While Christians and Jews have been assembling in houses of worship during weekends, enjoying the benefits of coffee and donut socials, fundraising bazaars, and church picnics, atheists apparently have felt left out. But, not any more because fresh from the U.K. is “atheist church,” or “Sunday Assembly.”
With a theme of “live better, help often, wonder more,” the Sunday Assembly is introducing its “crowd-sourcing campaign,” from October 20 through December 15, with more than 30 new groups, in Britain, Canada, Australia, and the United States. Meetings will be held in restaurants, community centers, and shopping malls.
According to Good Morning America/Yahoo.com, Sanderson Jones, co-founder of Sunday Assembly and a stand-up comedian, said, “We wanted to do something like a church for people who don’t believe in God. Life is such a wonderful thing to have been given–and frankly, it’s as transcendent as any one god.”
Jones, who leads many of the “services” with his friend and co-leader Pippa Evans, another stand-up comedian, said he was raised in a religious British family in which he suffered the death of his mother when he was 10 years old, an event he described as “cataclysmic” and “catastrophic.”
Though he loved the rituals of his family’s Christian church, Jones said he could not understand why God would allow cancer to take his mother, a Sunday school teacher with five children–at the age of 42.
Jones explained that his association of faith in God was with his mother’s death and not the love he experienced from her.
“Losing faith meant that she had to die twice,” said Jones, 32, who lives in London. “Once when she went to heaven and then when I realized heaven didn’t exist. It meant I had to work out a way to understand life and for me, it was realizing that instead of being angry that she was taken away so soon, I became overjoyed that I had ever been loved by her at all.”
A recent assembly in the English seaside town of Brighton saw 240 atheists show up for what has all the outward signs of a “church” service, including speakers giving sermons, readings, and singing.
“We talk about developing an attitude of gratitude,” Jones said. “It’s catchy, isn’t it?”
Tired of the meetings held by Unitarians and Humanists, Jones asked, “Why on earth aren’t people clapping and dancing around and jumping up and down at those gatherings?”
In the U.S., Jones admitted that “church” has “certain bad associations,” but believes the idea of an organized atheist “church” is catching on.
In Los Angeles, for example, more than 400 atheists have already signed up to attend a Sunday Assembly on Nov. 10.
Similarly, more than 130 atheists met in June in New York City at an Irish pub.
Atheist groups are also forming in Chicago, Washington D.C., San Diego, San Francisco, Atlanta, Nashville, Phoenix, and other U.S. cities.
The Sunday Assembly will soon be offering “church-like” rituals for life’s big events–marriages, births, and deaths–all without any mention of God.
“It’s a shame conventional funerals aren’t celebratory enough,” Jones said.
“People who go to church are healthier, wealthier, live longer, and are happier,” he said. “One of the best things about church is that it is a safe place for everyone and appeals to people with families as well.”