Everyone was settled and happily tucking into their lasagne and salad when Amy glanced up to see a young man hurriedly dashing towards their table. He was tall, even taller than her for a change, with a thick mass of dark unruly curls, an aquiline nose and deep blue eyes. Amy caught her breath. He was gorgeous.
“That’s the new journalist I was telling you about who’s come along to follow our group and see what an Alpha Course is all about,” whispered Kate to Amy.
“Hi, I’m Craig, Craig Wilson from the Courier. I hope I have the right group. I think you’re expecting me. So sorry to be late, staff meeting with the editor, I’m afraid.” He smiled ruefully and held out his hand. Bill, the Alpha Course leader shook it warmly.
“Delighted to have you with us. Yes, this is your group, Craig. I’m Bill, the course leader of the group. I’ll introduce you to all our members and then you must get your meal. We can’t let you starve now can we?” And he laughed nervously at his statement but no one else did.
Craig was introduced round the group shaking each hand in turn. Amy got up, blushing wildly, when it was her turn. She put out her hand quickly and found it grasped warmly by his,
“Hi, Beautiful,” he said gazing at her slim body appreciatively.
Amy felt her face grow hot with both pleasure and embarrassment as she found herself gazing into his deep blue eyes, which crinkled at the edges as he smiled into her large brown ones. The moment ended with Craig striding over to the self-service counter to grab himself a dinner.
Although Craig was thin it was as if he had hollow legs and even two generous helpings of the first course, followed by apple crumble and custard didn’t seem to keep him from helping himself liberally to the chocolates Bill had provided. He also knocked back his glass of wine fairly readily and seemed disappointed at just one glass being allocated to each guest but church expenses couldn’t stretch to more.
Amy, for her part, felt self-conscious and couldn’t enjoy her food as much as usual, even refusing the chocolates on several occasions. Each time she looked at Craig she caught him smiling back at her and winking. She soon decided not to look at him at all unless absolutely necessary.
Just before the start of the talk which was to be given by the vicar of St James, Bill considered it his duty to explain to the young journalist and others in the group what exactly an Alpha Course entailed.
“You probably know something of the layout of the evening,” he began, “but perhaps I should explain further. The nine-week course begins each Thursday with a meal and social time. There is no charge for the meal but attendees are welcome to give a donation if they wish.” Amy noticed Craig smile. He clearly liked the idea of a free meal anyway. “Then the vicar of St James, Rev Brian Appleby will give a talk which will be accompanied by film clips, music and other medias. There are nine subjects in total, tonight’s talk is largely an introductory talk, what is Christianity all about. Week two centres on the person of Jesus and the cross and why he died for us. Then we tackle the Bible, God’s word and guidance, before our weekend away in the middle of the course – I’ll give you more details about that later but that will deal with the topic of the Holy Spirit. Following the weekend, we will cover the questions of evil, prayer, healing and last but not least, the church.”
Amy felt Bill’s list was quite long and complicated to someone who had no church background. It was her mother’s gentle persuasion that had taken her to church when she had broken up with her boyfriend, Jake. Such a long list as Bill had just given, she mused, would have probably taken her in the opposite direction. She smiled sympathetically at Jan who didn’t appear to look overwhelmed but smiled back brightly. Amy breathed an inward sigh of relief.
Brian, by contrast, kept his introductory talk very simple. Making everyone laugh as he showed a short film clip about how not to talk to someone about your faith.
Brian and his wife, Carol, had arrived at St James church, Charlesworth, five years ago. Many claimed, Brian had breathed new life into the church. Before then, the church had been very traditional and attended only by one or two families and a few old folk who enjoyed the stability. Brian had put a few noses out of joint especially when he had insisted on removing all the pews in favour of modern padded seats.
Amy found herself sneaking a look across at her work colleague, Jan, anxious to see how she was receiving Brian’s talk. Jan, personal assistant to one of the senior partners at the legal firm where Amy worked, had recently gone through a very acrimonious divorce from her partner, George, and had found things tough. Amy hardly believed that Jan would accept the invitation for the nine-week Alpha Course but Jan seemed to be listening intently to Amy’s great relief. She had been nervous about asking her, especially as she, herself had little knowledge of an Alpha Course. This was her first too.
Then she looked across at the journalist who was also listening and scribbling copious notes in a form of shorthand script. His absorption gave her a chance to study him closer without being observed. She loved the dark, rather unruly curls and the slightly uneven nose. Her thoughts began to stray in spite of herself as she began to consider him as a man. What was he like? Did he have a girlfriend? Was he popular, a good lover? She had even got to the point of imagining herself in his arms and being kissed by him when Brian finished talking and Craig turned round and met her gaze. She blushed profusely, almost imagining he could read her thoughts and was rewarded by another bright smile and broad wink.
She felt mortified. What must he think of her gawping at him like some stupid, infatuated teenager? She blamed the church for that. Since coming to the small market town of Charlesworth with her friend, Kate three years ago, she hadn’t met anyone remotely interesting. The 20s and 30s group was great fun as a social group, as was the choir they were both in, but there was a distinct lack of interesting marriageable men in the church. Rob, one of the only men that answered that description, a local computer salesman, had been quickly snapped up by her friend, Kate. He wasn’t really her type anyway, far too sensible. Mind you, he was probably exactly the sort of man she should fall for rather than Jake, the smooth talking, good looking guy who had stolen her heart a few years ago. This Craig was quite reminiscent of Jake in many ways she realised, too good looking for his own good. Disgusted with herself she got up quickly and made her way over to the coffee machine at the back of the church. In operating it she had to turn her back on the group, including him.
