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Alpha conference to focus on parish life

By Ann Marie Foley - 12 August, 2014

Fr Michael White to speak about reviving his local church in Maryland.

The American authors of a landmark religious book and an Irish priest will speak on how to bring church communities back to life at September’s ‘Rebuilt Conference’ organised by Alpha Ireland.

Fr Michael White and Tom Corcoran authors of Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter will address the conference which is being held at NUI Maynooth, along with Fr Patrick Donnelly, PP of Collinstown in Westmeath, who will speak about his experiences using Alpha in an Irish context.

Fr Donnelly spent time in Tullamore parish where Alpha has flourished and where there are now up to half a dozen pastorates (prayer groups for adults) and a youth group.

Cara Egan, a doctor in Tullamore, told CatholicIreland.net she is just “an ordinary parishioner”.

However, the Alpha group had a huge affect on her life. Her faith had waned when she somewhat reluctantly went to her first Alpha meeting. She loved it and was soon very involved.

“It’s amazing when you get interested and alive in your faith and you do things you would never have dreamed of doing. It woke me up and got me back into my faith and I am very happy about that,” she told CatholicIreland.net.

Now she is the contact person for Alpha in Tullamore.

She said it is all about being contributors rather than consumers.

There are around 100 people who have done the Alpha programme who are regularly involved in parish life doing readings in the parish liturgies, singing in the choir, helping with the youth group or going out on the Night Fever outreach.

There are up to 500 people who have been involved in Alpha at some level in Tullamore.

The sessions typically begin with a DVD talk on topics like ‘Who is Jesus?’ or ‘Why does God allow suffering?’ followed by a discussion.

The group welcomes people ranging from those committed to their faith and daily mass-goers to those who may just go to church at Christmas or Easter.

They help and support each other and many come back to greater involvement in the parish and the Eucharist which is central to everything.

Experiences such as these will be shared at the conference.

For example, Fr Michael White who is a pioneer of the Alpha programme, will speak of his experience at the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, US.

There he found a fast-waning membership, and parishioner complaints such as boring weekend Masses, snooze-worthy preaching, painful music, poorly kept buildings, and dormant youth ministry programmes.

Initial attempts at revival of the local church failed, even after hiring Tom Corcoran as youth minister.

The priest and youth minister realised that their efforts to please and entertain parishioners had only created greedier consumers.

At the conference they will detail the tools which they used to rebuild in such a way as to triple weekend Mass attendance, and to increase and enliven ministries.

The Conference flyer states: “Rebuilt is an account of stopping everything and changing focus.” It invites everyone to “share the vision, borrow their strategies, and receive a wealth of guidance on how to rebuild your own parishes.”

The Rebuilt Conference takes place at NUI Maynooth in the Iontas Building on Wednesday 10 September and Thursday 11 September and will be opened by Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin.

To register, go to www.iregister.ie/alpha, call the Alpha Ireland office on 01 236 9821

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