“What I found through Alpha is what my purpose is for my life,” said Kitty Whitehurst. “And I believe that for those who are open, that is what is revealed.”
Although she had left the Church as a young adult, Kitty was a faithful, practicing Catholic when she heard about the Alpha ministry at St. Timothy Parish in Lutz three years ago. She joined the thirteen-week course looking to get involved in a small-faith community. What she found was a deeper faith and closer relationship to Jesus than she ever imagined.
“We are always being honed to become who God wants us to be. I’ve never felt freer in my entire life than I do now because of my faith,” said Kitty. “When you come out of an Alpha course, if you don’t have some indication of how you can change your life, it’s a mystery to me!”
Alpha is an international program that explores the basics of the Christian faith. Each session looks at a different question through a video presentation designed to create conversation in small groups afterwards. Questions include: Is there more to life than this? Who is Jesus? How and why should I pray? How does God guide us? Who is the Holy Spirit? It is not a class or a bible study but rather an exchange of ideas between people of all faith backgrounds.
“We don’t preach or teach. We’re not talking about dogma. It’s really a conversation amongst each other,” explained Mary LaMacchia who coordinates Alpha at St. Timothy. “Everyone is welcome and then you get perspectives from other people’s faith journeys and where they come from.”
“It makes it very interesting. The beauty of it is that all voices matter. All opinions and beliefs matter,” said Kitty, who is now an Alpha team member. “It brings about a wonderful understanding among people when they know they can speak freely. It’s a tremendous gift to be able to speak your heart and mind and be heard.”
The pinnacle of the Alpha series is a retreat that occurs halfway through the program where participants have the opportunity to be prayed over by prayer teams and invite the Holy Spirit to act in their lives. It can be a life-changing moment for many who begin to feel the love of God for the first time and live their faith more courageously.
“We’ve seen a reenergization of the Holy Spirit in our community,” said Mary. “A lot of people come out of Alpha who were cradle Catholics saying, ‘I was taught the faith all my life, but now I feel it!’ They couldn’t feel the Holy Spirit in their hearts, but after Alpha, it’s like an explosion!”
Over six sessions have been held at St. Timothy’s with over 400 participants since they introduced the program three year ago. Like the rest of the world, they’ve had to make adjustments due to the pandemic. What was once large in-person gatherings are now virtual Zoom meetings. Even the retreat is now held online with private breakout video chatrooms where people can be prayed over from a distance. Mary said in many ways, moving the program online has been a blessing in disguise.
“I really fought against going online but the Lord had other plans for us,” remembered Mary. “And it turned out to be so much easier! People open up quicker because they’re more comfortable in their own homes. It’s less intimidating than walking into a room of strangers.”
St. Timothy’s will begin the next Alpha course on January 21 with another session planned for the Fall. In addition to coordinating the Alpha program at their own parish, St. Timothy’s has also been a Hub Church for Alpha USA since 2018, meaning they help introduce Alpha to other area churches by holding trainings and sharing best practices. There are currently five other Catholic parishes in the diocese with Alpha programs, including an Alpha for youth and an Alpha held in Spanish. The growth of the ministry is due in large part to word-of-mouth by participants excited to share how Alpha has enriched their life and deepened their faith.
“When a Christian community forms out of love, the bond is nearly unbreakable,” said Kitty. “We are emulating the apostles and making disciples. It’s all about telling people the Good news.”