Who you are and where are you from?
We are Tullamore Alpha, a group of people based in Tullamore Parish, Co Offaly. We are from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life but all share the common goal of inviting people into friendship with Jesus through Alpha.
Was there a need in the Parish – were there fewer people attending mass etc? No young people?
There is a need all over Ireland to evangelise and spread the Gospel and Tullamore is no different.
In common with most parishes around the country there was a general fall-off in the numbers attending Mass and actively serving in the Parish.
We also wanted to give people, wherever they are in their faith journey, a safe place to explore and discuss issues of faith without being judged or pressurised.
Our young people needed a say in the Parish as well and so we started a Youth Group and a Junior Parish Pastoral Council. Alpha Youth has been one of the best tools to engage the young people in the Youth Group and schools.
What led you to do Alpha as a parish?
Alpha was introduced to the parish by Fr Patrick and Sr Genny in January 2010, for all the reasons above.
What were your first impressions about Alpha?
That it is a very effective tool for evangelisation.
Anything impress you about how Alpha works?
It is a very gentle way to evangelise. Suitable for those of all faiths and none. Whether someone wants to grow their already strong faith or begin to really explore faith for the first time, it meets them where they are.
The small groups allow trust to build among the participants and they support each other as they progress through Alpha. No-one is judged for their views or opinions and it doesn’t matter who you are.
Everyone is equal in Alpha.
Why do people keep coming back?
We found that people really bond in their small groups at Alpha. Real friendships form and there is a special trust that builds over the weeks. People find real support in this as they continue to try to grow in faith.
How important is follow on? What are you doing as a parish for follow on?
Follow on is absolutely vital. Alpha is only a beginning and we feel that to invite people to do Alpha without offeringfollow on is a real disservice to people, especially those that may only be very early on in their faith journey. They need somewhere to keep coming back, find support and continue to grow.
In Tullamore we invite everyone who completes each Alpha to continue to meet each week in small groups known as pastorates. This allows those who have built a relationship over the weeks of Alpha to progress together and encourages them to stay involved in Alpha. Many become hosts/helpers at subsequent Alphas. Currently we have five active pastorates meeting on different days and at different times of the week.
Every month all these pastorate groups meet together for an evening of prayer, worship and friendship. The pastorates have a varied programme of activities which they choose themselves including: Lectio Divina, Journey through the Bible Course, Challenging Lifestyles course and lots of others. Our sixth pastorate will be formed next week following on from the last Alpha. The faith community that builds from this is strong and vibrant.
Is it important to have a rolling Alpha running in the parish – e.g. 2/3 Alpha’s per year?
It is vital to keep a rolling Alpha programme. We currently run two per year. One commences in January and one in September. This keeps those in the pastorates busy and involved!! It also means that people who are interested in doing Alpha can plan to do it and be sure that it will happen!
What challenges have you faced running Alphas, how have you overcome these?
Initially there was little awareness of Alpha and there was some resistance from those who were unsure what exactly it was about.
Really it was fear of the unknown!
We had Fr Patrick and Sr Genny which was vital in the early stages as was support from the other clergy in the Parish. Once people saw it in action, and its fruits, most of this fear and resistance disappeared.
The other main challenge is keeping the wider group of people who have done Alpha involved. There is a danger that the same people do all the work and tasks involved and it is really important not to let those people burn out. Enabling all those who have done Alpha to stay involved and actively encouraging this is vitally important. Not everyone has the time or means to commit to a lot but most people can do something. Sometimes they just want to be asked!
What has parish life been like since Alpha?
Apart from being a vibrant faith community in the parish, those involved in Alpha tend to become more involved in other aspects of Parish life. So we have members who have become involved in Church Environment group, Liturgy, Eucharistic ministry and the Parish Pastoral Council since doing Alpha. Some have also become involved in the Youth group.
Are more people coming to a personal relationship with Jesus through Alpha?
We really believe so. Certainly those who are involved say that it has strengthened their faith and changed the way they relate to Jesus. They get more out of Mass and the liturgy, they really want to read and study the scriptures and it improves their prayer life.
What other Alpha ministries do you use to build/equip people and families.
We run the Parenting Children course, Parenting Teenagers course and Alpha Youth
Anything else that you would like to add?
Our next Alpha starts on 21st January!!