Church Alumni Forum – Beginnings

Posted By Pete O on Jul 6, 2017 | 0 comments

This site is dedicated to everyone wishing to pursue their spiritual enquiry beyond the traditional practice of Christian church. Whether you still attend church, or have not been inside a church in years, you are welcome here.

Are You “Spiritual But Not Religious?”

In recent years, the phrase in common use for people who maintain an interest in spiritual matters but no longer attend church is “Spiritual But Not Religious.” Admittedly, not everybody is happy with this phrase.

But for some, it perfectly describes where they are at. Maybe you continue to believe in the existence of a Creator God, or maybe your idea of God is changing into something new. Maybe you have come to view every person as a manifestation of God, or maybe you’ve decided the word “God” just has too much baggage associated with it and you prefer not to use it. That’s fine.

Maybe you have “lost your faith” but are not yet ready to let go of the identity you have as a Christian. Maybe you are experimenting with other ways to practice your faith, apart from organized religion of any kind. Maybe you are blazing your own path and really excited about what you are discovering.

This Forum Is For You

Here at Church Alumni Forum, you should feel free to be authentic about where you’re at. We aim to be the “hangout” where you can feel at home, get to know others who are on their own spiritual journey, and share your own thoughts and exploration.

We endeavor to make this discussion forum a place where you are respected for who you are and where you’re at regardless of your beliefs, attitudes, language, practices, predjudices, preferences, or background.

Who Runs This Place?

My name is Peter Oakley, and I graduated from church in December 2005. Like most others who have left the church, it was definitely not the end of my spiritual journey.

I grew up in the Christian church, having attended for nearly my entire life until I was in my early 50s. My parents took me to church, I was baptized in the church, and I have served in a variety of roles in the church. (Though never as pastor or preacher.) I have made my share of commitments and faith statements. I have given generously to the church, and still do occasionally. Some of my closest friends and family have always been church-attending Christians with a vibrant living faith that gives them a sense of meaning and purpose.

In college, I was president of the campus Christian Fellowship. I’ve led meetings, led prayers, led worship, worked to create retreat experiences and social events for my Christian social network. And for nearly all of my adult life, where ever I have lived, I have been a member in good standing with a local Christian church.

But somewhere in my mid-40s I began to wonder what was next. What was my real purpose in life? What did God want me to do?

I had read the Bible several times from start to finish. I had a good bit of it underlined, with notes in the margins. I knew exactly where to find my favorite verses. To some degree I felt like God was speaking to me through this highly respected tome. Over the decades I had been exposed to a spectrum of church worship experiences – everything from fundamentalist, to charismatic, to progressive. I had participated with several different denominations, and experienced a variety of church practices. I’ve embarked on personal retreats, modest spiritual pilgrimages, and fasts, and dabbled in Christian meditation.

I have had my fair share of meaningful spiritual experiences, including miraculous healings, divine interventions, remarkable coincidences, close brushes with death, and abundant opportunties to testify to my faith.

In short, my self-identity was intimately connected with beliefs about God that I had absorbed from this upbringing of regular, deliberate exposure to Christianity, as practiced by organized religion.

What Is My Purpose?

And yet, something was missing. That nagging question that I first encountered in my mid-40s kept returning… what is my real purpose? I really wanted to know what was next.

Maybe you’ve been asking yourself this same question?

I asked this question enough times to know that I was not going to get a specific answer from God. I felt like a “sleeper agent” just waiting for my big assignment – and to my surprise it never came. Certainly not in any Damascus road type event. Not in a gentle whispering, not in any kind of hidden message that I could possibly interpret as my “mission.”

So at the start of 2004, at the age of 48, I decided I needed to really get to the bottom of this. I needed to know what was next.

And to get to the bottom of it, I decided to take a year-long sabbatical from church.

A Sabbatical From Church

In January 2004 I began my “sabbatical from church.” I let my closest friends know what I was up to. I described my plan. I would refrain from any participation in church activities of any kind for a period of one year.

