Friday, January 14, 2011

86. Alpha course and what now?

So, in May 2010, I reached 84. My travelling days were over and, if the fortune teller was to be believed, my time was almost up. I needed just one more adventure before departing this life. Then a dear friend, Angela Robinson, asked me if I would like to attend an Alpha course which, for anyone not acquainted with it, is a series of talks on Christianity. It was being held at the Helderberg Christian Church, a “Happy Clappy” Church; the kind that I had always regarded as being noisy and over the top. No way would I ever be seen waving my arms in the air, jigging around and shouting “Praise be to Jesus”, while hugging everyone in sight. And, just as no-one else should ever tell me “It cannot be done”, I should never say “never!”

The Helderberg Christian Church building is huge, with many rooms. The structure is basic, without an altar, stained glass window or wooden cross in sight. There are two regular pastors, Wesley and Gary, who preach wearing tee shirts and jeans, and there are occasional visiting preachers. Wesley plays guitar and has the perfect voice for singing hymns of praise. He is great fun and could have been a great stand-up comedian! Gary, a Londoner, often laughs at himself, which is a trait I like. Numerous talented youngsters play musical instruments and sing in the choir, and the congregation cuts across racial, social and economic boundaries.

This is a working Church and anyone is welcome to attend the services, but if you want to become a member you had better be prepared to work for it. This is not a Church where you file out at the end of the service on Sunday, to the sombre sounds of the organ, shake hands with the vicar and go home. There is much work to be done in Africa.

But, to return to the Alpha Course. There were nine people in our group, a very mixed combination. My friend Angela, an attractive bubbly 45 plus grandmother; Paul, a very good looking young husband and father with a lovely personality; Doug, late fifties, a very devout and knowledgeable Christian; Elaine, a mid-fifties frail care nurse, always cheerful, but with hidden sadness; Susie, mid fifties, who runs a landscape gardening business with her husband; a newly wed Indian couple, one a Christian one a Moslem; Mary, the only black member, a domestic worker in her late fifties; and myself. So you see, we were a mixed bunch.

On arriving at the Church we were offered iced fruit juice, and then we moved into the second largest hall where we were seated at our group table, beautifully decorated with coloured napkins, flowers and candles. At each meeting we were presented with an excellent meal, prepared in the huge kitchen and brought in by a team of hard working servers. The meals, for which one could make a donation or not, were followed by some songs of praise, then a talk or a video, recorded at meetings held by Nicky Gumbol. After that our group sat in a circle and discussed the subject of the evening's talk. Then we were served with tea and coffee and went home leaving the servers to clear up! It must have been after ten o’clock before everyone left.

It was after the first meeting that I decided to attend the Sunday service, and what an experience that was! The congregation, including children, probably numbered around six hundred. I was greeted at the door, hugged and made to feel very welcome, the atmosphere was so – loving. The first half hour of the service was taken up with the band, and singing. Very loud! People were walking in and out, children were running around and at one point a crowd of them climbed up on to the stage to sing and dance as well. After the music the children left to attend their own classes which were being held in other rooms.

Gary’s sermon was riveting, and not once did I wonder what I was going to have for lunch, or whether or not I liked that woman’s dress! We prayed and, for the first time in my life, I did not feel self conscious or fraudulent. The congregation seemed to be as one and joyful in their love of the Lord.

About three weeks later, there was a full Saturday Alpha, with morning coffee and cake, a very good lunch, afternoon tea and more snacks. Hungry lot, these wanna-be Christians! After lunch a delightful, a young black Zimbabwean preacher spoke to us and then asked if anyone wished to invite the Holy Spirit into his/her life. We prayed, and the young man went on talking about feeling the Holy Spirit entering into our bodies. Sceptics may call it auto-suggestion, or hypnosis, but I truly felt something happening and, to my surprise, I stood up ready to be blessed. Fortunately I did not have to walk to the front before thousands of arm waving people who had already been saved, because it was a small hall and I was already sitting in the front row! Some of us cried, and comforted each other.

For the following three days I walked round in a sort of euphoria, quite happy to tell my very Christian friends that I had found the Holy Spirit at last! They were all delighted, saying they had known it was only a matter of time, and that they had been praying for me for years! I truly cannot explain what happened but, for the first time in my life, I felt I was not alone any more. Afterwards I said to Angela who had brought me there, “I owe you – big time!”

I am told that life is a series of tests that the Lord sets for us to see how we cope and to build our characters. As I look back over this story it seems that I have been well and truly “tested”. If only I had known that I could have asked for help at the same time, my life could have been easier. But, I often had the feeling that there was “something out there” and I am certain that sometimes I received help without asking.

And so, as I come to the end of the road, I think to myself; “yes Lord, you have surely tested me and honestly, I did my best.” Do I see You smiling and nodding Your head? I now read my bible and earnestly pray daily that, on the day of judgement, You will rule in my favour! Amen.

So, my story, “It All Happened On My Way To 84” is finished. Piggy wig is still ticking as I approach 85. I will miss blogging you all, and wonder how I can now spend that time. Any suggestions?

Farewell, and may God bless us all.

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