Alpha and Ablaze unite to evangelize

The evening had just begun and already Tracy Nelson was on her feet, a child on one hip, two by her side, right hand in the air, swaying to the music.
She was among 75 people participating in an Ablaze music and worship event June 10 at St. Gerald Parish’s Lakeview Chapel in Ralston. And she had recently completed an 11-week Alpha program exploring the Christian faith offered at the parish. 
The two ministries came together in the chapel.
“It really bridged the gap for those who like what Alpha offers but also enjoy expressing their faith through worship music,” said Nelson, who converted to Catholicism in 2004 and was accustomed to praise and worship music in her previous, nondenominational church.
An international program that began in England, Alpha was introduced in Nebraska two years ago by lay people at a handful of parishes. Built around a shared meal, a video presentation on the basics of faith and participants sharing thoughts and feelings, Alpha has grown to include more than 50 churches in a variety of denominations across the state. Programs also have begun in the state prison system and county jails.
Ablaze Ministries was founded six years ago by Father Michael Voithofer, now associate pastor of St. Gerald, who sings and plays guitar. It was born out of Luke 12:49 – “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already ablaze,” Father Voithofer said.
Usually held once a month on a Friday evening in different parish churches, Ablaze is centered around praise, worship and adoration of God, with exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. 
The ministry began with about 30 people attending, and has grown to average more than 300, Father Voithofer said.
Holding an Ablaze event specifically for anyone who has been part of Alpha was important because “I wanted to help those members grow in their relationship with the Holy Spirit,” Father Voithofer said.
Ablaze stems from his own experience of the Holy Spirit while attending college and praying before the Blessed Sacrament at a worship service in the Newman Center at Penn State University, he said. That encounter led to his joining the seminary.
“Our mission with Ablaze is to help people learn how to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and cultivate their own gifts in the Spirit,” he said. “The members of Alpha who attended Ablaze brought their gifts and love for God and it just added embers to the fire.”
Nelson agreed.
“Ablaze uses song as a form of prayer, which can break down barriers in the heart, allowing God in, and continues that transformation that started in Alpha,” she said.
Both ministries are important tools for reaching lay people who might have no faith, lukewarm faith or have walked away from the church, Father Voithofer said.
“Both can be that catalyst that takes people by the hand and helps to lead them back to God,” he said.
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