VIEWPOINT: Got questions? Talk to this Alpha male
Ron Freimark arrives early at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Woodbury on a Monday night, setting aside the dessert he prepared, and giving his attention to an uncooperative DVD projector. It has become a regular routine for this 77-year-old retired pastor, who simply wants to help people explore life and the Christian faith in a non-threatening atmosphere. The vehicle Freimark uses is called Alpha.
Alpha's roots are found in the Church of England when a local congregation in London sought to create a program where non-churchgoers and those seeking to find out more about Christianity could safely gather and ask questions about the Christian faith. Subscribing to the notion that "there is no such thing as a stupid question" people have been gathering since 1990, in a climate where curiosity meets honesty. Even the logo used by Alpha is a testimony to its welcoming spirit: it's a giant, red question mark!
Since Alpha's inception, the Rev. Pastor Nicky Gumbel, the organization's founder, has shared presentations on key questions at the heart of the Christian faith, and then small group conversations commenced. Today, Gumbel's talks are presented via DVD, but this year they have been repackaged for today's audience. Twenty-six years and 27 million participants later, this movement has never strayed from its stated purpose: "To explore a conversation about life, faith and Jesus in a fun and relaxed environment."
The Rev. Pastor Freimark first heard about Alpha in 2002, when he was serving as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Sleepy Eye, Minn.
"I was excited about it," he said, "but I was nearing retirement and didn't think I could launch a ministry like this in my final year at the church."
But when Freimark settled in Woodbury and began attending Resurrection Lutheran, he offered his help in the area of adult education to then-pastor Ted Vanderpan. When he began searching for programs to enhance his classes, Alpha stood out as the logical choice.
"We Lutherans aren't very good at reaching out to share our faith" Freimark said. "We'll mow our neighbor's lawn, or bring them an apple pie, but most Lutherans are not very comfortable speaking about their faith."
The Alpha course enables those conversations to happen.
"The first Alpha course met in my home in 2005. I made the meal, served the dessert, led the discussion, and did the dishes every Monday for 10 weeks!" he says with a wry smile. "There were eight people at that first group, all of them church members, yet the conversations were eye-opening to so many lifelong Lutherans."
One couple from that first group, who grew up in the church were surprised by how much they didn't know about the bible. They asked questions, some of which were answered, and in thoughtfulness and good humor, so they came back the next week and asked some more.
In the past decade, more than 200 people have passed through these courses, asking questions and finding answers. Some have found more than that.
Freimark tells this story: "At the very last meeting of each course, I hand out an evaluation to be completed anonymously by the participants. One year, I received this response: 'Please don't assume that everyone at the Alpha course is a believer. I wasn't, but halfway through the course I took the leap of faith and committed my life to Christ.'" And, Ron says, "He signed his name. Since then, this young man as emerged as a dynamic leader in our congregation."
Ten years ago, a new couple began visiting the church and heard the invitation to Alpha. The gentleman had ALS and needed assistance in and out of the building at night, so when Chuck and Beth reached out to them, a friendship was forged.
"This fellow had so many questions about God and faith, some of them relating to his physical circumstances. Alpha became a springboard to his life of faith" Chuck recalls. "I knew our church needed this, but I also realized that we needed to give this away!"
For Freimark and the people at Resurrection Lutheran Church, it's not so much about growing the church as it is about growing the Kingdom. We want to open the doors for others in and around the community of Woodbury to join us.
"Drink our coffee, ask your questions; I'll keep serving dessert!" Freimark chimes in.
And the only thing you have to lose are your questions.
The fall Alpha course begins with an orientation dinner at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12. Come for a free meal, ask questions about the course and experience "a little taste of Alpha." Reservations are appreciated.
For more information or to register for Alpha, go to resurrection-woodbury.org or call Resurrection Lutheran Church at 651-730-1000.
Steve Molin is the interim senior pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church.