Church for atheists?

Vicky Beeching experiences a “godless church” for the first time.


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It’s a Sunday morning and people are arriving ready to sing. During the next hour and a half, they’ll join in with familiar songs, listen to a short talk and put money into the collection plate. They’ll close their eyes and bow their heads in silent reflection, and will hear testimonies from people who’ve had their lives changed by belonging to this movement.
 

All of this sounds very familiar to me; like something I’ve done almost every Sunday since I was a born: going to church. But this gathering, for all its similarities, is very different. Why? Because none of the people attending believe in God.

 

In fact, they are uniting around the polar opposite: their lack of religion. For that reason, this rapidly growing movement (officially called the Sunday Assembly) has been nicknamed “Atheist Church”.

 

I went along with great curiosity. Walking through the doors of Conway Hall, a Grade II listed building in central London, the venue buzzed with activity. Greeters welcomed my friend Leena and I, energetically high-fiving us as we walked in and handing us an information leaflet. “Is this your first visit?” they asked with a smile.

 

It was five minutes until the advertised start-time of 11am and the main auditorium was already full to capacity. I was impressed that people had not only shown up, but had shown up early – unlike most churches, where late-comers often drift in during the first hymn.

 

The greeters apologised that all the downstairs seats were taken, but assured us we could sit upstairs in the balcony. Conway Hall seats 300 people downstairs and 180 upstairs. It’s an impressive turnout when you think everyone could’ve been at home having a much-needed Sunday morning lie-in.

 

A man who, funnily enough, looked a lot like Jesus (long brown hair and beard, plus hipster glasses) led the meeting. He was the cofounder of the movement, Sanderson Jones, and emceed the morning as any priest or pastor would lead a worship service.

 

A stand-up comedian by profession, Sanderson was a total delight. Brimming with enthusiasm, he spoke about his vision for people to look after each other more intentionally; to create meaningful community in our fragmented digital society.

 

Read the rest of Vicky's column in the May issue of DIVA, out now at the links below.

 

divadirect.co.uk  // divasub.co.uk //  divadigital.co.uk

 

 

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