It was an early Saturday morning in November when 100 or so joined together for an Alpha Retreat like none I had experienced before. The fall weather was delightful. We had heard some great teachings, had some great conversations, and grown in relationships within our small groups. Then, we sat in our groups to pray to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit. “Come, Holy Spirit.” And He came.
What made this whole “time away” different was that we did it from the comfort of our own homes. It was Alpha Online. Online is nothing new for any of us now. We’re doing so much online including worship, work, and even family gatherings. The question was: would Alpha work online? At one point in years past, Alpha’s Nicky Gumbel said doing Alpha online wouldn’t work. Yet, even before COVID-19, he had come to realize he was wrong.
Here at Holy Cross, we were looking for a couple of things. First, we hoped Alpha would help us engage more of our church members, especially those who weren’t in Life Groups, who might be experiencing isolation in the midst of the pandemic. Second, we knew it would help our members in their lives as disciples as they follow Jesus. Even longtime Christians are searching for answers to some of life’s toughest questions. Third, we knew Alpha was a great way to introduce people to Jesus and find life in Him.
It’s been incredible! God has done exceedingly more than we could have imagined. More than 150 Holy Cross members and friends signed up for one of our four Alpha courses this fall. Some met as Life Groups and others as new groups. The largest course was 110 people meeting on Monday nights. It was no small feat to get 110 people into the right breakout rooms! The revised Alpha videos are incredibly well produced and gave participants permission to ask the tough questions and to engage one another in conversations.
There we were, in our living rooms, on our porches, some certainly wearing their slippers, and God moved. “I want to know His presence.” “I’m depressed and want to be healed.” “I want a sense of purpose.” “I need assurance.” And our hands reached out across the internet as if to lay hands on our group members’ shoulders as prayers reached out to our Heavenly Father. Send your Spirit, we asked. And God gave us his Holy Spirit abundantly. Fill us, we prayed. Spines tingled, warmth was experienced, God came near, and peace was had. It was incredible.
We wondered what praying for one another would be like over the internet. In hindsight, our concerns seem a little unwarranted. Our Heavenly Father wants His children to be filled with His Holy Spirit. He wants to release the gifts and grow the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us. He wants to do that for all of us.
We’re looking forward to running Alpha again in the spring so God can give this good gift to others. While I hope we can do it in person, I’m happy to do it online. Alpha USA has made it incredibly easy with online videos and thorough instructions for running the course online via Zoom. In fact, anyone can go to www.alphausa.org and learn how to lead Alpha at church, at home, in the workplace or online.
Our prayer, and our expectation, is that God will do much more through this incredible 10 weeks together as his daughters and sons are filled with the power of His Holy Spirit.
By The Rev. Trevor Spencer, Church of the Holy Cross, Sullivan’s Island, Daniel Island