It’s been called an atheist church, but the Sunday Assembly is only that in part. It’s part atheist church, part foot stomping show but 100% celebration of life! So says Sanderson Jones the comedian at the heart of the assembly which runs on the first Sunday of every month. The motto for the Sunday Assembly is ‘live better, help often and wonder more’. “Who can disagree with that” says Jones.
The recent star of the Gumtree adverts, Jones describes himself as looking like a “shipwrecked Bee Gee”. He has an imposing presence, a fine beard and long hair which goes some way to explaining the self-depreciating pun. He is an atheist of course and describes the fact that he does not believe in God as being a “hugely positive, powerful force” in his life.
The assembly format wouldn’t be too dis-similar to those people used to a more traditional church service. There are songs, sermons and readings. There’s a collection, a moment of silence and a part where everyone shakes hands. Sanderson says that it was a Christmas Carol service that was one of the inspirations behind setting up the assembly. The only thing he didn’t like was “the religious part”. And singing sure is important. ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, ‘Run Rabbit Run’ and ‘Always look on the Bright Side of Life’ were all belted out with gusto when I was there.
So far the format is proving to be a success, initially meeting at a deconsecrated church in Islington it was the perfect location but just too small, we were “turning people away” says Jones. I saw this for myself, two packed congregations with barely standing room available. No surprise that on the website now it looks like the assembly has moved to a new presumably bigger venue in Holborn.
Jones has a very particular view on life which is quite pragmatic “undoubtedly it’s very difficult at times” he says. “But we could all do with reminding that ultimately it is a total blessing”. He lost his mother when he was 10. Instead of thinking about how his life had been robbed, he begun to think about how great it was that he knew her at all. “I was loved for 10 whole years” he says “really loved”. “If you start looking at the things you have instead of the things you don’t, then you will see that you are richer than most every king that ever existed”.
He says that atheists shouldn’t be scared of using the word spiritual either or ‘transcendence’ or ‘soul’ “these are all human words” he says. It should be spiritual “this is for the part of you which is human, the part of you which is consciousness.” The Assembly is about celebrating life “When it all ends” says Jones “you don’t want to get to the last 10 minutes and go oh no this was wonderful. Let’s start thinking about that. The more you think about it, the better it gets.”
The Sunday Assembly was created by Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. It is currently being held on the first Sunday of every month at the Conway Hall on Red Lion Square in Holborn. The website can be found here and is worth checking out to find out all the latest details.
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