The common response when I described this plan was puzzlement. Nobody seemed to relate to my situation. Just about everyone seemed content with their church experience and could not imagine intentionally stepping away from it.

Partly I just wanted to see what “life without church” was like, since I had grown up with churh as a regular part of my life. All my social connections were through church – it was the hub of my social life. I knew very few others who did not go to church.

I wanted to see what life beyond church could be like, to determine how I truly wished to pursue my faith in God, and find answers to these nagging questions about purpose and meaning.

A Year Without Church

As it happened, that year – 2004 – was the year that podcasting was beginning to burst onto the scene. Podcasting (recorded audio published on the internet) was my entré into learning more about other religious traditions: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. I listened to all the online lectures and seminars I could find by Alan Watts, a philosopher credited with introducing the West to eastern thought in the late 1950s until his death in 1973.

Through podcasts I was introduced to the concepts of nondualism, meditation, manifestation, egoic self-identity, reincarnation, satori, nirvana, and the illusion of reality.

I listened to interviews and lectures by … I watched TED talks about… This exposed me to a great many facts and theories that I was only vaguely aware of before. It cracked my world open.

I allowed these ideas to percolate and intermix in my mind. And on Sundays, I welcomed the extra free time (not going to church) and would catch up on work, browse the Sunday paper, go for a long walk, or give myself permission to do absolutely nothing.

My social life evolved. I participated in a weekly Trivia Night at one of the local pubs. I joined the steering committee for a new speaker series called “New Perspectives on Faith.” And I connected with a “spiritual studies” group that a friend introduced me to. (It went by a couple different names, including “Heretic House.”) This group studied the teachings of Edgar Cayce, the Seth Material, Ester Hicks (channeling “Abraham”), Elias, and others. We read and discussed excerpts from “Conversations with God” [ and other authors/books ] and watched videos…

[ physics, astronomy, scale of the Universe ]

The year went by quickly, and almost before I knew it my sabbatical was coming to a close. My year of n0-church was over, and I began attending my home church again.

The Concept of GOD

What I discovered pretty quickly upon my return to church was that my concept of God had changed radically during that year away from church. I no longer thought of God as something or someone separate from life. Instead, I had come to view God as “this experience of life that I am having right now.” Instead of using the word “God” I would talk about “all-that-is.” I had come to view God as the always-changing, always-evolving unity of all things.

To sit in church and hear others talk about God as separate from themselves, a creator God who made the universe and who set the stars in motion – it was cognitivly jarring. I just didn’t believe anymore that God was a big benevolent father-figure who orchestrated the details of our lives. Instead, I had come to view God as… everything that was real.

But what did it mean to be real? I had come to understand that the physical world is largely empty space, and that the fundamental elements of reality were busy popping in and out of existence moment by moment in a quantum dance of ongoing creation. I was in it. It was in me. I was a part of this dance.

And this whole church thing seemed so out of touch and irrelevant to my new understanding of reality.

I attended church pretty regularly for that next year, but by the time Advent rolled around, I had had enough. I left church – again – and this time I knew I wasn’t coming back.


I had graduated from church. I was moving on. I wanted to continue exploring my spirituality in all it’s colors and textures, flavors, sounds, sensations. I shook off the nagging suspicion that I was a “backslider,” a “sinner,” a “heathen” or “pagan.” I had heard these words in church and now I was IT. Yet the experience was so much richer and fuller than those derogatory words were supposed to convey.

It is now 2017. I have been apart from church for a dozen years. Life goes on. I have continued in the same work, pursuing the same spiritual path of exploration. I have continued to ask the Big Questions and seek answers.

Church Alumni Forum

I founded Church Alumni Forum to be a meeting place for all the others like me, who have graduated from church (or are on the way), to share their experiences and be on the journey together.

What this forum will become, God only knows. But WE will make it whatever it needs to be. It is emerging. Your participation is how it begins. Pose your questions. Tell us about your own journey. We learn from each other. We are the Church Alumni.


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