Aitken's course in Christianity gets ITV series

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The Independent Online

The world's most popular course in Christianity, credited with turning Jonathan Aitken to the path of righteousness, is to get its own ITV series, fronted by Sir David Frost.

The programmes will spend 10 weeks following the Alpha course, an evangelistic introduction to the faith, which has taken the Church of England by storm.

The TV series, to be broadcast on Sunday evenings early next year, has been welcomed by church leaders who cite it as further evidence that ITV is wresting the religious affairs baton from the BBC.

The success of the course is phenomenal at a time of dwindling congregations - 7,000 churches have adopted it in the UK alone.

It originated at Holy Trinity, Brompton in West London, a church with a reputation for attracting wealthy evangelicals including Samantha Fox and former Blue Peter presenter, Diane Louise Jordan, as well as the disgraced cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken.

Filming will begin at Holy Trinity next month when between 800 and 900 people are expected to attend. Typically the courses are held in parish churches, schools and universities, and are aimed at people who would never go to church otherwise. They also run in 120 of Britain's 158 prisons.

Sessions include a meal, a talk and group discussions on topics such as "how and why should I pray?" and "how can I resist evil?" Critics have baulked at its charismatic style. But, in recent years, the tone and content of the course has been toned down to appeal to a broader range of people.

The Alpha course has received strong support from leaders of all Christian denominations, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, and is now running in more than 15,000 churches in 77 countries. It is even finding favour in Catholic churches.

The man who now directs the Alpha course, Reverend Nicky Gumbel, said: "We are thrilled. I hope that the viewers will say 'that looks fun' and perhaps go along to one."

But he denied that the aim of the forthcoming TV series was to convert people to Christianity. Sir David Frost, whose father was a Methodist minister, was chosen for his interest in the subject. He said: "I am fascinated by it. I think it is terrific that ITV is prepared to do something like this and I think viewers who are interested will really be able to gain something from the series."

In his book Pride and Perjury, Aitken talks about attending an Alpha course at Holy Trinity. "'Everyone can have a second chance through Christ,' was a phrase that I remember," he says. "I needed one myself." And he recalls the point during the Alpha course when the leaders prayed for the Holy Spirit to come and meet Aitken and the other 800 course attenders.

"My palms suddenly began to tingle with a strange physical sensation... as though they were being charged with an electric current. Then I began to cry. Something extraordinary and uncontrollable was going on inside me... there was overwhelming evidence that I had received a genuine manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit."

The series producer, Geoff Moore, said: "As well as showing the content, which is very strong, we want to invite the viewer to do Alpha as well.

"It may not be for everyone, but here's the chance to absorb the information and see what it can do for you."