HONG KONG (SE): “Explore the meaning of life,” runs the cryptic invitation from ALPHA, in advertising a new series of lunchtime gatherings to take place on the 19th floor meeting room at the Catholic Centre in the Grand Central Building, Connaught Road, Central, beginning September 22.
While the vast gambit hinted at in the inviting words could mean almost anything, Carla Basto-Clark says that while there may be some limits, they are up to anyone who decides to respond to the invitation to set.
Responding to tentative enquiries as to what to expect if you decided turn up, Basto-Clark said, “A warm welcome, plenty to eat and some interesting input from the ALPHA guru, Anglican Father Nick Gumble. Not in person,” she hastened to add, “but in audio-visual.”
A veteran host of ALPHA meetings, the English-born wife and mother explained, “The team are just there to welcome people and run the video, as well as make sure everyone has enough to eat. However, they do offer the opportunity for people to comment on what they have seen and heard.”
Basto-Clark said that the thing that captured her imagination when she first visited an ALPHA meeting was that unlike the classroom, there are no right or wrong answers. “Just people’s opinions, reactions and insights, and, as the group had people from a wide variety of backgrounds, I got insights into things in a way I had never thought of,” she said.
“I am a cradle Catholic,” she explained, “and going through school did a lot of study about religion, but this is different. I found it great in learning to live my faith better, rather than in learning anything new about it.”
Basto-Clark described ALPHA as a bit of a refresher course. “In the Catholic Church we kind of assume that people know a whole lot of things,” she said. “But the presentations of Father Gumble made me think about my own assumptions too, and of course, since they are assumptions, I had never really thought much about them.”
She called it, “Like coming to look at old things with fresh eyes, which left me with a new enthusiasm.”
She explained that the meetings take place every week over a couple of months and there is no hard sell. “You just come back if you want to,” she noted.
While ALPHA originally came out of England, its dynamic is universal and there are now meetings taking place in the diocese in Cantonese, as well as in English. “Bishop Tong has been really supportive of the movement as well,” Basto-Clark told the Sunday Examiner.
She said that now that ALPHA has been running in the diocese for several years, mostly in Central, Stanley and Sai Kung, they are beginning to organise a follow up programme called Catholic 201, which comes out of Canada.
She describes this as “an ideal follow up for Catholic people who have had the experience of ALPHA to help them use their experience in a positive way in the living of their faith at work, at home and in society.”
Basto-Clark said that the thing that captured her imagination when she first visited an ALPHA meeting was that unlike the classroom, there are no right or wrong answers. ‘Just people’s opinions, reactions and insights’