This May Be the First Atheist Megachurch

Last we heard from the London-based Sunday Assembly (a.k.a. Atheist Church), they were being evicted from their home:

Unfortunately, they may have to find permanent space sooner than they expected. Trustees from the Steiner School (housed in the same church) have kicked them out of the building. While the trustees cited safety reasons (too many people in the building), Jones contends there’s a less benevolent reason for the eviction. He said that some of the trustees found The Sunday Assembly to be “antithetical to their own ethos.” You can decide for yourself whether it was the living better, helping often, or wondering more that upset them the most.

In fact, The Sunday Assembly has complied with all safety regulations, including turning people away at the door if the crowds were getting too large.

There’s some good news on this front, though: This June, the Sunday Assembly will begin holding services at the 1,200 seat York Hall in Bethnal Green:

York Hall… preparing for a boxing match.

Not only that, five permanent monthly assemblies will also be starting up in other cities:

… the first [is] opening in Exeter on Sunday June 16th, followed by one in Melbourne on June 30th and Bristol on July 14th. Assemblies in Southend-on-Sea, and Brighton [will] follow.

Sanderson Jones, one of the Assembly’s co-founders, will also be visiting the U.S. this fall to scope out possible venues and organizers for assemblies over here.

Sunday Assembly co-founders Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans

Not bad for a group that’s only six months old!

I asked Sanderson what this growth meant for him and what the future of the Sunday Assembly looked like:

We are totally over-the-moon about moving to York Hall but the aim of the Sunday Assembly remains the same no matter where what building it is in. We’re here for people who want to live better, help often and wonder more. We meet because we’re stronger together than on our own. Our aim: to help everyone find and fulfill their potential.

This new venue is pretty big, but with 400 or so attendees coming regularly to our previous Assemblies, we felt it’d certainly do for now, and give us some space to grow. Heck, it is just super that lots of people out there want to celebrate the privilege of being alive this one time. Lots of people out there want to be part of a community, want to sing together, want to hear inspiring talks together, want to help other people, and, sometimes, need a little help.

I’m constantly humbled by this outrageous support, and feel honoured to be part of it. I mean, after less than six months there are already over 100 volunteers at The Sunday Assembly in London! Imagine what can be achieved if we’re able to unleash that sort of reaction across the UK? Or across the US?

The one problem with all this support is that it is creating a lot of work (I still work as a stand up and actor to pay the bills), but it is the best, most gratifying sort of work. The next big project is to put together the crowdfunding roadshow that we have planned for the Fall (as you say on your side of the puddle). That will help get us on a solid financial footing, and then we can help as many people as possible start their own joyous life-affirming, soul-enhancing gatherings.

Now, I read your last post and where you said some folk think us a bit “religion-y,” and I’ve decided to take that as a compliment. We like to think we’ve got the best parts of religion, coupled them with evidence based reasoning, and repurposed the lot for the 21st century. In the secular, agnostic and atheist movement we can spend a lot of time seeing the things we disagree with religion about, without seeing the amazing amount of good it can do in people’s lives (“Perceived good,” I hear people tutting).

Look, religious people aren’t stupid. They clearly get a lot out of church. They go there for a reason. In return, churches do a fantastic job of unlocking social capital that would otherwise go unspent, of making connections that help people get the most out of life, as well as helping them cope with the problems that afflict us all. After all, it’s a privilege to be alive but sometimes it’s tough.

Brilliantly, there’s a growing army of Assemblers who can also see the positive side to congregating together to celebrate this one life we have, and the values we hold dear. I’ll be going to meet some of these folk in Los Angeles (June 21st-23rd), San Francisco (23rd-25th), Seattle (26th-27th), Chicago (27th-29th) and New York (29th-30th). Tell your readers to drop me a line here if they’d like to meet up.

The trip will topped off with a Sunday Assembly in New York on June 30th — the first Assembly in the US. Wow, it seems crazy to see that written down. Argh! It gets better, I just checked the Sunday Assembly New York Google Group and Michael Trollan, one of the local organisers who I have never met before, has put up $250 to get cover the hire costs of the first Assembly. How cool is that? And how kind? Many small steps like that will lead to really wonderful places.

For what it’s worth, when I called the Assembly “religion-y,” it was in reference to how other atheists were viewing it. I’m a fan and I’d like to see this idea spread.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.