With the decline of formal religion, there are a lot of ideas being kicked about by many people on how to get the benefits of religion without, well, the religious bits. Some people talk of concerts and sporting events as religious experiences, but there is a new idea which seems to fit the bill, the Sunday Assembly, billed as a “godless church” with the aim to celebrate life. Its only creed is to “live better, help often, wonder more”. It includes the traditional elements – a sermon, songs, readings, community notices, a collection, tea and cakes.
It has been founded by a pair of comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. They have both been working the comedy circuit for several years, so know how to put on a show on a limited budget, and how to work the crowd. Their first service was in a deconsecrated church in North London a year ago, and have now gone global, with assemblies in L.A. Nashville, Brisbane, Bristol and Manchester. Their fortnightly shows in London regularly attract audiences of 400. They talk of having no religious or political agenda, more a celebration of life. “We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together.” they claim. It is at heart a comedy show, with strong community project leanings.
“people like it because it’s enjoyable. We say it’s entertaining rather than entertainment,” says Evans.
According to journalist Alice Jones, “Assemblies are structured around a theme, like wonder or teamwork, and a central lecture/sermon, delivered in bite-sized chunks. Last Sunday the academic Dr Linda Woodhead talked about ritual, in November the historian Dan snow offered thoughts on remembrance. There might be a poet, or a comedian, there will be songs and games and in a segment titled “X is doing his/her best”, a member of the congregation will talk about how they are trying to live life better.
Charity work is an important offshoot and people are encouraged to get involved, whether bringing in a tin of beans to donate to Crisis or lending a van to a community project. It is all friendly and uplifting. Like the best standup gigs, you leave feeling a bit brighter about the world. ”
I love the idea of this, because I am sick of people complaining about how religion doesn’t make sense. Well, if it didn’t offer something people needed, it would have died out a long time ago. Religions are not just about belief i some higher deity, they are about communities, they are about communal actions, they are about celebrations, and forming links between people, about knowing and helping others. These assemblies seem to be a step in the right direction, especially for people who now live in cities where it is hard to form connections, and feel part of a community. I hope they really take off.