Blogging the Alpha Conference

We’re here at the Alpha Conference, hosted at Truro in Fairfax, VA. There are folks here from all over Virginia and beyond and it’s great to see old friends and make new ones! I went to my first Alpha Course during my sabbatical in London when my uncle took me to Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) on a Wednesday night in October 1994. The following year Truro hosted the first Alpha Conference in the U.S. The year after that I became an Alpha Advisor and my whole world opened up.

Last night Sandy Millar, who was the vicar of HTB and guided that parish through the process of creating the Alpha Course, was the speaker for the talk “How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?” Now a missionary bishop in the Diocese of London (Church of England), Sandy kept focusing us on the author of our faith and the life the Lord brings to our ministry and to our lives. It was a great evening of worship, prayer, teaching and ministry. The Church was packed and there were times when I thought the roof was going to pop off.

Today are more teachings, seminars, worship, and ministry time. After weeks of drought the rain is now falling on Virginia, bringing water to a thirsty place. In these difficult days for the church, it’s so good to have this focused time to remember the point of it all – to deepen our own walk with the Lord, to reach out to our communities with His love, and to share the Good News with all.

It also been a really good time to reconnect with friends. The last time I saw Sandy Millar I was with Jenny Noyes (now with the Anglican Communion Network) and some other friends in London. It was a Sunday night and we all would be leaving the next day to fly back to the States. Annette Millar had offered to drive Jenny to the airport – her flight was leaving last – but we had never connected with her while we are the service at HTB. So we walked over the rectory, but it looked to us the lights were either out or just about to go out. Jenny didn’t know what she would do if she didn’t connect with Annette – how would Annette ever find her in London (no cell phone!). So we tiptoed up to the rectory door and Jenny knocked. There was a long pause – we thought, oh no, they’ve all gone to sleep! But then the door opened and there was Sandy Millar, beaming as though we were long lost pilgrims having finally found our home. “Hello, Jenny!” he said with great enthusiasm, though it was clear to us he had been close to calling it a day. Then he invited us all in for tea and we spent the next few minutes sitting around the living room sharing about our time in London.

It’s been a few years since that Sunday night in London, but the enthusiasm and the joy has not left Sandy’s ministry. Other members of the Alpha team are here as well and it’s great to reconnect and hear the stories of what has been going on in their lives. It’s just so great to be reminded that the Lord is at work in His Church, that the borders of His love cannot be confined and reach out beyond our denominational ties. And it’s great to see all these folks here at Truro, helping us remember why we are in this fight in the first place.

Last night as we were in worship, the upcoming trial in the Fairfax Court House came to my mind. What will happen? How will it happen? What will happen to us here at Truro? But as hundreds and hundreds of people gathered inside the walls of Truro Church last night, it seemed to be more clear to me than ever. We do the best we can with the tools God give us – but it’s His work, His will to be done. Whatever happens, may our lives be a testimony of the work He is doing in us. “Not by power, not by might, but by My Spirit, says the Lord.” May it be so.

LATER: Heard a great presentation on Noshota House (should have taken some photos!) during lunch from the Dean, Robert Munday. It was great hearing about that work going on at Nashotah, the commitment there to training clergy in the faith, and to see some great photos of the campus – what a beautiful place. The lunch followed a great time of learning more about ministry and prayer from Kim Swithenbank. After lunch Sandy Millar returned to talk about how to integrate Alpha into the church – it’s not just a program, but a way to really make Jesus known. One of the things he talked about is how people are coming together out of their denominations at conferences such as this one – not forming a new denomination but forging friendships and shared ministry as though God is calling people together, no matter what their tribe (denomination) or nation. We are followers of Jesus first and when that is clear, we find we have much more in common with one another than we ever thought possible.

The turnout this weekend has been fantastic – this may be the fastest Alpha Conference ever put together (basically two months). In fact, one Alpha staff member called this the “Alpha Conference Shot Out of a Canon.” I know it’s just what BabyBlue needed. Even as this conference was going on, I was sent the list of those who will be testifying at the trial in two weeks and there are many interesting names on the list. You can’t read the list and not feel the pain of the division. But at the same time, attending the Alpha Conference this weekend has offered me a place to lay my own burdens down, be prayed for, and also to pray for others, to encourage others – and find myself encouraged as well.

Tomorrow is the installation of Tory Baucum as rector of Truro Church. Martyn Minns will do the installation and Sandy Millar will be preaching. To God be the glory.