When Caleb+ Miller became rector of Immanuel Anglican Church in Destin, Florida in 2015, +Sandy Green had some words of advice. “He told me that one of the things any church has to do is to figure out where it’s been gifted by God and then turn around and give that back to the community,” Caleb+ recalls. “To me, that’s this idea of generosity, of living with an open hand and not holding on to gifts that God’s given us.”
One way Immanuel has sought to live with an open hand is to host an Alpha Course, a series of sessions that explore the Christian faith. Participants share a meal, hear a presentation that addresses a big question about Christianity and then have time to discuss the week’s topic. All are welcome. And, thanks to the Living the Mission Fund, Immanuel has been able welcome members of the community with generous hospitality.
The Living the Mission Fund helps equip churches to establish new congregations in the Unites States, supports the growth of current AMiA churches and provides for new communities of faith, church planters and their families. Donations to this fund helped Immanuel get its Alpha program started, beginning with an opportunity for the church to learn from others who have led fruitful Alpha courses.
Ethan+ Harrison, associate pastor, came to Immanuel in 2017, and was tasked with getting Alpha going. He jumped in, gaining an understanding of the course, as well as managing the logistics of finding a location, recruiting church members to be part of Alpha, encouraging members to invite people and recruiting a prayer team. During this time of learning and preparation, the Living the Mission Fund paid for Ethan+ to travel to Dallas to spend the weekend with Dave+ Larlee, Vicar of All Saints Dallas, who has seen God work through Alpha in Dallas and many parts of the U.S. as well as at his previous post in London. Additionally, Ethan+ was able to attend the Holy Spirit Retreat that’s part of every Alpha session. The fund also covered the cost of flying Dave+ and another Alpha team leader from Dallas to Florida for a weekend with the leadership at Immanuel for training.
An important part of the Alpha strategy is the venue, and the Living the Mission Fund helped Immanuel secure a location that would be less intimidating than their church building. To welcome those in the community who are skeptics, unchurched or who have left the church, a neutral meeting place is essential. The fund allowed the church to make a deal with a local restaurant, which agreed to serve as a meeting place for Alpha sessions and provide food for participants.
“The Living the Mission Fund helped offset those costs and helped us to … be generous with excellent meals and an excellent location,” Caleb+ shares. “Alpha fits really, really well into this culture of generosity and certainly a culture of hospitality. We want to engage with people; we want to give to people, give them space to think, give them space to talk. … We want to give them a gift of a free meal. We want to give them the gift of Jesus-centered teaching. And, we want to give them the gift of presence, of being there to listen to them. … I think Alpha and generosity and hospitality are really intertwined.”
The church made a three-year commitment, planning to host six Alpha sessions during that time. Caleb+ has already seen evidence of God’s hand in the one course that’s been held so far. “God works quietly sometimes and really powerfully all the time, and we’ve seen that in Alpha, in just in this one session.” He shares how a member of the church experienced the power of the Holy Spirit for the first time at the Holy Spirit Retreat.
Another participant, a confirmed skeptic, came to Alpha because his wife brought him, but by the end of the course, he was encouraging her to come with him. “I think there was just this experience of generous hospitality and community,” Caleb+ explains. “It’s a safe place [where] it’s okay to express your skepticism because we’re trusting that God’s going to engage with you. It’s okay to for you to say, ‘I’m not sure about this Jesus guy,’ because we’re trusting that God is going to step into that void.”
The next Alpha session begins in February 2019. “We want to continue with an outward-looking focus,” Caleb+ says. But in addition to reaching the ex-churched, unchurched and skeptics, Immanuel wants current and new members to go through Alpha as well, so they can experience the hospitality and generosity that’s inherent in Alpha’s approach.
As Caleb+ looks ahead to upcoming sessions of Alpha, he’s asking God to use the course to bring people to Christ. “The statistics on the American church and new conversion are pretty heartbreaking. We’re very specifically praying that men and women would come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior through the Alpha ministry, through the ministry of generous hospitality.” He’s also asking the Lord to use Alpha in the lives of those who are already part of the church, renewing them and reminding them of truth as it offers opportunities for deepening discipleship.
And, he’s praying that the Alpha culture of hospitality, invitation and celebration would permeate the culture of Immanuel. “We’d like to see that become defining of our church culture as a whole—a church culture of generous hospitality, of loving people as they are, that they may believe in Jesus … and join us in building God’s kingdom.”
Caleb+ adds, “The Living the Mission Fund equipped us to do things in an incredibly generous way that we probably wouldn’t have been able to do on our own. … I certainly don’t want to ignore what God can do, but without the Living the Mission Fund, without the support that we received from the AMiA and their generosity, I don’t think Alpha would have been what it has been for us.”
The Living the Mission Fund is made possible by donations from our AMiA churches and generous individuals who believe in our mission and support our churches and planters to make a difference for the Kingdom. To make a contribution click here.