I encountered a new term recently. A minister tells a story about a conversation she had with a man who had joined her “Church’s Alumni Association.”

I encountered a new term recently. A minister tells a story about a conversation she had with a man who had joined her “Church’s Alumni Association.” I think most ministers have heard similar conversations with a formerly active church member who explains why they no longer attend. There is not a living, breathing minister in the entire country who has not encountered members of their church’s alumni association.

I began thinking about the former members of the church that I pastor that I encounter to whom I usually say, “We’re still open on Sunday.” (I got that from our former pastor, The Rev. David Fischer.)

It seems every time a pastor hears from someone in their church’s alumni association, it is like the person thinks that they’ve made a breakthrough discovery that has moved them beyond regular church attendance. Perhaps someone reading this column has used the same or similar line: “I no longer need to participate in organized religion. I read the Sunday Oklahoman and take a run through the neighborhood. Then I go play some golf (or go fishing) and find God in the quietness of nature.”

It is almost as if they don’t believe that people who go to church don’t also find God in quietness and nature.

To be fair not everyone who has exited the church left because they have turned inward and created their own religion. Some have fled the church because they have had an unsettling experience in the church.

Unfortunately, there are always times when something occurs within the church that some find disagreeable. Yet, the same thing happens in all kinds of situations in our world. God didn’t create us to all believe exactly the same, or to become a group of clones. I dare say, that we would probably have more problems if we were all alike. Just think how boring that would be.

I remember a time in the history of the church I pastor when an issue would arise, and the issue would be discussed. There were those who would be in favor of taking an action, and there were those who would be opposed. And there were those who didn’t care one way or another. What always amazed me was back then those who opposed something, once the congregation had made the decision, were among the first to contribute both help and money to see that what was voted on was successfully accomplished. I would guess that many other churches remember those days in their own congregations.

While the world today seems to be divided on so many issues that lead to heated arguments and hard feelings, the church should not be such a place. The church should be a place of peace, love, joy, acceptance, hospitality, and worship. Could it be that when these things are replaced by in-fighting that the church alumni associations grow?

I was also reminded of a program that I first noticed a few years ago in the Catholic Church which they called “Catholics Returning Home.” It seemed to resonate with many Catholics and attendance at mass began to climb.

For many years as fall began churches had a Back-to-Church Sunday. This year, perhaps churches should call for a “Church Alumni Association” reunion.

If you encounter a member of your church’s alumni association, remind them that your church is still open on Sunday.

If you are able, be in worship somewhere this Sunday.