The Alpha Course: Asking The Hard Questions On Christianity

First of all, what is Alpha? let alone Alpha Course. Simple. Alpha in Latin is ‘the beginning’ or ‘first’. Remember the chorus that goes something like this: “God can do anything, anything, anything. God can do anything but fail. He’s the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul. God can do anything, anything, anything. God can do anything but fail”.

Alpha Course Supper notice.
Alpha Course Supper notice.

I accepted an invitation to go to the Alpha Course introduction night and supper which essentially was a Christian get-together with food, fellowship and music.  The supper was held at the Holy Trinity Swiss Cottage. Swiss Cottage is a town within Borough of Finchley. Inorder to get there, I took the Jubilee Line from Green Park to Finchley Road station. The Church is directly opposite the station. I was glad I went along for the novelty of it and with an open mind. Upon entering the hall I felt at ease and the atmosphere was friendly and warm. After a couple of introductions we headed for the dinner table.

Dinner being served....
Dinner being served....

It was a hearty meal and I tucked into it straightaway with two other Alpha Course enthusiasts.

Dinner and fellowship...what more can one ask for.
Dinner and fellowship...what more can one ask for.

The atmosphere was informal and everyone seemed really friendly. There were people of many cultures, ehtnic groups and ages and many among them were Christians. I was happy and comfortable to be among other Christian believers who are not members of my own Church – the Queensbury Methodist Church.

I was more curious than ever as to what sort of party this was going to be as the band belted out  Brazillian jazz numbers  – in a church? No I did not really know what to make of it. I decided to go with the flow. I have heard of Alpha courses taking place in various churches throughout London but have never attended one myself. I understand that there are about 10 million people worldwide following and participating in these courses. That’s a lot of people exploring the ‘meaning of life’.

The band - Brazillian jazz and other jazz classics filled the air...
The band - Brazillian jazz and other jazz classics filled the air...

Anyway, as the evening wore on I was confident that I will find out what the Alpha Course is all about. After dinner the Minister of the Church addressed the gathering. It was the most exhilarating feeling.

TheChurch Minister addressing the gathering...
The Church Minister addressing the gathering...

He introduced himself, the Course and what it is going to be about and outlined the sorts of things one can expect from the Course which will run for about nine (9) weeks here at the Holy Trinity Swiss Cottage. This is an Anglican Church.

I realised that this was a course which can help a Christian grow in their faith as one demystifies the story, the life of Christ and of the existence of God.

Outlining the Course and what it is all about.
Outlining the Course and what it is all about.

I think I will be going back for the rest of the course and meet other Christians who are prepared to openly discuss and grow confident in their faith in God Almighty.

I would highly recommend the course to young and senior Christians who are prepared to delve into the subject that can be baffling at the best of times. Exploring Christ’s life and what it means to us as Christians can be a bit daunting and challenging as most of us are taught to accept our religion as it is and not question it. At first I went on the defensive as I thought it was questioning my Christian belief. However, on the contrary the course will help to unravel the truths that I hold dear in my belief in the Christian faith. The more I know about Christ the more it consolidates my belief in Him. The words of this chorus come to mind as I write this, ” Jesus is the Way the only Way, Lovingly He calls us so the Scripture says, Whosoever will let Him come today, The blessed Jesus is the only Way”. Amen.

For practicising Christians, I think that the Alphas course provides an opportunity and a great way to learn more about the Bible, strengthen one’s faith in God and His Word – the Bible and any other doubts about one’s understanding of God and the life of Jesus, and of Christianity.

With a Christian friend as the supper...
With a Christian friend at the supper...

I went back last week and this time we discussed ‘Who Is Jesus’.  Here is the rest of the programme up to the 9th week.

27 Oct #3 What about suffering?  

3 Nov #4 Why did Jesus Die?  

10 Nov #5 How reliable is the Bible?

17 Nov #6 Why and how should I pray?

24 Nov #7 How does God guide us?

1 Dec #8 Does God heal today?

8 Dec #9 What about the church?

It seems to me that as one continues to explore the ‘meaning of life’, the Alpha Course provides a brilliant structure for discussion and discourse and helps us to think through some of the hard questions on Christianity, other religeous beliefs and our own spirituality.

Hare Krishnas – A Photo, A Unique Story…

Hare Krishnas at Oxford Circus
In the signature saffron and white robes - the Hare Krishnas

Two weekends ago, when weaving my way to lunch along Oxford Circus in central London, I came across this group of Hare Krishnas. I heard their chanting and drums before I actually saw them. Surrounded by the madding crowd all heading towards the big shops on either side of the high street they were a minority – with their saffron and white robes and their chanting but no dancing at this particular time. I was angling for a good time and spot to take my shot when I was fortuitously shoved next to the drummer and I quickly took these photos. I’ve never in a million years thought I could ever get close to Hare Krishnas. Well, this seemed to be my golden opportunity. Around us, whilst 21st century fashion was paraded on the high street from the latest British designers to imported apparel and some cheap imitations amongst all of that no doubt, these chanting group held their own, comfortable in what they were doing. They exuded a sense of ‘tribal solidarity’, secure in their right to free expression there on the high street in the middle of a hot Saturday afternoon.  I admired their resilience and dedication. I wondered how often they did this. As I walked away, a distant memory stirred – a blast from the past? I smiled quietly to myself. My curiosity took the better of me: behind every opportunity, visionary delight and wonder, there is a story. I felt compelled to find it and I think I did but perhaps only half of it.  

Hare Krishnas at Oxford Circus

Quick Facts according to popular literature:

  • Hare Krishna – a popular name for the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). It’s a sect within Hinduism
  • Most sacred text is the Bhagavad-gita the ‘Song of the Lord’. They believe in the Hindu God Krishna as the Supreme God. They don’t eat meat, fish or eggs, are teetotallers, practice celibacy (except within marriage for purposes of procreation) and they stay away from drugs (even caffeine) and gambling. Expected to chant the Hare Krishna mantra over a 1,ooo times a day: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna,
    Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare

Their mission is to promote Krishna Consciousness (God ConHare Krishas at Oxford Circussciousness) in accordance with the Bhagavad-gita and associated ancient scriptures.

From the little that I know, the Hare Krishna movement  was part of the changing era in the 60s and 70s and the  ‘revolution’ of fashion, ideas, music and lifestyles which took the world by storm.  There was also a strong inclination towards Easter religions especially Hinduism. The interesting thing about this is that whilst one generation in the developed world sought life’s answers in these religions some of us were growing up in the developing world and going through our own ‘revolutions’ at many levels and in many respects.

Perhaps most publicity in the late 60s and early 70s of the Hare Krishna movement in the UK focused on the ‘conversion’ of the late George Harrison – the gifted lead guitarist of the famous Beatles. His philanthropic association with the Hare Krishna movement and his devotion to his new religion was much publicised. He donated the Bhaktivedanta Manor in Watford, London to the Hare Krishna movement in the early 1970’s and so was instrumental in its establishment although never wanting to claim fame or credit for it. He was already a famous musician and artist in his own right anyway. One could say that the song that made the Hare Krishna mantra sung or hummed by millions around the world inadvertantly for some, and which topped the US charts in 1971 was ‘My Sweet Lord’. Henceforth for many of us, the mantra became somewhat synonymous with George Harrison.  He passed away in November, 2001 but the song lives on.

This one’s for you Regie Renagi and all the ex-Sogeri schoolmates (’70, ’71, ’72) and our memories of this era.

Here endeth my journey, albeit short, into the world of Hare Krishnas following that brief encounter on the high street at the corner of Oxford Circus on a Saturday afternoon.