Home Page Home Page Events Events Photos Photos Diocese of Ogdensburg Home Page  
Follow Us on Facebook

Archives More parishes evangelizing with ‘Alpha’

December 20, 2023

By Keith Benman
Contributing Writer

An evangelization effort described as “a gentle on-ramp” to Christianity has drawn increasing interest from parishes in the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

The “Alpha” course in basic Christianity was offered for the first time at St. Mary’s Cathedral parish in Ogdensburg this fall. About 15 people went through the Alpha course held at Brzana Hall, according to Amy Schirmer, parish evangelization committee chair.

She brought Alpha to St. Mary’s after seeing its success at other churches.

“What’s made me a fan of Alpha from the very beginning is it gets people talking about who Jesus is, and seeing him in their lives and work, and talking about him,” Schirmer said.

The basic format for each Alpha session consists of a communal dinner, an Alpha video covering one core aspect of Christian belief, and a half hour or so of conversation in small groups.

The sessions, each lasting about two  hours and 30 minutes and take place once a week for 12 weeks or so.
There is also a “day away” retreat.

In Lake Placid, St. Agnes parish joined the fold with its first Alpha course in the fall of 2022 with three more held in 2023.

St. Peter’s Parish, in Massena, was the first in the diocese to pilot Alpha in 2017. Since, it has been holding two courses a year, one in the fall and one in the spring.

St. Peter’s Parish has also has made the youth version of Alpha a pre-requisite for confirmation.

Joseph DeCoste took his first Alpha course this fall in Massena. It was held in the the St. Mary’s church social hall. He is an Air Force veteran who said he fell away from the church for awhile but came back when he was in his 50s.

After the last session in late November, he said he would definitely recommend Alpha.

“Basically, what I got out of it is a stronger spiritual relationship with God, more understanding, and meeting nice people and creating new friendships,” DeCoste said.

Alpha was pioneered at an Anglican Church in London in the late 1970s.

It has since spread around the world. More than 400,000 people took the course in the United States last year, according to figures from Alpha USA.

St. Peter’s Parish Pastor Father Mark Reilly describes the program as being for “seekers and questers.”

Among the hundreds to attend in the past six years in Massena are steady Catholics, fallen away Catholics, people of other Christian faiths, and people of very little or no faith.

“It’s another way of presenting the gospel, especially for people on the edge or who have walked away from the church.” Father Reilly said.

The Alpha session videos seek to answer basic questions about the Christian faith such as: Who is Jesus? Why did Jesus die? And how can I have faith? Topics such as prayer, the nature of evil and Christian healing are also covered. The videos are fast-paced and laced with humor.

While sticking to Christian concepts accepted by most all Christian denominations, the Alpha video series presented at local parishes does contain a healthy dose of Catholic content.

Catholic priests are among the many first-hand sources to pop up in the videos. Mother Teresa’s example and words are cited by the host and originator of Alpha, Anglican Priest Nicky Gumble.

Still, Father Reilly said, the question does come up: Why not present something specifically Catholic?

The St. Peter’s pastor uses different analogies such as the “gentle on-ramp” as well as the following one to answer that question.

“If someone can’t swim and is terrified of going in the water, you don’t just throw them in the deep end,” Father Reilly said. “Alpha is kind of the kiddie pool.”

St. Agnes parish’s experience with Alpha in Lake Placid has been similar to St. Peter’s in Massena.

Alpha at St. Agnes has attracted a good many people who are steady Catholic church-goers, said parish evangelization coordinator Gin Shaw. It also has attracted people who have fallen away from the church as well as people of other faiths.

Two recent attendees are taking added instruction to become Catholic.

“It brings a culture of hospitality and invitation to the parish,” Shaw said.

In the fall, St. Agnes added a youth Alpha program.

Shaw says as each Alpha course ends many people want to know how they can get more involved in parish life.
“They become on fire for love of Jesus and then they want to get more involved,” she said.

North Country Catholic North Country Catholic is
honored by Catholic Press
Association of US & Canada

Copyright © Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg. All rights reserved.