St. Augustine, FL
I was getting ready to fly into Jacksonville, FL to do an Alpha Training at Celebration Church. The training was scheduled for a Saturday and I was setting up a meeting with their leadership on Friday to discuss implementing Alpha in their various contexts. As I was setting up the meeting they asked if I wanted to meet in their offices or if I wanted to meet on a boat? I said, "Oh why don't we meet on a boat?!" After all, it's not every day you get to have a meeting on a boat!
So I flew into Jacksonville and we took a drive to St. Augustine, FL which is about 30 minutes south of Jacksonville. We arrived at the boat and set out for the afternoon.
St. Augustine is really cool because it's the area where the inner coastal waters that run along the East Coast, the Atlantic Ocean and the St. John's River all meet. So it's really a beautiful old city. In fact, it's the oldest city in the United States.
So there we were, on a boat, out on the waters of St. Augustine. We travelled to an island and had lunch at a little restaurant. As we were traveling back to shore, just taking our time enjoying the view and talking about Alpha, I saw off to the left a huge cross - a 204 foot cross to be exact - towering over the water.
I asked, "Pastor Wayne, what is that?" And he said, "Jad, that cross marks the spot where Ponce de León and the Spanish Conquistadors first landed in 1532. That spot marks the place where they held the first mass. That is the oldest church in the United States. That is the first Catholic parish."
By then the hair on my arms was standing up, thinking how cool this was... the oldest church, the first city... it was all getting real to me. And in that moment, out of no where, I heard this voice say to my heart "Jad, I want you to pray that this parish would start using Alpha and would be a lighthouse to the rest of the diocese."
And as I heard this, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a lighthouse on the coast. And immediately I thought, "Dude, you just totally imagined this whole thing! You subliminally saw a lighthouse and imagined it." With that in my head I said a simple and, if I'm really honest, a kind of faithless prayer, "Lord, if it is your will I pray that this parish would start using Alpha and be a lighthouse to the rest of the diocese."
Then I promptly forgot about it. We enjoyed the rest of our afternoon, had a great training the next day and then I flew back home to Phoenix.
Two weeks went by and I was on the phone with a colleague talking about something, when I looked down at my computer and dropped the phone. An email had just come through from our Catholic Context team and it said:
I thought, "Lord you have got to be kidding?" So I called up the parish and said, "Hello, I'm Jad and I want to help you get started with Alpha." So we set up a time to meet the next time I was in town.
I flew in and drove down to meet Fr. Thomas Willis and Fr. Lawrence Peck. As we met, they said to me, "Jad, if you would help us get started, we would like to host a training. And would it be ok if we invited other parishes to come?"
Honestly, I tried not to be too eager, "I suppose we can do that. Yeah." And I got out of there as fast as I could, before they could change their minds.
The diocese and the parish have been very supportive in inviting and encouraging the other parishes to attend. Since that meeting, two trainings have been hosted with over a dozen other parishes attending. It's pretty amazing.
After several weeks, once we had built a relationship (and I didn’t think I would scare them!) I told them about my experience on the boat that afternoon - and of course they too loved this powerful story of how God was piecing it all together behind the scenes.
Jad Levi is a Network Director at Alpha.