The Alpha Course in Long Island, New York: Opening Up to the Way, the Truth, and the Life
By Alex Edwards-Bourdrez
“Transformative”; “Inclusivity”; “Seeking answers to life’s big questions”; “Emphasis on conversation”; “A freeing and open atmosphere”—those are a few of the qualities my fellow participants in the Alpha course mentioned when asked to reflect on their experience over fifteen weekly sessions of reflection and discussion in the spring of 2023. Facilitated by Larry Sprinkle, lay leader at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, (Northport, NY), the course was an offering of the recently formed North Shore Suffolk Cooperative Parish of eight United Methodist congregations on Long Island, New York. People of various ethnicities and differing perspectives on Christianity and experiences with church life gathered for the journey.
Alpha is a worldwide program adaptable to particular groups of seekers. It is an acronym that delivers on its promise: Anyone interested in finding out more about the Christian faith; Learning and laughter; People meeting together; Helping one another; Asking anything. Each session’s discussion is sparked by a video focusing on a question about God-centered living. The questions are provocative and open-ended, among them: “Why did Jesus Die? What does the Holy Spirit do? Why and how do I pray? Why and how should I read the Bible?”
Members of our group on Long Island entered spaces of honesty and intimacy among us with the ever-present Holy Spirit.
Jesus promised, “When two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20 NKJV). We learn in the book of Acts that his promise is fulfilled in the gift of the Holy Spirit through an outpouring of wisdom, guidance, and love. For me, the Alpha course brought to light the dark corners of self-consciousness, the hiding places we find within us, and the masks we wear to be acceptable in the sight of others. I discovered—or rediscovered—that peeling back layers of protective habits of thought and behavior requires a sustained movement of the will. The course also opened a pathway to authentic presence in the midst of others—a recognition of, and respect for, the profound worth of each one gathered in the name of the Divine. That reckoning, as well as the trust that fellow participants may see me as inherently worthy, was a gift of discernment.
Curiosity, humility, courage, and compassion were virtues I felt increasingly stirred in me as we moved through the program. The openness of each participant encouraged the others. We explored doubt and confusion, and we shared challenges and strength-giving experiences. We listened to moving, deeply personal life experiences that had been kept secret for years in some cases. In one another’s eyes—and in our own eyes individually—we took on dimensions of humanity that dissolved preconceptions and judgments so that we could see, as a Quaker member of our group put it, that of God within each of us.
And we enjoyed being together. Alpha’s design worked: it is through our openly shared humanity, created in the image of the Divine, that we discover what the earliest followers of Jesus called “The Way.”
Click here for more information on Alpha.
Alex Edwards-Bourdrez is a thirty-two-year member of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Northport, Long Island, NY. Now retired, he is a former secondary school teacher and administrator, public relations account manager, and direct-support professional working with people with developmental disabilities. A Certified Lay Servant serving on various church committees, Alex lives in Northport with his wife, Susan.
Scripture verses marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.