Originally created 09/01/01

'Christianity 101'



A co-worker invited Hilda Thomas to an Alpha Course dinner two years ago.

Someone handed her a Bible as she walked in.

"From there it was just like opening my eyes to things I had never thought about," said Ms. Thomas, who says the Alpha Course at the Vineyard Church of Augusta taught her the basics of Christianity.

Alpha is built around an informal dinner, a videotaped lecture, small group discussion and prayer and typically meets weekly for 10 weeks.

Pastor David Keener learned about the program from a Michigan minister about two years ago, then introduced it to his congregation at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Evans. He now serves as the Alpha resource for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Alpha's grapevine has grown from Holy Trinity (Anglican) Church in Brompton, England, where it was developed about 10 years ago, to more than 34,000 churches of various denominations around the world, including several in the Augusta area that are starting classes this month.

"It is Christianity 101," said the Rev. Ron Fearneyhough, pastor of Gracewood United Methodist Church.

In 1995, the Rev. Fearneyhough said he met Alpha'a author, Nicky Gumbel, in Canada shortly after Mr. Gumbel had rewritten the course, based on one used at Holy Trinity Brompton. "Once he got hold of it, it went around the world."

Being a Christian - whatever that was - was the last thing the Alpha author was interested in as a young man, Mr. Gumbel tells people in a videotaped lecture.

Mr. Gumbel's lighthearted banter and gentle prodding - he is an attorney turned Anglican clergyman - give listeners a practical understanding of Christianity.

Alpha awakens spirituality in people's lives, the Rev. Fearneyhough said. "It has brought them back to understanding what the faith is all about."

It also presents Christianity in a non-threatening way to people who aren't quite sure what the faith is about and gives them an opportunity to ask questions in a relaxed atmosphere.

People leave with a good understanding of what the faith is about without feeling stupid for asking questions, said Ms. Thomas, who will be a discussion leader during the Vineyard's course, which starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Alpha "taught me a lot about basic Christianity - things I had forgotten or hadn't taken the time to learn," she said.

The Alpha Course

This is a sampling of area churches offering Alphas:

6 p.m. Wednesday, the Vineyard Church of Augusta, 3126 Parrish Road, 863-9766.

6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, Christ the King Lutheran Church, 4232 Evans to Lock Road, Evans, 863-7189. The first class will be Thursday, Sept. 20.

6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, Episcopal Church of Our Savior, 4227 Columbia Road, Martinez, 863-1718. Sign up by Sunday, Sept. 16.

5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, Wesley United Methodist Church, 825 N. Belair Road, Evans, 869-0888.

TBA for October, Gracewood United Methodist Church, 2117 Tobacco Road, 798-2200.

TBA, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 605 Reynolds St., 724-2485.

TBA, Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter, 210-1133.

TBA, St. Augustine Episcopal Church, 3321 Wheeler Road, 738-6676.

For more information on Alpha, call or visit the Web site at www.alphana.org.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.