Friday, 24 April 2015

I Still Love My Job

Have I said that before?

I love cold-calling on churches.

I have a few standard lines I use when calling on churches. Often I will break the ice by saying, "It sounds phony to say, 'I was in the neighbourhood and I thought I'd drop in,' but, I was in the neighbourhood and I thought I'd drop in."

It usually gets at least a smile. When describing my position as Alpha's Regional Director for Alberta, I say, "I love Alpha and I love driving, so I've got the perfect job. And besides, this is my retirement career, so I've got nothing better to do."

Yesterday I made a round trip to Devon and Drayton Valley. One of the things I enjoy is that I am usually welcomed genuinely, and if a particular church is not interested in Alpha, at least politely. Practically every church, or at least someone on their staff, is familiar with Alpha.

I find it oddly curious when, as I experienced in one church yesterday, I am told they have no real interest in running Alpha, yet the pastor I spoke with said, "I know Alpha is effective. We have a number of people in our congregation who came to faith on Alpha and were baptized." I smiled politely, and said, "That's great!," but inwardly I was shaking my head.

A few highlights of my trip:

There are three churches in Devon who would self-identify as, "evangelical." I had encouraging visits with all of them. Two have run Alpha, one might.
The Anglican church, St George's, was in the process of getting ready for a community meal they serve on Thursdays. When I walked in the front door, I could smell food and hear conversation coming from the basement, so I walked down. The whole group was very friendly and invited me to stay for lunch, but this was my last stop of the morning (11:30: and I wanted to get to Drayton Valley for the afternoon, so I declined, in spite of rather persistent invitations to stay. It turns out that their Rector was also Rector in St Catherine's in Edson when we lived there. Small world.

So... lunch at Tim Horton's in Drayton Valley. There was no one in at two of the churches on my list, but among the others I visited was one I have visited before, and is one of my most encouraging; St Anthony's Catholic Church. They have run Alpha for years and plan to again in the fall.

On my way out of town, I passed the Drayton Christian School, so popped in there, using my, 'in the neighbourhood...' line. One of the people at the front desk happened to be the Principal, and we had a great conversation. I will put her in touch with Amy Croy, our Albert Alpha for Youth coach, whose vision it is to see Alpha in every school.

I also made contact with the Almond Tree Life Centre, who registered with Alpha and are planning to run Alpha in the fall. Its director attends Drayton Valley's Life Church, another church not on my list, but whose neighbourhood I just happened to be in. The pastor wasn't there but the two women I met had great things to say about Alpha.

That was my yesterday.



Friday, 17 April 2015

Alpha is Changing

No, not its message! But often in the way it is being run. When I first became involved with Alpha, over twenty yearss ago, the customary way to run it was in a church hall with as large a group as possible. Mind you it is still done, and is still effective, that way. Some churches still regularly have a hundred or more guests at their Alpha.

But more and more Alphas are being run in more intimate settings, with much smaller groups. Groups of half a dozen or even fewer are not uncommon, in coffee shops or homes. It may be a sign of the changing times that it seems more difficult to gather large groups for a course on the basics of Christianity. The wonderful thing about Alpha is that you don't have to.

So I'm hoping to remind Pastors and other interested parties that Alpha doesn't have to be a big deal. It's nice when it is, but it works just as effectively in more simple formats.

Everything needed to run a 7-week or an Alpha for Youth is available online for free download, including all the talks, training, promotional material and guest and leader notes. Learn more about how to get started here. Even more exciting is that more new products are coming soon - also downloadable for free: new Nicky Gumbel 30 minute talks, and an early-twenties Alpha based on the faster-paced Alpha Youth Film Series.

So in short, I'm hoping pastors who are looking for an effective and proven tool to reach those who do not yet know Jesus, will consider (or reconsider) Alpha, even in a smaller setting such as a program for their home groups. It is still the easiest and most effective way I have ever seen to communicate the Good News to people who desperately need to hear it.



