A few people have asked me how I got on in London.
Hotel - OK (cheap and in South Kensington therefore miraculous)
Conference - awesome
Shopping - as expected. Pressies for other people. But then I did get to buy a copy of "Cosmo".
I went to HTB as part of an Alpha EMEA week - European, Middle East and Africa week. I felt right at home. From stepping off at Heathrow to entering the conference venue I was struck by the sheer number of different nationalities represented. To me, it had a heavenly quality. Every nation, tribe and tongue will be represented there!
Had my first ever experience of not being able to get into a church service. Yes, you read that correctly, the 5pm service was full, as was the overflow facility. Bring it on! (that was the fourth service of the day) And so I enjoyed a solitary Costa cup of tea, reading my glossy magazine and marvelling at a sell-out, SORRY, packed church service just across the road. BTW, is Costa OK? I hear from neighbour's blogs that Starbucks isn't.
Enjoyed the 7pm service immensely, particularly the fact that there seemed to be so many other visitors for whom this may have been their first "church worship" experience. I was asked twice where the toilets were. I must have that "in with the bricks" look about me. Oooooooh, Coxy, could I be an Anglican?? :-)
Listening to (now assistant Bishop) Sandy Millar was - as ever - fantastic. I could listen to his wisdom for hours. For the church planters among you - HTB has planted 11 congregations since 1992, sending 200 people each time. Sandy said last year he thought he should take his own advice to the congregation of 3,000 and stepped down as vicar to lead a plant to an empty church in North London with 200 members.
And so to the conference itself. As an Alpha adviser I had some other meetings to attend outwith the main conference but I managed to hear most of the main sessions straight from the man himself, Nicky Gumbel. A most engaging and entertaining speaker yet not afraid to challenge.
Whatever you think of Alpha, I heard and saw the evidence that God is anointing it as an evangelistic tool hugely around the world. I would have questioned its effectiveness in different cultural contexts and yet I heard delegates give reports in the Sunday evening service) on huge numbers of converts to Christianity in France, Spain, Latvia, Ukraine, Soweto, S.A., Sweden, Uganda, Burundi, Russia.......(can't remember all of the representatives who spoke!) For me, most moving was to see the Orthodox priests (beard, robes, huge cross), monks, nuns and loads of Catholic priests in attendance. They had paid money to travel to be there - such was their hunger to learn more about alpha. I felt so THRILLED to see them there. As Nicky Gumbel says: alpha focuses on that which unites us, not that which divides.
Two-thirds of the dioceses in France run the course. It has found its place as one of the most useful tools for a parish to evangelise. Some of the things that I picked up in my summer reading/exams came in handy - being able to remember that Vatican 2 called for re-evangelisation and a call to community and a place for spiritual gifts :-)
So I've come home renewed in the vision to continue to use alpha with the families I come into contact with. All my questions (relating to an upcoming assignment) like: does this work cross culturally? were answered. The emphasis on community (people are invited out of relationships with people inside the church); the sharing of food, the invitation to speak freely and share opinions without (me as leader) butting in and the lack of intensity plus the anointing of God make this course work!
Mammoth post - any comments??