"No Doubt We're In The Last Days" News
Religious mystery of the Alpha effect
(“Express and Star,” London, Sep. 27, 2004).
The numbers are puzzling. On the one hand, church congregations are in freefall. On the other, three million folk have eagerly followed the Alpha Course.
Across the world, more than 30,000 of these astonishingly successful courses are in progress. Two of the latest are being held in a Black Country chapel and a Wolverhampton pub.
Does the Alpha Course work? Sharon Phillips, a 40-year-old teacher from Merry Hill, Wolverhampton, has no doubts. She says: "The course had the biggest impact I have ever known. It changed my life." . . . Thousands, including disgraced Tory Jonathan Aitken and former topless model Samantha Fox, claim it had brought them closer to God.
But there is a darker side. Critics accuse Alpha of distorting the Biblical message and dabbling in mass hysteria, particularly on residential courses.
Some Alpha participants have reported instances of members falling down, quaking, barking like dogs or laughing uncontrollably in the aisles. Some clergy have condemned Alpha as a cult.
It is popular among the London elite. Sir David Frost is an eager Alpha student. When he presented ITV's series, "Alpha: Will It Change Their Lives?" two years ago, the National Secular Society lodged a formal objection and furiously denounced the series as "a large advertising puff for a religious initiative about which many people have grave reservations." . . . The Bradmore Arms course has 40 members. Most of these worship at the nearby St Philip's Church. The vicar, Jeremy Oakley, has run six Alpha Courses and says: "It enriches the faith of believers and enables non-believers to raise questions in a non-judgmental way."
He says he has never seen any evidence of Alpha becoming a rival organisation to the Church but he has seen some Alpha students in emotional states.
"I have seen people having a really good and pleasant experience of God's presence and that sometimes manifests itself in tears."
The mystery is that while millions have followed Alpha Courses, church attendance is still in decline.