Mountain View Lutheran Church is re-starting its “Alpha” program on Sept. 11 with its kick off dinner at The Foothills Golf Club.
Alpha is a weekly program for anyone from atheist to agnostic who wants to explore the “big questions” of religion, including:
Is there a God?
Who is Jesus?
What about other religions?
Where do I fit?
“The motto of Alpha is no question too simple, no question too hostile,” said Beth Fitch, regional director of Alpha and former participant. “The idea is that we create a safe, relaxed environment where people can bring any question or any opinion to the table about any topic.”
Each weekly meeting which can take place at different locations - from churches to restaurants – is centered on a dinner that lasts between two and three hours. During that time, participants get a topic and then discuss it in small groups with the help of a host.
“The group processes their questions together,” Fitch said, “and it’s really about allowing people to go on their own journey.”
Fitch said that before she took the Alpha course about 10 years ago she was an extremely different person.
“I was an angry, agnostic attorney who had all the trappings of secular success,” she said. “I was asking the question: ‘Is this all there is to life?’ because if it is, I’m really disappointed.”
The Ahwatukee resident said that the 10-week course transformed her and allowed her to find hope and purpose. The program’s process and openness to various viewpoints was what Fitch said she liked most about the program.
“If I had gone to Alpha and someone around that table had tried to tell me what to think … I would have been out of there immediately,” she said. “The process allowed me to work through my baggage in a very relaxed, affirming community.”
And while the program is unique, organizers said what happens after it ends is both surprising and dramatic.
“After people go through the Alpha course, the most often asked question is: ‘What’s Next?’” said Sheila Coonen, mission developer for MVLC and executive director for “Connecting to Serve,” which is one outgrowth of Alpha. “So we formed Connecting to Serve to empower, engage and connect people to address community concerns . . . as they relate to housing, finance, health and education.”
Aside from participating in such programs as Connecting to Serve, some former Alpha participants choose to get more involved. Kevin Carson, who participated in an Alpha program seven years ago, recently left his 20-year career in sales management to help run an Alpha program at a prison on the Gila River Indian Community.
“I was one of the last persons you would expect would say, ‘OK, I’m going to spend my Sunday afternoons down at the prison,’ when I could be at my pool, or playing golf or doing whatever,” he said. “But, despite having success and all that comes with it, this is much more fulfilling. It’s not even in the same ballpark.”
Mountain View Lutheran Church is one of three churches in the Foothills, along with Mountain Park Community Church and Foothills Baptist Church, that will be running Alpha programs together. Organizers said they are expecting nearly 600 people to participate.
Fitch said that the Alpha program works for all kinds of people and, according to alphausa.org, there are 163 countries running the program and 127 denominations with registered Alpha courses.
“Anyone can take the Alpha course, you don’t have to be a member,” said Glenn Zorb, senior pastor at MVLC. “Anyone is welcome, you don’t even have to be a Christian, you don’t have to be a believer, just be interested.”
Cassidy Olson is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a sophomore at ASU.