Monday, 13 April 2015

Alberta Champions' Retreat

Here is the crowd who attended the Alpha for Youth, "Champions' Retreat" in Red Deer, Wednesday evening and Thursday. This was an event to gather specific, key players who play, or we hope will play, strategic roles with Alpha for Youth in Alberta. Although not all such people from all areas of the Province were able to attend, I think the event turned out to be exactly what God intended. I, for one, was incredibly encouraged. It was attended by people of multiple denominations, Catholic and Protestant, old (me) and young (everybody else).

Ben Woodman (fourth from left) and Jason Ballard (centre, rear, short), the, "stars" of the Youth Film Series were there and did a great job facilitating. I remember driving down to Red Deer with Amy Croy, Alpha for Youth coach in Alberta, and remarking that I wish more people were coming. Now, however, I am completely convicted. God brought together just the right people. It was an amazing time together, and I, for one, left feeling completely encouraged.

One highlight, for me, was meeting a teacher from the Sacred Heart Catholic School in Wetaskiwin, who uses Alpha in her religion class. She attends Sacred Heart Church in the same town; a Parish I have been pursuing with some vigor for some time, because in my opinion it will be the perfect Alpha Parish - contemporary and filled with the Holy Spirit. Now, it seems, that, completely apart from my own efforts, they will be using Alpha as part of their RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) process. Praise God!

I was also pleased to meet a young protégé of my friend and Alpha for Catholics coach Mark Richards, from St Michael's Parish in Calgary. How encouraging it is to meet and hear about young Christians who truly love the Lord and are faithfully taking the torch that we who are approaching the end of our years are passing them.



Sunday, 5 April 2015

My Favourite Country Bluegrass Pickin' Song

Nothing to do with Alpha, but I just love this:

Only Leo Kottke is still with us, but thank God for Youtube.



A Tiburon Miracle?

I sometimes hate to call something in my life a miracle, for fear that someone who needs a, "real" miracle would wonder why they didn't get one, while I, in some more minor matter, did.

But here goes: I got into my Tiburon in my garage the other day and turned the key. It cranked over once, then made a very loud BANG. Immediately, the sound of the starting motor sounded different; almost as if the engine had lost compression.

I have been in the car business all my working life, and I know the sound of a car with major problems. When I was a sales manager at a Chrysler dealership in Oakville ON, I had to appraise potential trade-ins; check for blow-by (smoke coming out of the oil filler cap, indicating bad piston rings, listen for knocks in the engine - a deep knock indicated a serious problem, a lighter, "tap" was a minor issue, just a valve lifter, but nothing serious. In short, I know what a sick engine sounds like.

I tried several times over the next day or two to start it, all with the same result; it just wouldn't go. So I called AMA on Monday Morning and had it towed to the local dealership, fearing the worst. I even began searching Kijiji for $1000.00 cars, figuring that if it cost that much to fix the Tib, I would just buy another clunker. Monday night the service department called me saying they hadn't yet had a chance to get to it, but would tomorrow (Tuesday).

Tuesday  morning I got a call from the service writer at the dealership, but I was on the road and couldn't understand the caller, other than to grasp that they were going to try again in the afternoon. I remember telling them, "It's not going to start," but, because I couldn't make out want she was saying, I just said, "Thank you very much," and disconnected.

I then proceeded to a lunch meeting I had with Amy Croy, our Alberta Youth Coach, at Café Rista, a great trendy coffee shop (and gracious host of my most recent Alpha, hence the commercial). We discussed a few things, and at the end of our lunch we both mentioned things that were on our hearts for prayer. I tossed in, "Well, you could pray for my car. I can't really afford another one." So, among our other prayers, for Alpha, for Youth, she tossed in a prayer for my car.

Before we left my cell phone rang. It was the service writer at the dealership. "Your car started every time we tried it," she said, "In fact, we can't get it not to start."

I was blown away. "What???" was all I could say. As I said before, I have spent just about all my working life selling, servicing or equipping vehicles. I KNOW what a car with problems sounds like, and my Tib was definitely one. So I have no other explanation than that God did something here.

That's all I can say.