Coffee House

The man behind the Alpha Course

24 December 2012

2:00 PM

24 December 2012

2:00 PM

Christmas is one of the few times of year when those unaccustomed to attending church feel prompted to join their local congregation for a few carols. But what will they find when they walk through those church doors? In the Christmas issue of the Spectator, Damian Thompson profiles Nicky Gumbel, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton. HTB pioneered the Alpha Course, which has now been taken by 20 million people across the world, both in the Anglican and Catholic churches. Thompson also visits HTB, writing:

At the 11.30 service at HTB last Sunday, the Christian rock anthems were performed by professional musicians. They sounded nothing like the disgusting racket of ‘folk Masses’ inflicted on Catholics throughout Britain; in security of intonation, if nothing else, they had more in common with the Palestrina and Victoria sung at the London Oratory, the giant neo-baroque church next to Holy Trinity which also falls into the category of doing Christianity well rather than badly.

HTB, like the Oratory, now has a multi-ethnic congregation. On Sunday I sat next to an obviously prosperous Chinese couple on one of the sofas that the church reserves for latecomers. (Incidentally, I can’t recommend the service-on-a-sofa experience too highly, though it’s hard to see how it could be made to work at the Oratory.) The worshippers were mostly well-off — and the sermon, by a young curate called Miles Toulmin, was artfully tailored to yuppie temptations: shopping, social media, internet porn and ‘the biggest idol of all’, the craving for success at work. Toulmin employed the split-second timing of a stand-up comic: that is, a professional expertise rarely displayed by the hand-wringing mediocrities who become archdeacons or monsignors simply by turning up to committee meetings.

Gumbel also explains how it was surprisingly easy to tailor Alpha for Catholic congregations, and offers an insight into the character of Justin Welby, the next Archbishop of Canterbury. You can read the full feature here.


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Show comments
  • Keith Sloan

    The alpha course is pure indoctrination. Nicky Gumbel who trained as a barrister gives his case very eloquently, but there is nobody to say objection me lord you cannot claim that or put the other side of the argument. i.e. its all one sided with no Richard Dawkins to provide the counter punches and restore reality. The whole thing reeks of manipulation by subtle physiological pressure. If Christianity needs the alpha course to survive it has become a cult. Those that submit will soon find they are asked to give money to the church on a regular basis. The church of england takes £750 million from parishioners per year. I think they would like to see people give 10% of their income. So be warned Christianity is a CULT !!!!!

  • SilentHunter

    One only has to read the article and then, perhaps more importantly, the comments here to realise that Dawkins is right.

  • belbylafarge

    This man is a brain-washing sicko. This will work well in Britain because British people, by and large bear the stamp of christianity which is maked by an intense self hatred. This can be manipulated by master liars seeking power over others, eg Gumbel, so that the apparent paradox of intelligent people falling for this becomes evidend..

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/NHCPI2N7JUTCI5JAKQJXQHHWP4 roger

    it’s the Omega course that worries me.

  • Raman_Indian123

    Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, emphasised the importance of observing the Mosaic code. He was scrupulous about maintaining all the rules of being Jewish. Again and again he declared that he had been “sent” to the House of David and them only – that is, to ethnic Jews.

    He never lived to see what happened among people claiming to be his followers after his death, such as Paul and the so-called Fathers of the Church. They went against his teaching. They converted gentiles, discarded many central Jewish rules of living, and propagated antt-Semitism of a virulence and scale never before known.

    Jesus would have been appalled that this happened in his name.

    He was Jewish, not “Christian”. If he were to come again he would go to the synagogues, not the churches.

    “Christians” know that “their” Saviour was never theirs; that is one great source of bitter anti-Semitism.

  • timinsingapore

    An enthused friend took me to HTB many years ago. I found it a truly frightening experience. All those deranged smiles and all that arm-raising. Sometimes the British pride themselves on being immune to mass hysteria, particularly by comparison with certain continental cousins. I’m not at all sure about that.

    The CofE has fallen prey to bogus cults. When I lived in London I remember seeing advertisements for faith-healing sessions at St James’s Piccadilly. What’s that all about then?

    • Robert Castlereagh

      Yes but which churches are filled and have overflows.
      The good Mr Gumbel married a friend of mine and I found him a perfectly affable chap.
      The rest of the crowd were animated and made it a memorable event totally unlike the usual wooden Anglican sparse congregations.
      If it needs this revival to counter the importen religions in Bradford and beyond I say bring it on.

