I’m assuming that if you’ve attended at least one Catholic Gators event, or even been at the student center for more than 5 minutes, you’ve probably heard something like, “So have you been on Alpha? Have you heard about the Alpha retreat?”
So what is Alpha? Well, that’s the kicker – it’s full of secrets! (Like Gretchen Wieners’ hair.) I went on the Alpha retreat for the first time during my first semester at UF, mostly out of spite, because I was so annoyed that no one would tell me what happened! I had been on retreats in high school, so I figured I had at least a decent idea of what would happen – there would probably be a speaker or two, some skits to illustrate current social problems or a particular Bible passage, some small group discussions, and, depending on how spiritual the retreat was, some time for confession or adoration. So, despite not knowing many people outside of the few friends I had made at Newman Club dinners, I decided to take the plunge and go on this secret retreat. At the very least, it would be a break from schoolwork.
Alpha was so much more than I had expected. Every person I met on the retreat team was so friendly at all times. They often stopped to ask me how I was enjoying the retreat, if I had any prayer intentions, or how I had felt about the previous hour’s events (did you think I was going to spoil anything in this blog post? I’m too smart for that). Though the emphasis was on getting more integrated into the St. Augustine’s community, which definitely was comforting and helped me make more friends than I had ever expected, I was surprised at the amount of spiritual growth Alpha afforded me as well. God has never intended for us to worship alone – 1 John 1:7 tells us, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Being surrounded by a community of people who love Jesus was never really a blessing I had experienced. Though I had had a strong youth group back home, I always felt like an outsider among them. No one I met on Alpha gave me that feeling.
The fruits of Alpha did not end after the retreat, though, and I think that’s my favorite thing about it by far. I was so encouraged by everyone I met that weekend and their constant selflessness that I was inspired to do the same for others. As soon as applications came out for the Alpha retreat team the next semester, I applied and was accepted. At the end of both my freshman and sophomore years, I even got up the courage to run for an officer position of Newman Club. I continued to serve on Alpha team until the semester I graduated, making connections with more and more new members of the Catholic Gators community ready to serve their faith. It has truly meant more to me than anything I’ve done in Gainesville in the more than 4 years I’ve been here.
Please pray for the retreat team and all those attending Alpha Spring 2017 this weekend, particularly those who may be experiencing God’s love for the first time ever.
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” –Matthew 18:20
Written by: Juliana Schmidt
Featured Image by: Catholic Gators