Sophie is a student at Newcastle university and ran Alpha for her friends in the lounge of her student home. She spoke to us about inviting her mates at university and their experience of Alpha.
My friends and I have loads of questions about life, from what Netflix series to watch to is there really more to life than just going to lectures? I really wanted to run Alpha so that we could explore some of our questions together but I worried inviting my university friends was going to be awkward or they’d just say no straight away. I almost talked myself out of it before I had even said a word to them.
I knew it was just nerves rather than what I thought they would actually say. They were always so willing to try new things; they had come along to a few CU events with me last term. The thought of having fun and spending time together each week, chatting on a deeper level seemed to outweigh my doubt and I finally plucked up the courage to ask them along. To my surprise the three friends I asked all said they would come. Not just that, but they were excited to try Alpha.
With essay deadlines looming, I knew I wouldn't have much time to organise anything big or elaborate. There were only a few weeks left until the end of term and so I had to arrange it all pretty quickly. That's when I decided to host Alpha in my lounge. It was easy, convenient and more importantly, a place my friends had been many times before. At no point did they feel like they were out of place or that as if they had to act a certain way. It was a relaxed environment they were familiar with, where they could just be themselves. This created such a nice atmosphere for us all. I didn't even feel like I had to host them or act any differently, I could simply just be me and hang out with my friends.
An important part of Alpha is the food which gives everyone the chance to catch up and eat together. Sadly as a student I couldn't exactly afford a three course meal for us all! I didn't have time to prepare anything big as my days were filled with revision and so I just kept it simple and bought some pizzas from Tesco. It was easy, affordable and it meant that I wasn't in the kitchen making dinner away from my friends. I would just pop it in the oven and be able to spend time catching up with them. It made such a huge difference. My friends couldn't believe I had considered them in my weekly budget and put money aside specifically for each evening. They said how valued it made them feel and they were so thankful they got a free meal and didn't have to think about cooking. When the first evening was over, Mel* asked, 'So we're doing this again next week, right?' I was so happy that they wanted to come back, especially as they initiated it and so I knew they felt no pressure.
When it came to planning the talks for the sessions, I’d recently seen the teaser for the new Alpha Film Series and it looked amazing. I knew my friends would appreciate how well made and engaging it is to watch and so I decided to use it for our Alpha. It took just a few moments to register my Alpha and download everything I needed. It took away all the stress of finding someone to speak or the embarrassment of me giving a talk to my friends. It meant that I could really be part of the discussion rather than making them feel like they had to agree with everything I said.
My friends all commented on how useful they found the analogies and stories in the Alpha Film Series. Sometimes it can be so hard to explain elements of my faith because it's either to familiar to me or I don't know how to communicate it in a way that everyone can relate to. The Film Series does that so well. It uses examples you can really relate to and prompted everyone to open up about similar experiences they had. When we shared with each other about our lives it made us all feel so much closer as a friendship group. Most of the group are quite logical and scientific and so having lots of facts and historical evidence as well as scientists speaking, added a new dimension to our discussions, which even I learnt a lot from and hadn't known before!
I'd say the most incredible thing about doing Alpha for me has been seeing the change it's made to all of our lives. For example, Rob* only prayed when he was nervous or wanted something, like a good result in an exam. He didn't know you could have a personal relationship with Jesus. After watching the episode on 'How and Why Should I Pray?' he prays regularly and thanks God for all that He has done and is doing in his life - it's completely changed his everyday life. It's no longer a chore or for luck. It's because he believes Jesus does exist and he wants to know him better. It's no longer about rules for Rob and praying for the sake of being 'good'.
To other students thinking of running Alpha all I can say is it's totally worth it. I found the whole experience so fun and chilled. It was nowhere near as scary as I thought it was going to be. The Alpha Film Series sparked interesting conversation and gave us a better perspective of the questions being asked all around the world. We felt part of something bigger, something global. Through doing Alpha my faith, and my friends' faith has changed. It's become something more real, exciting and personal. I'd say go for it, be brave and invite your friends. It might change their life... and yours.
*Names have been changed.
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