The Business of Faith in Nottingham
I sat in the relaxed surroundings of the Malt Cross, a Victorian Music Hall which still retains its original interior and is now owned and run by a Christian group as a café-bar in the centre of Nottingham. It’s one of those places where you can sit casually on a sofa with your drink in one hand and your laptop in the other as you dial into their unsecured wireless network and chat with people on the other side of the globe, using free conference software, as I did while waiting for Dewi to arrive for our lunchtime interview. Dewi (pronounced ‘dare we’) Hughes has been a Civil Servant for 21 years and a Christian for 22. He is also the main driving force behind Business Alpha Nottingham (BAN), an Alpha Course which has run for the last 3 years in the Nottingham Council House attracting people from the business community of Nottingham City Centre. Over a burger and coffee lunch I interviewed Dewi about Business Alpha Nottingham and how it came to be.
Roger: Dewi, how did you come to faith?L~
Dewi: I was brought up a Presbyterian but it didn’t mean anything much to me. At Aberystwyth University I joined the Methodist Society which was led by Rev Peter Barber. Here I met a group of Christians who were excited and committed to their faith. This was a new experience for me as I thought Christianity was simply something people did on Sundays. I also met my future wife Liz there and we started going out together. One day Liz told me that she had been praying for me and all of a sudden I had this vision of Jesus dying on the cross for me. A few months later, around April 1986 as I sat on a bench on Constitution Hill, Aberystwyth, I finally gave my life to Jesus.
Roger: How did the vision for setting up Business Alpha emerge?L~
Dewi: During my time in the Civil Service I had always tried to share my faith with colleagues in a relevant way. In 2005 I met a work colleague who had a similar passion for sharing the gospel and we decided to run a lunchtime Alpha course in our building. About 9 people signed up for the first course, however we also received quite a hostile response. We therefore decided to approach a local church, The Christian Centre, and they were delighted to let us run it on their premises. All of a sudden our vision grew from being focussed on one office, to being focussed on that part of the city. I learned an important lesson that God seems to work even more powerfully in the face of opposition.
Roger: What are the key organisational factors which have led to its success?L~
Dewi: Once we’d relocated to the Christian Centre, it seemed sensible to ask them to take on ownership of the course. At that point one of our leaders went to visit Business Alpha Edinburgh, and came back with the clear message that the course should be owned and run by Christians in the business/work community and not by one specific church. This was a crucial decision and one that has meant that Christians from many different churches have got involved, and that our “style” has been more akin to a business presentation as opposed to a church meeting – thereby making it very accessible to people in the business/work community. Having a shared vision for has also been a key, as has using the Alpha course as it is tried, tested, highly respected and well known.
Roger: How have you attracted the people to BAN and who has attended?L~
Dewi: We produced high-quality flyers and a good website. We did press releases, church presentations, radio interviews and flyer distribution. However it was personal invitation that proved to be most effective. Most of our attendees have been people who work in Nottingham, particularly from the public sector, however we have also attracted unemployed and retired people and some students.
Roger: What made you choose the prestigious Nottingham Council House (Nottingham’s main civic centre) for the venue?L~
Dewi: We spent ages praying and searching for a suitable venue, then one day I met with a senior member of Nottingham City Council. He made a throw-away comment about using one of the rooms in the Council House. We investigated further and the venue was ideal, however the cost excluding catering was some £1,100 which was a lot for us as we had no budget and other costs to cover. The day arrived when we had to commit to the venue by email and I got up early to pray and read the Bible. I had been working through Luke for the previous few months and had reached the bit on the last supper. Before reading the passage I nearly dismissed it and moved onto Psalms. I knew it talked about bread and wine, about betrayal and I couldn’t imagine how it would be relevant to our situation. However as I read the following words of Jesus in Luke 22:12 “He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there.” I broke down crying. In the whole Bible there could hardly be anything as relevant to our situation as that verse. I was filled with excitement, amazement, thankfulness. For the last three years we have used that venue and it has been excellent. One of the most well known and prestigious buildings in Nottingham.
A lunchtime session in the Nottingham Council House
Roger: Have the attendees moved on in their faith?L~
Dewi: Some of the people who were not Christians before the course have become committed Christians, others have become much more open to the faith and are continuing their journey of exploration. One of the most exciting points for me has been was when a 40 year old man gave his life to Jesus on the Alpha Awayday and was then healed of a 25 year condition plus an injured ankle.
Roger: What have been the highlights for you?L~
Dewi: Seeing people come to faith, seeing people become more open to the gospel and working with Christians from different churches in a united vision. We have also had some great speakers - people like Frances Finn (Radio Presenter), Alasdair Kay (former paratrooper in the French Foreign Legion), Matthew McFarlane (Chief Inspector of Nottingham Police) and Simon Butler (Formula 1 driver and Anglican Curate in Nottingham).
Roger: What are your hopes for the future?L~
Dewi: Inviting Jesus into one’s life is the best and most important decision anyone can make. BAN is an excellent tool, however people need to be bold in inviting colleagues along. I would love to see a much greater number of people coming along to BAN to explore Christianity and hopefully come to a point of faith.
I thanked Dewi for his time and we both went back to our places of work, encouraged and excited about what God has achieved through ordinary Christians who worship an extraordinary God.