Across Pacific & Asia

Florida Alpha Conference highlights
`evangelism for ordinary people'
by A. E. P. Wall

(ENS) Karin Skau took a sip of iced tea and said she had traveled
from Puerto Rico to Central Florida to pick up something for
prisoners back home.

Bonnie Brownlee put down her sandwich and said she drove up from
Melbourne. She was excited about the things she would take home.
For Kay Elwood, 89 years old, it was a dazzling opportunity to
share something invigorating with friends in her retirement home
in Longwood and it was a reaffirmation of her own faith.

All around them at St. Stephen's Catholic Church in Winter Springs
hundreds of Alpha enthusiasts were enjoying lunch on the first day
of a two-day Florida Alpha Conference.

It was a time of spiritual challenge for more than 600 persons who
were there to learn about Alpha, a fast-growing program that
reaches out to people who are new to Christianity and to those who
dropped out along the way.

Alpha began in an Anglican church, Holy Trinity Brompton in
London, and it grew and grew and grew. Stimulated by the Rev.
Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity, backed up by thousands of
volunteers, Alpha courses were offered 10,500 times worldwide last
year. Courses are being organized by many churches in Central
Florida, now that leaders have been trained at the Florida Alpha

Skau, a native of Norway, is a prison chaplain in Puerto Rico. She
learned about the Florida Alpha Conference on the Internet, and
will offer Alpha to prisoners looking for a new approach to life.
Alpha courses have already been given in 102 British prisons.

Brownlee chairs the evangelism committee at the Presbyterian
Church of the Good Shepherd in Melbourne where, she thinks, Alpha
will make a lot of sense.

Frank St. John, an engineer who is one of 70 ministry elders at
Calvary Assembly in Winter Park, says Alpha will help reach the
unchurched, enriching lives with enthusiasm in prayer and
Scripture study.

Maria Roach smiled cheerfully during a coffee break as Nicky
Gumbel, the conference keynoter, saluted her group of 15 who came
over from the Bahamas to take Alpha back to 10 churches there,

Evangelism for ordinary people

About half of the 600 who attended the March 18-19 Conference were

Episcopalians, learning how to offer Alpha courses in parishes or
prisons or wherever. Bishop John W. Howe of the Diocese of Central
Florida welcomed the participants to what he happily described as
the largest Alpha Conference ever held in the United States. He
said Alpha exists to help Christians "pass it on."

Later Howe admitted that he knew the conference would be a success
but it "far exceeded my expectations." The visiting teams from
Alpha in the United Kingdom and the United States "were thrilled
and excited, declaring it the largest in the U.S.A. and the most
successful," he added. Tables set up for the event sold $27,000
in books and tapes before running out of merchandise. Tapes made
during the Florida Alpha Conference are available.

Gumbel, who is author of several popular books about Alpha, said
that Alpha is evangelism for ordinary people because it gives
everyone a chance to learn about the Christian faith during a
structured but informal course that's entirely contemporary in its
approach. He pointed out that newcomers to a local Alpha course
look around and see their own kind of people. They eat familiar
food together, they listen to familiar music and join in the
singing. They are comfortable with today's approach to the mind
through the emotions.

Gumbel and his wife, Pippa, flew to Florida from Colorado Springs,
where an Alpha Conference had just concluded.

Prayer was central
Prayer was central to the conference, supported by a team of about
30 volunteers. When Gumbel invited anyone to step forward for
prayer with members of the team and with each other, one who stood
up and joined the group was the Rev. W. Donald Lyon, rector of St.
Barnabas Episcopal Church in DeLand.

William Buechner, a volunteer who is a member of New Covenant, saw
Lyon on the other side of the church but simply knew that he
needed a very special prayer. He pushed through hundreds of people
until he was at Lyon's side. Lyon felt Buechner's hand on his
heart and heard a prayer for healing.  There was no way for
Buechner to know that Lyon had an appointment for cardiac
catheterization, a diagnostic test, the next day. Nor did he know
that during the catheterization the doctor would declare Lyon's
arteries to be astonishingly clear, the arteries, as he put it, of
a 20-year-old.

The Rev. Carl Merola, deacon at the Episcopal Church of the New
Covenant in Winter Park, was the administrator for the Florida
Alpha Conference, which attracted participants active in
Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Vineyard, Anglican,
Christian and Missionary Alliance, Moravian, Lutheran and other

--Ed Wall is the former editor of the Central Florida
Episcopalian, the diocesan newspaper for Central Florida.

Here are ways to get information about Alpha:
Phone Alpha North America at 212/378-0292 or check out these web
sites:  -   -

Or phone The Episcopal Church of the New Covenant at 407/699-0202.
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