great stepping stone. We have a parish school, but we don’t see the families except during sacrament-preparation time. My hope for Alpha is that we reach parents in the school, and if we can invite them into Alpha and get them thinking about building a relationship with God themselves, then at least it gives them some belief. We want them to know that there’s so much more!’

In Geelong parish, Fr Jaycee sees Alpha as a way of growing new leaders in their parish. ‘There’s a need for people to step up and take leadership roles [in the parish]—Alpha is a good resource for that. It’s a good way for existing parishioners to build up their leadership and team-building skills and their skills for talking about their relationship with the Lord.’

Fr Jaycee says that Alpha ‘draws us back to the basics of Church, of community—it involves the elements of meal, catechesis and discussion, bouncing ideas off each other—among the people involved.’

And that’s how the early Church started. And if we forget that—before administration and technology and meetings—that is how the Church began, I think we’ve lost the plot. Alpha really draws us back to how the kerygma originally spread: through gathering, having a meal, teaching and discussion. And I reckon that’s beautiful.

If you would like to find out more about making new disciples in your parish, contact the Proclaim Animation team at proclaim@cam.org.au