The Guardian, 14 september 2013, Esther Addley:
It started, as a number of the world’s great religions have done, with a small group of friends and a persuasive idea: why should atheists miss out on all the good things churches have to offer? What would happen if they set up a “godless congregation” that met to celebrate life, with no hope of the hereafter?
Eight months after their first meeting in a deconsecrated church in north London, the founders of the Sunday Assembly have their answer: on Sunday they will announce the formation of satellite congregations in more than 20 cities across Britain and the world, the first wave of an expansion that they believe could see 40 atheist churches springing up by the year and as many as 1,000 worldwide within a decade.
From Glasgow, Leeds, Bristol and Dublin, to New York, San Diego and Vancouver, to Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, groups of non-believers will be getting together to form their own monthly Sunday Assemblies, with the movement’s founders – the standup comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans – visiting the fledgling congregations in what they are calling, only partly in jest, a “global missionary tour”.
Though he always suspected he was not the only one to regret that his lack of faith excluded him from a church-style community, Jones admits to being a little bewildered by the speed and scale at which his idea has caught on. “When I had the idea for this, I always thought if it was something I would like to go to in London then it was something other people would like to go to in other places.
“The one thing that we didn’t take into account was the power of the internet, and I think even more than that, the fact that there is obviously a latent need for this kind of thing. People have always congregated around things that they believe in. I think people are going to look back at the fact that it didn’t happen as the oddity, not this part.”
Satellite assemblies will agree to the central charter of Jones and Evans’s original gathering – which still meets monthly in central London – and Jones expects them, initially at least, to stick to a similar format, in which a “host” leads several hundred congregants through songs, moments of contemplation and a sermon-like (but secular) talk.
“If we do it in London and there are 400 people who come, that’s brilliant, but if we find a way to help hundreds of people to set one up then we can have a bigger impact than we could ever dream of,” says Jones. Their vision, he says, is “a godless gathering in every town, city or village that wants one”.
Stuart Balkham is one of a small group of Brighton unbelievers who next weekend will hold their inaugural assembly – the theme is beginnings – in a disused church in Hove.
He and his partner went to the London gathering where, he says, “there was just something that clicked”. Part of the appeal was the style of non-worship: “It’s unashamedly copying a familiar Church of England format, so it’s part of the collective consciousness.”
Balkham says he has envied churches the sense of community they can offer, and thinks atheists can learn from the social good that many churches do. “It’s naive to deny that there’s a lot of good that comes out of organised religion, and I think helping in the community is another thing that Sunday Assemblies should be aspiring to unashamedly copy.” (End of quote)
Read the full article here (The Guardian).