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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sunday Assembly: A Look At Organized Non-Religion

Sixteen percent of people around the world say they have no religious affiliation. But even those who aren’t connected to a religion may still be looking for community.

That’s where the Sunday Assembly comes in.

In London earlier this year, stand-up comedians Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones founded the godless congregation that they say has many of the elements of church, but without religion.

Since then, the Sunday Assembly has expanded to 35 locations, including some in the U.S. Their motto is “live better, help often, wonder more.”

Evans and Jones join Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson from London to discuss the assembly they created.

Interview Highlights

Pippa Evans on why she wanted to start Sunday Assembly

“I come from a church background and I really loved going to church. Then, when I stopped believing in God, when I was about 17, I felt like I couldn’t go to church anymore because it felt a bit hypocritical. But the thing I really missed was church, not God. And so I always wondered – is it possible to have all the wonderful things that church does, like create community and help others and encourage thinking about the world, yourself and improvement, but without the God bit. And then fast forward to a car journey to a show that Sanderson and I were doing together, and we started talking in the car … and we ended up both saying, ‘I always thought about starting a church without the God bit.’ And then we decided we should do it together. And that is how Sunday Assembly was born.”

Pippa Evans on who attends Sunday Assembly

“The Sunday Assembly ran in Brighton is ran by a Christian. So, there are lots of people who come. And that really is the strength about Sunday Assembly, is that it’s radically inclusive. So people can come who are not quite decided about whether they believe in God or maybe they do believe in God, but they are not getting – they have not found the right church for them or whatever. So it’s more about living your life than it is about whether you believe or don’t believe.”

Sanderson Jones on the growth of Sunday Assembly

“There’s a ton in the U.S. We went on a road show to go on and sort of launch the first one and sort of give a bit of an example about how it’s done. So we went to New York, Boston, Washington D.C., and Nashville – that was a hoot! The band was so good, unsurprisingly. Then there’s quite a few in California – they have taken it up quite nicely with San Diego. And even in the Deep South there are some in Georgia and Texas. So it’s really exciting to see that people just come forward. There’s a basic human need to get together as a community. And this seems to be a way in which lots of people like doing it.”

Sanderson Jones on their mission

“We often say that we’re not going to tell you how to live, but we’re going to help you do whatever you want to do as well as you can. We still have a very strong sense of purpose and mission. You know the ‘live better, help often, wonder more,’ corresponds nicely to self-service and spirit. We’ve got an awesome mission, which is to try and help everyone live this one life as fully as possible, and a vision, which is to try to help every town, city or village that wants to have a Sunday Assembly to have one.”


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  • Charles F. Radley

    A Sunday Assembly group is starting here in Portland.

  • KC

    So Jones believes we come from nothing and go to nothing and have maybe “70, 80, 90 years in between”…what about 6 months? 4 years? What comfort can you or do you offer to those who live lives less materially and circumstantially fortunate than your own?

    • J__o__h__n

      The masses will need to look for a new opiate.

    • StevenHB

      I’d love to have a fairy godmother who can grant me wishes when the going gets tough. Unfortunately, no matter how much I might like to have a fairy godmother, my wishing doesn’t make one exist.

      Why do intelligent human beings need fairy tales for comfort? And even if they do, how does that psychological need make the fairy tales real?

      Life isn’t fair. That’s not my doing, it’s just the way it is. I’m willing to help those less fortunate than I am – with food, with money, etc. Giving them a song and dance about a better afterlife doesn’t feed the belly and keep them dry in the rain or warm in the snow.

  • Caroline

    Gathering within a supportive body of individuals who are interested in growing wise, being helpful and ethical toward their fellow human beings and the earth seems a healthy way to go. Whatever gets you there! No primary leader, and no money unless collected to support the meeting place.

    Since I was brought up in mainstream religious practice, I do miss the music, but I don’t miss the superior attitude of some. I’m not sure secular music would, “do it for me.” But, of course all music has the possibility of lifting the spirit. Inspiration is just that – inspiring! Go for it, because there are lots of whole hearted people who feel alienated by “the faithful”.

  • Christa Hillhouse

    I have a friend who is a minister at a universalist unitarian church. Seems very similar – they are non-demoninational and you don’t hear anything about god or jesus or the easter bunny. personally, before I went to their church (in my role as a professional musician) I had only been in churches for NA/AA meetings back in the early 1990′s in San Francisco. Honestly, churches kinda creep me out .. but these people were easy going and laid back, not all preachy and such.

    • Joseph E. Laferriere

      I have been an enthusiastic UU over 30 years. We are not “non-denominational” at all. We are a recognized religious denomination, a fusion of two honored religious traditions, each with a long and proud history going back centuries. Each congregation is different. Some are very Christian, others not at all. We do indeed have a set of principles that we share, a bit different from other denominations but still things that we strongly believe in. One is respect for the viewpoints of others, the idea that each of us has the right and the power to follow whatever path we decide is best for us. So there are Christians and Jews and atheists and pagans and Buddhists and all sorts of other peoples at a UU church, all united by the principles of love and mutual respect

      • Christa Hillhouse

        I understand non-denominational” to mean not restricted to any particular religious denomination” in that all religions (or lack thereof) are welcome. I do not pretend to know anything else about it, it just seemed like a place where people who like the idea of a spiritual community and/or “church like” setting would feel comfortable. What’s your point?

  • Danquenton

    I find it amazing that we humans are so insecure that we have to create a God that “Loves us no matter what.” if we accept the fact that we are here for a short period of time and work to make our lives better and those of others hopefully we can make this place a better place instead of hoping for a “heaven.”

  • J__o__h__n

    The best part of being an atheist is getting to sleep late on Sunday.

  • Charles F. Radley

    The “universalist unitarian church” is a religion, the Sunday Assembly is not. The word “church” suggests that those attending do believe in something, which excludes Atheists. The Sunday Assembly does not assume anything about belief, so Atheists are at home as well as believers of various faiths.

  • Dawn Felsing

    Unitarian Universalists do not require “belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power” Atheists, Humanists, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and anyone else who wants to, is welcome to join a UU congregation. The only thing we try to agree on are the seven principles:
    1st Principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
    2nd Principle: Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
    3rd Principle: Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
    4th Principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
    5th Principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
    6th Principle: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
    7th Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

  • Ed E Scot

    How is this different from the Ethical Culture movement that has existed in the USA for decades? Or for that matter the American Humanist Association?

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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