First question (Alpha is all about questions as you may have gathered from their logo):
I am promoting Alpha because back when I was a student, I was invited round to dinner my first night in my house by a neighbour, Claire. She was a Christian, but never made me feel uncomfortable about it. I was an aetheist (but never made her feel uncomfortable about it) and had been since I was 11. We got on well and as we worked in the same lab, had gone to the same university previously and were next door to each other as members of the same college, we got to know each other pretty well.
One Sunday, I was very upset because I had just heard that my friend's mum had died of a brain tumour a year after her sister had also died. It seemed so unfair, but if you don't believe in God, who can you blame for that? (By the way, he's big enough to take it, so shout and scream at him if you are in a similar situation. He won't mind, will listen and will love you anyway. People have been doing that since a shepherd called David, who later became a king, wrote a bunch of songs about it called the Psalms.) Anyway, I knew Claire would be going to church that afternoon (it was a sensible kind of church that had student-friendly service times. None of your 6.15am Easter Sunday meeting-on-the-Mesne-for-a-spot-of-prayer-and-hot-cross-buns malarkey. Most of us didn't get out of bed on a Sunday until after noon. Not me, of course. I did volunteer work with children living at the women's refuge, trying to find meaning in my life.)
Where was I? Oh yes, in Claire's house, asking her if I could come to church with her. I hadn't been to church for a long, long time and was amazed to find the music was actually great, with a modern band playing and seemingly hundreds of people my age totally lost in it. It was the music that got to me. I was hugely dismayed to find tears rolling down my face. I desperately took a look round as I wanted the ground to swallow me at that point, but no one was at all surprised and it was like no one could see me sobbing my heart out. How embarassing.
Anyway, it was the only place I cried for ages. And I couldn't help it. I couldn't stop. The pain that I felt had a keener edge to it, but was dissipating. I went back and eventually, hoping no one would notice again and blushing madly, went up to the church bookstall and bought a Christian book. How embarrassing! Again!!
It was called, "The Street Children of Brazil" and it was about a woman called Sarah de Calvahos, who had given up a stellar career in media to go and work in Brazil with street children. She had been called by God to go after she became a Christian. She became a Christian through one of the first ever Alpha courses at a church called Holy Trinity in Brompton.
This student church (which was Church of England) was using the same kind of idea and ran a course called Hub, which, being a student, I went to for the free dinner, hoping to talk them all out of it and feed me anyway. Er...it didn't quite work out that way. I started to believe, which was very frightening for me. I started to realise also, from my work on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and molecular structures of DNA, that this universe, this amazing, diverse, creative place, has been built by a designer. In science, the simplest, most elegant solution to a problem is always the right one. Conversations with a physicist friend, who was the first person I'd met who believed all this God stuff and be a proper scientist, enabled me to ask questions and that fear of believing began to subside. I can say, with some confidence, that I would not be alive today if I had not begun to believe in Jesus and explore the real meaning of life.
Of course, if it's all wrong, then Alpha is just a group of people chatting about things. You will still have a nice time, a free dinner (once a student, always a student) and I will be washing up. (Some of it. I never said all of it.)
Talking of which, it's my turn as dude cooks on a Friday and he's fallen asleep by the little one's bed again.
Goodnight, see you at Alpha maybe. Details from Revd. Sarah, www.lydneyparish.org.uk. She knows the answer to Question 2 (and lots of others - she's a very clever lady), but you can also look at http://www.alpha.org.