Catholic Vancouver Oct. 15, 2017

Alpha enjoys boost in popularity in Catholic parishes this fall

By Agnieszka Ruck

Alpha Canada launched its revamped video series in Vancouver in 2016. The evangelization program is now running simultaneously in 13 Catholic parishes. (BCC file photo)

VANCOUVER—Alpha is enjoying near-unprecedented popularity in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

Corinna Siy, archdiocesan Ministries and Outreach coordinator, counts 13 parishes hosting the evangelization program right now, and there could be more. “I don’t think we’ve ever had this many parishes running Alpha before,” she said.

The video-based introduction to faith, featuring Anglican founder Nicky Gumbel, asks basic questions about the meaning of life and the existence of God. Siy attributes its inflated popularity among Catholics this year to several factors.

“Alpha Canada has certainly been running more promos lately, and … there may be less resistance or misconception that it is a ‘Protestant’ thing.”

The Christian organization recently revamped the video series, and a handful of new shorts include quotes from Pope Francis and interviews with preacher to the papal household Father Raneiro Cantalamessa.

That’s not all. When Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, named Get Closer to Jesus one of four priorities for the archdiocese, he urged parishes to use Alpha as one of their major tools.

There is a beautiful springtime happening in Vancouver.
Josh Canning

The fire has caught on. Msgr. Gregory Smith ran Alpha several times at Christ the Redeemer Parish over the years with varying levels of success. This year, he promoted it in several homilies (including at Christmas) before launching it this fall. About 160 people turned up to the first meeting – the largest Alpha his parish has ever seen. “We’ve never had such a response!”

Alpha’s Catholic church coordinator, Josh Canning, confirmed that this season of Alphas in Catholic parishes is the largest in recent memory.

“There is a beautiful springtime happening in Vancouver,” Canning told The B.C. Catholic.

He said of a 150-member Facebook group for Catholics who run Alpha across Canada, “by far it’s the Vancouver and Victoria dioceses that are the most active in sharing ideas and asking questions.”

He said Alpha staff were thrilled to learn Archbishop Miller speaks highly of their evangelization tools. “It excites us hugely. It really does. It’s just wonderful,” he said.

“It shows an alignment. We have the same kinds of goals. As Alpha, we just want people to get to know Jesus. l know the amazing adventure it is to be a Christian and join the Church.”

It’s not the first “springtime” for Alpha in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, however. Longtime evangelist Vernon Robertson said a conference held in July of 2000 had a similar effect.

“We decided to have Nicky Gumbel come over from England” and lead an Alpha conference for 1,500 Christians across North America at the McPherson Centre in Burnaby.

It was a season of the spirit where the fruit was falling off the tree.
Vernon Robertson

“After that conference, we started to train teams to run Alpha.” Within one year, he guessed 15 local Catholic parishes ran the evangelization program. Some high-hitters included St. Joseph the Worker and Holy Cross Parish.

“It was a season of the spirit where the fruit was falling off the tree.”

Now, Robertson, who has been in the field since at least 1994, warns “spiritual climate change” has made evangelization more difficult.

“Alpha is wonderful. It works. The problem is getting people to run it,” he said. In the years after Gumbel’s conference, thousands of Catholics participated in Alpha. Then, participation dropped off.

“Evangelization is not a sprint. It’s a marathon,” said Robertson. “You have 13 parishes running it now. The test is: how many of those parishes are running it five years from now?”