  • Raman_Indian123

    Right now “Christmas” is being celebrated by people and churches who can by no manner of description be considered followers of Jesus. The man was a self-attested Jew and wanted to uphold the Mosaic code zealously and did not want to convert gentiles. He would have been appalled at the use of his name by Paul and the Church Fathers who broke with the Mosaic code and propagated anti-Semitism.

    Jesus would go to Yad Vashem and Auschwitz to find out what was the fate of his kith and kin in “Christian” lands, and would skip the Vatican which made a concordat with Hitler.

    To celebrate Christmas one has to be a Jew, not a “Christian”, since Jesus was a Jew and not a “Christian”.

    The Jews do not celebrate him because the “Christians” used him as an excuse to inflict anti-Semitic horrors on them down the ages. Had that not happened, the Jews would have remembered him as one of their more charismatic rabbis. He, for his part, were he to come again as in the widespread fantasy, would make a special point of snubbing the churches, remembering the Holocaust.

    Auschwitz and the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem would interest Jesus far more than the Vatican which made a deal with Hitler.

    • Christian

      Peace to you oh worshipper of idols!

      • Raman_Indian123

        What’s so terrible about idols? They inspired the greatest sculpture in India and Greece and we did not have a Holocaust.

        • Kevin

          Neither did we.

          • Raman_Indian123

            Without many centuries of church-propagated anti-Semitism of the most virulent kind the Holocaust could never have happened. Christian Roman rulers first designated Jews as social lepers and made them wear the yellow patch reinstituted by Hitler. Even today in the Catholic Mass, the priest intones “on the night he was betrayed” ……knowing full well how much anti-Jew hatred this must have instilled to deadly effect over the centuries.

        • Chris Morriss

          Nothing so terrible…until you start worshipping them, and then you slowly lose the essential bits that make you human.

  • Austin Barry

    “I can’t recommend the service-on-a-sofa experience too highly,..”

    Indeed, although age and creaking joints have consigned this activity to the lost and nostalgic ‘knee-tremblers’ of one’s lost youth.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/NHCPI2N7JUTCI5JAKQJXQHHWP4 roger

      Sofas? It was tightly packed standing room only at midnight mass at the Catholic Franciscan monastery church of Sveti Duh (holy spirit), Fojnica where Bosnian Croats were expressing their cultural identity last night, followed by fireworks at a couple of glasses of Jagermeister on the walk home.
      It’s a cultural thing, theology and jewish preachers are secondary.

  • Austin Barry

    It occurred to me at this evening’s carol concert, what glorious and wondrous music festoons Christianity.

    And then I thought of Islam.

    With its wailing ululations what musical joy has Islam given to the world? Cat Stephens (Yusuf Islam) and his monotonic “A is for Allah”?

    And as this dark shadow metastasizes inexorably from our lost inner cities, one wonders: how many Christmases do we have left?

    • Daniel Maris

      Yes, music is one of the great glories of Christianity (though it has been restrained by Christianity in earlier years as well – similarly to the position on iconoclasm).

      I think it is for those who welcome Islam to this country to tell us what great gifts it brings.

      How many more Christmases? Nothing is inevitable.

    • Raman_Indian123

      The West has become more humane and tolerant with every step it took away from Christianity. As long as Christianity ruled Europe was a cess pit of bigotry and hate and supersition. Christianity spread anti-Semitism as never before and this led to the near-extermination of the kinsmen of Jesus.

      • Kevin

        I do not believe you even know the mind of your next-door neighbour right now, let alone those of thousands of different people from an alien culture who lived several centuries ago.

      • Dmitri the Impostor

        ‘cesspit of bigotry and hate’, eh? Sounds to me like someone is aping the rhetoric of Salman Rushdie who once charged the British with being ‘steeped in the Augean filth of racism’. Well, what shining paragons of humanity and tolerance your culture turned the pair of YOU into. Not.

    • Raman_Indian123

      Muslims have had a huge role in the development of Indian music.

    • Raman_Indian123

      Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, emphasised the importance of observing the Mosaic code. He was scrupulous about maintaining all the rules of being Jewish. Again and again he declared that he had been “sent” to the House of David and them only – that is, to ethnic Jews.

