No statutory retirement age for disciples

Alpha first meeting

I always get a buzz when a new Alpha course begins.  Who will turn up?  Will anyone turn up for this ten week course on Christian basics?   Even after 34 courses it does not get any easier.

So this time we used the colour wraparound for CONSIDER as well as the usual leaflets, posters, house visiting, market stall and school parent promotion.  The sports quiz and curry evening was another new venture to encourage men to think about doing the course.

Looking at the initial responses, I expected 15 and hoped for 20 people.  In the event some 30 people came along for “Christianity boring, untrue, irrelevant.”  Of those 15 or so were new to Christ Church.  I attach the photo.

Talking to some of these people it was encouraging to hear how they had decided to give Alpha a shot.   Certainly the different methods of advertising had worked.  But what really counts is personal recommendation, of Christians encouraging their friends, family, neighbours, colleagues – and carers.

For the star of the show, as far as I was concerned, was Ken Park, now in his mid 90’s and a resident of Aughton Park Nursing Home.  For Ken has a love for Jesus he longs to share, especially with those who care for him.

So at least two people came to Alpha from Aughton Park as a result of his testimony.  I know they enjoyed the Alpha launch and Ken tells me more may appear next week!

I have to be careful not to draw too close a parallel here but it reminds me of Paul sharing the gospel with those soldiers guarding him. The chained apostle writes to the Philippians “As a result (of my being in prison), it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.”  (Philippians 1:13)

It must have been acutely frustrating for the apostle with a passion for sharing Christ over the horizon to be stuck in yet another gaol.  No earthquake this time. But he kept at it where he was – whoever, anyone was prepared to give him half an ear.  You don’t’ wait for your situation to improve, you just do it, share Christ.

So we thank God for Ken and for all those who worked hard, in so many different ways, to make Christ known.

For the story of Alpha is one of Christians taking a personal initiative.  As it happens I know most of the main players – I was at theological college with Charles Marnham who first devised the course when a curate at HTB in the 1970’s.  His wife, Trish, coined the name.  And also Sandy Millar, who was to become vicar there and oversaw the rapid growth of the course under his curate, Nicky Gumbel, in the 1990’s.  It was never the intention to produce a course for the worldwide church, it just kind of happened.

I once asked Sandy – looking back, what was the key decision which changed Alpha from being an in-house discipleship course in a central London church to the course it is today, being used all over the world in a huge variety of contexts.  I assumed it was the result of some staff time away or during a 24 hour prayer meeting – i.e. something very spiritual.

But no, it was about buying rather the hiring the chairs.  Buying the chairs?  It seemed that as Alpha grew within HTB there came the day when the number signed up for the next course outstripped the chairs available.  The cost-effective answer, according to the church administrator, was to hire chairs for two months.   I assume that there was some kind of discussion (here I am being diplomatic) – those who wanted to buy chairs over against those who wanted to hire.  The risk, of course, was to be lumbered with loads of chairs which would have been difficult to store and an embarrassment to behold.

Looking to the future and believing in the trajectory of the course, the epoch-making decision was to buy.  And the rest, according to Sandy, is history.

I wrote last week of the 20 key pointers for Christ Church as we approach 2020, with 5 key values to affirm.  One of those key values is the resolve to keep taking risks.  It may be the risk of buying more chairs than we need or the risk of rejection in inviting your carers to Alpha.

This Sunday we welcome back my predecessor, Eric Bramhall, who will be preaching at 10.45.  Eric tells me how when he arrived at Christ Church way back in 1975 he was given the key advice “Never consolidate.”  That is, keep on pushing out, going for it.  And he never did.  For risk is at the heart of our mission as we share Jesus with everyone beginning right where we are.

Finally, a big thank you to Dave and Jonathan for answering my plea for help last week and serving the Diocese with tea and coffee last Saturday, for others volunteering to fill the gaps in our CONSIDER distribution network and Chris, one of our young people, who designed the Sunday notice sheet for the first time.