Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Gift of Gentleness (Anglican Coalition in Canada news) (North Shore News) (Vancouver Courier Newspaper) (Evangelical Fellowship of Canada online magazine)

One of the great gifts of the world-renowned Alpha Course is its gentleness. Canadians do not like to be pressurized or have the Gospel shoved down their throat. Some have a great fear that somehow religious people will brainwash them and force them to do something that they do not want to do. The Alpha Course goes back to Paul's teaching to his protégé Timothy that sharing our faith needs to be gentle, kind and gracious (see 2 Timothy 2:25). As the past chair/president for Alpha Canada, and the current national Alpha chaplain, I know from first-hand experience what a gift the Alpha Course has been to so many.

Having recently visited Newfoundland and the Maritimes to attend the largest Christian Ashram retreat in the world with over 800 participants, I was privileged to hear hundreds of stories from Eastern Canadians whose lives have been deeply impacted by the Alpha Course. Over the past two years I have spoken at Christian Ashrams in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and once again I heard remarkable stories of Canadians whose lives have been decisively changed by an Alpha Course.

Nicky Gumbel has been strongly linked in many Canadian minds with Alpha. Nicky Gumbel was a successful lawyer in London who was convinced that the Christian faith had nothing to offer him. His impression of Christianity was dreariness and lack of inspiration. His impression of many clergy was that of undertakers. Nicky thought that Christianity was also totally irrelevant. He couldn't see how something that happened 2000 years ago and so many thousands of miles away could have any relevance to him in modern life.

Nicky was also convinced that the Christian faith was intellectually indefensible. At age 14 he wrote an essay in which he tried to destroy the whole of Christianity and disprove the existence of God. Nicky went through a phase when he enjoyed arguing with Christians just for the pleasure of exposing their "falsity."

Life is full of strange and unexpected turn-of-events. One of those turn-of-events was that Nicky Gumbel became so convinced of the relevance and truth of Christianity that he even became an Anglican priest. A few years before, the idea of becoming a pastor would have been the farthest thing from his mind—almost laughable. And yet it happened. A number of years later, millions of people all around the world are finding that Nicky Gumbel's Alpha Course presentation is helping them live a more meaningful life.

Seekers and unchurched people really love this safe opportunity to explore the meaning of life. All around the world, on every continent, people are taking the Alpha Course. Part of what makes Alpha tick is the wonderful fellowship during 11 weeks as people eat delicious meals together whenever they meet, but most important, people share questions. So often the questions of life can really weigh us down, but many are saying that this course has answered a lot of their deepest questions about life. That is why the symbol of the Alpha Course is a person carrying a very large and heavy question mark.

No question is taboo at Alpha. No one is put down or criticized. Nicky Gumbel's video presentations every week are thought-provoking and challenging. The discussion that follows is free-wheeling and very engaging. The Holy Spirit weekend in the middle of the course is the lynchpin that holds it all together. I so much value the gentle freedom in the Spirit modeled by the Alpha Course. Conservatively, I would estimate that over 370 people so far have attended our St. Simon's North Vancouver Alpha courses. Thousands of other congregations across Canada are also hosting an Alpha Course. I commend Alpha to you as a gentle gift to the people in your neighbourhood.

The Reverend Ed Hird is the rector of St. Simon's Church North Vancouver.

-this article is an excerpt from the new book "Battle for the Soul of Canada" which can be found at Reprinted in North Shore News, August 18, 2006, Vancouver Courier, September 15, 2006, and EFC October 11th 2006

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