What is the Sunday Assembly?
The Sunday Assembly is a global network of people who want to make the most of this one life we know we have. Is it the answer to cities with communities that have gone stale? Will it replace religion? And is it possible for religion and atheism to ever co-exist in peace?
About four months ago, my family and I visited this random church up in the Yorkshire Wolds where they live. Some of my parents’ friends suggested they have a look — not because any of us are religious, which we’re not, but because the building was beautiful. Inside, the walls were covered in stunning, intricate murals and gold leaf.
Perhaps 50+ years ago the whole community in the village would meet at the church each Sunday for talks, hymns, tea and cake. Now, however, the seats remained empty.
When I got back home, curious, I googled ‘non religious churches’ and found the following BBC article about the Sunday Assembly:
What happens at an atheist church? An “atheist church” in North London is proving a big hit with non-believers. Does it feel a bit like a new religion?
The Sunday Assembly describes itself as being “all the best bits of church, but with no religion, and awesome pop songs!” Their mission — to help everyone find and fulfil their full potential and make the most out of life.]
My morning at a Godless service
When my friend Amy suggested we check it out, I jumped at the chance — not because I’m an atheist, which I’m not, but because I’m a bit of an anarchist when it comes to religion. It’s a subject I’m fascinated by; however, personally, I dislike the accompanying rules which is the main reason why I could never — at least in this moment of time — be part of any religion.
I do, however, believe in a force/energy/entity that is greater than us, within us and everywhere on the planet and universe — the source of all life. I suppose when you put it like this, it sounds like I’m describing God, but I’m happy to just call it energy. I also have no interest in persuading other people to think the same as me — it’s just a belief.
Despite the fact that I’m not an atheist, I still enjoyed the Sunday Assembly and will go again. I think, certainly in cities like London, there’s a real need for communities and people to start connecting again. Plus, there’s no real group for people who want the community of a religion but without all the rules.
Unless you live in a village or you go to weddings of loved ones, rarely in cities, do we spend time as communities, where the age gaps are bridged and the sole purpose of meeting is to simply celebrate life and take pleasure in the everyday — something we all have in common.
Today, the Sunday Assembly today took place in Conway Hall in Holborn South London. As we waited to go in, co-founder Sanderson Jones enthusiastically greeted us, and everyone we met was really warm and friendly. There were certainly no feelings of ‘You shouldn’t be here’.The overall vibe was certainly vibrant and positive — not too dissimilar to a Gospel church I once visited in Alabama.
Today’s theme — Forgiveness
Each service has a theme — today’s was forgiveness. After a very upbeat and bouncy intro from Sanderson, we sang songs from Alanis Morissette, The Beatles and Oasis, listened to poetry about builders and love that made me laugh (Thank you Clair Whitefield), had a moment of contemplation and heard a fascinating talk on forgiveness by Marina Cantacuzino, founder of the Forgiveness Project.
Not dissimilar to a TED talk, Marina, passionately told the story of how she came to create the Forgiveness Project after seeing the father of a child who had died, hug the doctor who was responsible for her death. This moment, inspired her to collect stories of forgiveness from around the world.
On her website, The Forgiveness Project, Marina writes:
“Forgiveness is an inspiring, complex, exasperating subject, which provokes strong feeling in just about everyone. Having spent all of 2003 collecting stories of reconciliation and forgiveness for an exhibition of words and images which I created with the photographer, Brian Moody, I began to see that for many people forgiveness is no soft option, but rather the ultimate revenge. For many it is a liberating route out of victimhood; a choice, a process, the final victory over those who have done you harm.”
You can read more about the Forgiveness Project here:
Will the Sunday Assembly replace religion?
Personally, I don’t have a problem with what people choose to be — religious, atheist, agnostic, spiritual, unsure…I also don’t believe there’s a right answer. I do believe, however, it’s important to be respectful and create environments so we can talk about our beliefs without feeling we’re wrong, being sinful or just damn right crazy.
So,will the Sunday Assembly replace religion? Probably not, but then why should it? What I do think it’s doing though, is creating more empathy, compassion and connectedness in cities that have lost their sense of community and individuals who may be feeling lost in a world that sometimes seems like it has no meaning or heart.
Aren’t these all the underlying messages of religion without all the rules? With this in mind, if you set off on a spiritual path, will you inadvertently find God anyway as some religious people may say? And finally, perhaps if we all just laughed a bit more and stopped taking ourselves and our beliefs so seriously, we’d all get on a little better regardless of what we believe.