September 17, 2021

Evangelization & Catechesis Supplement

Alpha Catholic Context is ‘great way to invite people back into the Church,’ build parish culture

Father Aaron Jenkins, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield, distributes Communion to Anne Bauer during a Jan. 30 dedication Mass at the Indianapolis East Deanery church. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father Aaron Jenkins, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield, distributes Communion to Anne Bauer during a Jan. 30 dedication Mass at the Indianapolis East Deanery church. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Natalie Hoefer

St. John Paul II Parish in Sellersburg is building a new church physically—and spiritually.

“Our new church will be dedicated [on] Dec. 19,” said Marlene Stammerman, the parish’s director of discipleship. She said pastor Father Thomas Clegg commented that “we’re building a new church, and if all we do is build a new church building, we’re missing an opportunity.”

To fulfill that vision, she said, “We’re building a new church building, and we’re building a new church with people who really pass on their faith and become disciples who are missionaries and go out and serve and evangelize.”

This changing of parish culture is being accomplished through a catechetical tool called Alpha.

“Alpha provides a place to come and explore and ask questions regardless of where someone is on their faith journey—questions about life, faith and obviously about a relationship with Christ and what that might look like,” said Stammerman.

Participants in Alpha meet once a week for 11 weeks. Stammerman describes each meeting as having three components.

“We start with a shared meal,” she said. “Part of the philosophy around sharing a meal is it’s a way to build relationships and have conversations.”

Next comes a 25-minute video—or a witness talk, depending on the preference and resources of the parish.

The gathering closes with small-group discussions.

St. John Paul II Parish uses the Catholic context of Alpha, which started as a Protestant tool but created an additional version several years ago to embrace Catholic teaching.

“We like [catechetical] programs … that speak of Catholic teaching as true, good, beautiful and helpful, because God loves us and wants us to be happy,” said Ken Ogorek, archdiocesan director of catechesis. “We like resources that are clear about the relationship between sacred tradition, sacred Scripture and the magisterium. These all have a role to play in ensuring that it’s Jesus we’re encountering and not someone else.

“When Alpha Catholic Context is led by a parish leader well-formed in the faith, it can provide new growth in helping a parish embrace the fullness of the faith.”

After offering several sessions of Alpha since 2019, Stammerman sees it as “very much a Catholic program. It focuses on sharing the Gospel message—that’s what we as Catholics are called to do.”

St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield has also used Alpha Catholic Context for almost 10 sessions since 2018.

“It’s kerygmatic—it’s the basics of Christianity,” said Jeff McQueen, Alpha director at St. Susanna.

Among the weekly themes he listed are such topics as “Who is Jesus?” “Why Did Jesus Die?” “Why and How Should I Read the Bible?” and “Why and How Should I Tell Others About Jesus?”

“Alpha is for everyone from the unchurched to the Catholic not going to Mass to the Catholic in the pew,” McQueen explained.

“I went through a conveyer belt of sacraments,” he admitted. “I was told I had to go to confession, I went to church every day in school, was in fourth grade when I was confirmed. I got married in the Catholic Church.

“But sometimes you don’t get a chance to build a relationship with Jesus. You know about him, but you don’t know him. People who go through Alpha tell me they feel like they know Jesus.”

Stammerman agrees with the value of Alpha for all, from the unchurched to the active Catholic.

“I’ve been involved in Catholic ministry for 30 years, and I still grew spiritually from Alpha,” she said.

“I would say the people who have gone through it and come back [to serve] on the [Alpha] team, there’s an energy. The Holy Spirit is alive in the parish—there’s an excitement.”

One component that Stammerman said separates Alpha from other catechetical programs is its formation of leaders.

“When you complete Alpha, you’re invited to come back to serve on the team for the next session. You get to work on a couple of teams, but then you have to move on. We’re always incorporating different teams. So Alpha cultivates more people with different talents and gifts.”

At St. Susanna, said McQueen, “What we really try to do is go from Alpha to connect participants with groups or ministries in the parish, and then they become disciples and go out and make their own disciples.”

Alpha Catholic Context is one of several catechetical programs used at parishes in central and southern Indiana, including Discipleship Quads, small group Bible studies and faith sharing groups, Christ Life and Evangelical Catholic.

“We’ll work with each of the 126 parishes in the archdiocese to see that they have the right fit” when choosing a catechetical program, said Sam Rasp, archdiocesan coordinator of evangelization and discipleship.

Stammerman has already found a way to incorporate the youths of St. John Paul II Parish utilizing Alpha Catholic Context for those preparing for confirmation.

“I’ve been a small group leader for confirmation the last four years,” she said. “This group [using Alpha] shares their faith so differently. Deeper, richer, relevant, meaningful. It’s been a good piece to see.”

Stammerman envisions “lots of ideas for Alpha down the road,” she said. “We definitely want to reach out to the community of Sellersburg. We’re developing a plan to start to go out and invite non-parishioners.

“You can run Alpha in prisons, nursing homes, we could start a group at IU [Indiana University] Southeast. You can have ‘date night’ Alpha—dinner, a movie and time to chat.

“Looking further down the road, we can tie Alpha with the confirmation piece as parents and youth do Alpha together. It can be a shared process where they’re given a tool to talk about it on the ride home. There’s a lot of potential for who we can reach in the future.”

McQueen enthusiastically called Alpha Catholic Context “an excellent tool or an experience for evangelization.

“I think we as Catholics are kind of scared of that word, and I think this is an easy entry into evangelizing, which we’re all called to do. Alpha is a great way to invite people back into the Church.”

(For more information on catechetical tools and what is best for your parish, contact Sam Rasp at 317-236-1466 or


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