By Valerie Tarico
On the last Sunday in September, fifty or so people trickled into an old classroom in North Seattle. Classic rock played in the background, and greeters pointed parents to a table at the back where young children could entertain themselves with art materials. They were there for the launch of Sunday Assembly Seattle, an experimental church community without gods, sacred texts or dogmas. The launch was timed to coincide with similar events in fifteen other cities across the U.S. including Charlotte, Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Phoenix, and more.
Sunday Assembly Seattle is a franchise of Sunday Assembly, which made headlines around the world in 2013 as London’s new atheist church. Organizers protest that they aren’t exactly an atheist church, but rather seek to be “radically inclusive.” A 10 point charter clarifies that Sunday Assembly “has no deity; we don’t do supernatural but we also won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do.” The group’s symbol is a triangle bordered by three short sentences: Live better. Help Often. Wonder More.
The Seattle service lasted less than an hour, including singing (“Lean on Me”, “Yellow Submarine”) and a short homily by Korin Leman, leader of Portland’s assembly, which kicked off earlier in the year. Leman talked about feeling alone after leaving Christianity until her serendipitous discovery of the Portland group. “Research tells us that happiness relates to three factors,” she said. “Gratitude, purpose, and community.” She encouraged her audience to dive in, calling the start-up phase of the Portland assembly one of the hardest and most rewarding times of her life.
The fledgling Sunday Assemblies are part of a broad movement among nontheists who are exploring how to recreate some of the best in religion, but without the supernaturalism.
Former minister Teresa MacBain helps nontheists build church-like communities that weave together the kinds of social support and rituals that appeal to many religious adherents. She says that Sunday Assembly is just one possible form this can take. In this interview MacBain discusses her work and how the secular church movement is taking shape.
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