Discussions had begun already on her return. Amy was just in time to hear Bill suggest it would be a good idea to go round the group with each in turn giving a short talk about themselves and perhaps, if they wished, detailing some of their reasons for being there.
Bill had long embarrassed Amy with his overbearing advances towards herself. As a short, rather plump man with glasses, more towards the end of the 30s than the 20s, Amy had no interest in him. He was kind but not really her type, and she’d rather stay single than consider Bill as anything more than a friend.
Bill began his explanation. “I work as an assistant in the local library,” he said, “and I am an active member of the church here in Charlesworth, singing in the choir and helping Jenny,” he indicated a petite figure to his right with short, bobbed brown hair, “to run the 20’s and 30’s social group. I’m here now to lead this group and I hope answer some of your questions.” He smiled and waited for Jenny to follow him.
Amy was very fond of Jenny, a lady in her forties, who although only about ten years younger than Amy’s own Mother, was a quiet gentle figure readily inspiring confidence in those she was in charge of. She ran the local florist shop.
Then next to her was Kate and beside her the faithful Rob. Rob worked for a local computer company and was doing really well. He had already been promoted once since Kate began going out for him just over a year ago and his prospects were very good. He wore glasses and had thick sandy hair with a mind of its own. A stalwart supporter of the 20’s and 30’s group he looked decidedly ill at ease at the Alpha group but was determined to stick it out to support Kate in her role as chief prayer support.
When Jan’s turn came she was full of admiration for Amy. “Amy invited me to come on this Alpha course,” she said, smiling at her indulgently. “She’s a lovely girl to work with, always cheerful about her work and rarely complaining, even though some of the solicitors in our firm take her a little for granted. I guess when she told me she was a Christian I wondered if that was her secret and I wanted to find out more.”
Amy felt embarrassed by Jan’s eulogy on her behalf and even more embarrassed by feeling Craig’s eyes fixed upon her and was quick to explain away Jan’s words.
“You’re too kind, Jan,” she said colouring. “I simply try to get on with everyone as best as I can, there’s no magic formula to it,” and she laughed lightly. “I think it’s really Jan’s encouragement that keeps me going,” and she smiled at Jan who smiled back.
Craig had a very easy and friendly manner as he introduced himself. Amy imagined that as a journalist he was used to this.
After explaining his role as a recent recruit to the Courier with several previous years’ experience on a small suburban London weekly, he went on to explain his role at the Alpha Course that evening.
“I suppose you might say I’m here to check you all out.” He gave a broad, warm smile at this point, which made Amy’s heart quicken in spite of herself. “But although I understand that Alpha Courses have been fairly well publicised over the last few years, many people with little or no church background don’t understand the concept. I hope I can help to clarify that.
After Craig’s introduction it was left to the remaining three members of the group to make themselves known. There was the choir master aptly named Fred Sharpe. A small fat balding man who had wild wispy white collar-length hair, as wild and eccentric as himself. He taught music at the local senior school with passion and dedication in addition to leading the choir at St James. His wife Mavis came with him to church sometimes but preferred her own company for the most part. Amy had a sneaking sympathy for her, she was sure if she were Mr Sharpe’s wife she might also prefer to keep her own company.
Then last, but by no means least, was Lisa, the other receptionist at the Courier along with Kate. She had been to a few of the 20’s and 30’s socials before but not to any of the more ‘churchy’ events.
As Amy looked around the group she couldn’t help but wonder how they would gel together over the coming weeks and what the group members would make of Christianity. And what about Craig, what message would he give to the paper week by week as he filed his reports? He might be here in his reporter’s and observer’s role but would the message impact him personally?
Kate was surprised that Amy didn’t want to stay for drinks at the end of the evening especially when Brian, the Minister had made it clear that he would stand the round at the local pub. Instead she had ushered her and Jan out quickly even though Kate thought Jan would have been happy to stay a little longer. It was as if Amy was in a hurry to get away. Kate also noticed Craig watching them as they left and imagined she caught a look of disappointment in his expression. Was Amy really as averse to his charms as she was making out?
As they got back to the flat, a short drive from the church, Kate was quick to find out what Amy had thought of Craig Wilson.
“Oh, he was okay,” began Amy in as casual a tone as she could manage but was frustrated with herself when a tell-tale flush started to creep over her cheeks. “But rather flirty and self-satisfied if you ask me.”
“But didn’t you think he was gorgeous?” continued Kate, “I mean I love Rob and wouldn’t think of looking elsewhere but…” she hesitated, “but if I were unattached he could possibly turn my head with that easy flirtatious manner of his and those cute dark curls.”
“How could you even think of that?” asked Amy in irritated surprise. He’s so like Jake in so many ways and what’s more he’s not a Christian. How could I be expected to consider him?” Then it was Kate’s turn to look embarrassed.
“Of course you’re right. Probably better not to speculate.”