Interview: Rev Nicky Gumbel, Alpha Course Chaplain

At the weekend Holy Trinity Brompton, home to the Alpha Course hosted a gathering of Christians and worshippers to pray together for the re-evangelisation of London. The evening included an exciting programme of events hosted with Pastor Agu Irukwu, the senior pastor at Jesus House, as well as Jeremy Jennings, the Finance & Pastoral Director at Holy Trinity Brompton, and Rev Nicky Gumbel, the Alpha Chaplain.
Rev Gumbel joined HTB as curate in 1986 and began overseeing the running of the Alpha Course there in 1990. Later in 1996 the Bishop of London appointed Rev Gumbel as an Alpha Chaplain. He speaks regularly at national and international Alpha conferences and is the author of several books including Questions of Life, which has sold over 750,000 copies, has been translated into 48 languages and was voted ‘Christian Book of the Year’ in 1994.

Christian Today managed to speak with Rev Nicky Gumbel about the prayer for London event, as well as discussing the current spiritual situation of London, and the Alpha Course. The full text of the interview is shown below:

Christian Today: Thank you for allowing us this time to speak to you. In relation to today’s event – the Prayer for London – many people in the UK have said that the country is in a deteriorating spiritual state, and the churches are declining. What is your opinion on this?

Rev Gumbel: It is true that the figures are not great in some areas, but on the ground there are many signs of new life. There are hundreds of people coming aged 18 to 35, and if you see it, it is amazing.

There was the Soul in the City event last year, which saw many fantastic things happening. Amazing things are happening with the black majority churches, and 1.7 million people have attended the Alpha Course in the UK alone.

CT: So why have you specifically called for prayer for London. How would you describe this power of prayer and how can it change London?

NG: Today you will see when I speak during the event, I will refer to Jeremiah chapter 29. It says Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

So prayer for the city is important. For every city in the world, the city should be prayed for. Particularly for London, it is a strategic city for the UK as well as the world, therefore the future of London is significant to the UK, and also the rest of the world.

CT: You have been in charge of running the Alpha Course since 1990. Over the period since then, how has it developed on a national as well as an international scale?

|TOP|NG: Well in fact the first conference was held in 1993 when it was just for our church and hundreds attended that event. But now it has spread to 32,000 churches, 160 countries, and more than 60 languages. More than 7 million people have now taken the course across the world. There are 160 prisons in the UK, and 137 of them are running the Alpha Course.

We have Alpha in prisons, Alpha for Catholics, Alpha for the forces, Alpha for students, youth Alpha, there are just so many of them now.

CT: Has the attitude of people attending the course changed at all since you took over 15 years ago?

NG: Yes, it has changed a lot. It has happened gradually but when you look back over time then you notice it. There are many things that were harder to discuss back in the 80’s and early 90’s than they are now, and this also works the opposite way for other things.

For example, people used to find the experience of the Holy Spirit very difficult to deal with perhaps 15 years ago, but now it is not. Now a difficult stumbling block for people tends to the Jesus. People now talk about God and the Holy Spirit but the absolute uniqueness of Jesus is hard now.

Prayer also was hard 15 years ago, but now it is very exciting. The Bible is now also hard, and its authority is a great challenge to our society.

In the church, everyone now is into community, and this was harder before when the course first started. I have never experienced such openness than at this current time.

CT: Last week the Alpha Course began a new advertising campaign in British cinemas. Please tell us more about this, its aims, and why this new direction in advertising has been taken?

NG: 75% of those attending the Alpha Course are aged between 18 and 35, and they peak at about the age of 25 to 27. This is the primary reason why we have decided to advertise there, as this is a similar audience.

The new campaign is saying that even if you are at the peak of your career, and almost everyone is on some type of ladder to success and waiting to get to the top of their profession, but the advert says even if you get there is it enough? So it is saying to think of this now rather than when you get there and not have thought about it before.

Interview Conducted by Andrew Clark (Christian Today)