Morality In America Atheist congregation expands to U.S.
By Diann Noles
In these days of economic uncertainty, moral depravity and world-wide turbulence, people are looking for purpose and relevancy. For many, this means searching for spiritual meaning through traditional religions. But, for a growing number of people, belief in or reliance on any kind of deity is unthinkable. That’s where Sunday Assembly comes in.
The fastest growing “church” in the world with a growth rate of over 3,000 percent, Sunday Assembly – a godless monthly Sunday service for atheists – is being duplicated this fall in 22 cities throughout the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia. Organizers anticipate thousands will gather “to hear great talks, sing songs and generally celebrate the wonder of life with no hope of the hereafter.”
Although the gatherings appear to be more of a social club than a church, Sunday Assembly is modeled after the typical Anglican Church for those who identify with a traditional worship service and comunity bond.
“The church model has worked really well for a couple of thousand years,” Los Angeles camera man Ian Dodd explained in an interview with Salon. “What we’re trying to do is hold on to the bath water while throwing out the baby Jesus.” Dodd will be starting the new Assembly in Los Angeles later this fall.
Founded in January 2013 by stand-up comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, the original church’s motto is: “Live Better, Help Often and Wonder More.” According to the Public Charter of the Assembly, “We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together. [We have] no doctrine… no set texts so we can make use of wisdom from all sources… no deity.”
While beliefs differ throughout the congregation, a sense of community is what draws many people. “When I decided there probably wasn’t a God, it made church a lot more awkward,” Evans – a former Christian – said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “I always felt like there wasn’t a place to have that same sort of community. I couldn’t get my head around how to do it without offending anyone.”
“I don’t think religion should have a monopoly on community,” wrote Salon columnist Katie Engelhart after attending a service. “I like the idea of a secular temple, where atheists can enjoy the benefits of an idealized, traditional church – a sense of community, a thought-provoking sermon, a scheduled period of respite, easy access to community service opportunities, group singing, an ethos of self-improvement, free food – without the stinging imposition of God Almighty.”
The rapid expansion of the church is somewhat unexpected. While branches have already been opened in England, Australia and New York City, Jones and Evans didn’t foresee the explosion of interest. “The big surprise is that this has become an international movement so quickly, we didn’t realize how powerful the Internet was with an idea – so that’s been amazing,” Evans said.
“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,” Jones told The Guardian, a British daily publication. He said their vision is “a godless gathering in every town, city or village that wants one.” They will be touring the U.S. and Canada in November 2013 with stops in seven U.S. cities.
Jones and Evans are excited to bring their brand of “religion” to the world, and particularly the U.S. When asked about possible backlash, Jones and Evans are optimistic about the end result. “In the States you’ve got a whole load of people who get how good church is, religious people totally get why you’d go to church, they think it’s weird that people don’t,” Jones said. “I don’t expect much objection from religious communities. They are happy for us to use their church model. I think it’s more aggressive atheists who will have an issue with it.”
In your prayer time this week, please pray:
That this atheist movement will fade quickly
That the atheist groups that meet in churches will feel the presence of God and turn to Him
That America’s religious freedoms are not negatively impacted by the atheist groups
Diann Noles is a former editor and writer for Christian publications in Tucson, AZ and Portland, OR. She now serves as Public Relations Director for a major Christian non-profit organization. She and her husband Bill live in Tucson, AZ and have two sons and four grandchildren.