      He never lived to see what happened among people claiming to be his followers after his death, such as Paul and the so-called Fathers of the Church. They went against his teaching. They converted gentiles, discarded many central Jewish rules of living, and propagated antt-Semitism of a virulence and scale never before known.

      Jesus would have been appalled that this happened in his name.

      He was Jewish, not “Christian”. If he were to come again he would go to the synagogues, not the churches.

      “Christians” know that “their” Saviour was never theirs; that is one great source of bitter anti-Semitism.

    • Raman_Indian123

      As a Hindu I have not the slightest sympathy for Christian Brits who whine about the danger from Islam. We Hindus remember well that in India the British systematically sided with the Muslims against the Hindus. Any Hindu complaints about Muslim intolerance were ruthlessly dismissed. The US and the UK armed Pakistan to the hilt against India, and deluged Pakistan with guns and drugs to torment the Russians in Afghanistan and the Indians in Kashmir. India lost many thousands of lives to such Anglo-fomented Islamic terrorism.
      It is only after 9/11, when their attack dog finally bit them, that the US and the UK have taken to whining about Islam and its horrors.
      Sorry. No sale. You had it coming.

      • Austin Barry

        “…that the US and the UK have taken to whining about Islam and its horrors.”

        Well, the people do. Our ruling elites are still muttering pious inanities about the Religion of Peace (the misnomer of all time) and facilitating its inexorable growth.

        • Raman_Indian123

          Glad you admit my case! It was a ruling class thing, that deadly Islamophilism. How compulsively they loved Islam, those buttoned-up public school wallahs of Empire times. So deep and creative was that sadistic love that even a Hindu who suffered from it at times finds pleasure in contemplating it. Where would we be without T E Lawrence and his “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, fake though much of that is? Or Curzon or Kipling or Robert Byron or Thesiger?

  • Jez

    Er…. Happy Christmas?

  • Daniel Maris

    From what I’ve seen of the Alpha course, it appears to be a course in philosophy with all the philosophy taken out of it.

    Which is not to say I disapprove of Christianity or the Christian narrative. I find it rather compelling, especially at this time of year. But it’s pretty clear I wouldn’t last long on the course – as I’d be asking far too many questions and not being satisfied with the answers I was getting.

    • http://twitter.com/rlpkamath Rahul Kamath

      A friend of mine signed up for said course. I met him at the pub glassy eyed after one such session. Looking into the distance he intoned, “Rahul, the rubbish I have heard today ….”

      • telemachus

        I look in from my self imposed family exile, having returned from the crib service, to read this splendid piece on Nicky Gumbel and the alpha course.
        You may have seen Nicky on the one show last week and again wondered at his quiet assured faith
        The alpha course is responsible for the return of much of our population to responsible moral Christian life
        We should hail and welcome this latter day John the Baptist.
        Thank you Fraser

        • Michael990

          Now we have confirmation that all your posts are intended as jokes. The ones raving about Ed Balls are particularly amusing, but this one is pretty good too!

      • Chris Morriss

        From speaking to a few people who have been on this, it seems like the most insidious form of brainwashing. Christianity for the 21st century? How the mighty have fallen.

        • http://twitter.com/rlpkamath Rahul Kamath

          I suspect people, often single women, go to these things looking for answers to the difficult questions of life. Snake oil salesmen like the church peddle away. I myself am more drawn to philosophy and mythology (the latter as a route to the sub-conscious).

          • Raman_Indian123

            I attended this course right through, as a Hindu, and found it contemptible. It taught me what a small-souled lot the Christians are, always out to rubbish any religion other than their petty one. They would like to reduce the great world to the tiny dimensions of their suburban praise-de-lawd souls. I was horrified at how boring life would be if this happened. Long live Hinduism!!!!!!!!

        • Daniel Maris

          Well Christianity has always been about “brainwashing” hasn’t it? The early Christians lived in communes that would be denounced as cultish today. Christian ascetics starved themselves into a revelatory state. Christian monks were subjected to a rigorous routine.

    • belbylafarge

      Of course the philosophy has been taken ut of it: it asserts truth rather than explores their conditions for prevailing. In this sense it pretends to be a philosophical discourse and is hence inherntly dishonest. This applies to all attempts to manipulate others in the interests of accreting personal power.

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