Sometime in October...
Friend: Blah blah blah - Oh! - Wanna go to atheist church with me on Nov 10th?
That's how I committed to the first church experience I've had, excluding weddings and funerals, in 8 years. My friend went on...
Friend: It's not like an angry anti-religion kind thing, it's about celebrating humanity in a godless gathering. Their motto is live better, help often, wonder more.
I'll admit to being a little regretful come Saturday night. Ahhh dammit, why did I agree to go to church in the morning? Church!? What's the matter with me! AND DURING FOOTBALL SEASON!?
But alas, I kept to the plan. The next morning, my friend arrived in time for us to grab good seats at the nondescript hall hosting the service. Several hundred attendees were expected, so the good seats were key. If nothing else, I'm sitting, and I'm comfortable.
I'm not sure what I thought I was getting myself into. Actually, it thinking back on it, it doesn't seem like I put much thought into it at all. Well, maybe that was for the best.
From the volunteers welcoming us out front, to the opening song, to the welcoming talk, to the group game, to the presentations, to the silent reflection, to the community call-to-action, to the closing tea and snacks - all throughout the first ever Sunday Assemble, Los Angeles, there was an overwhelming abundance of something not typically associated with atheists: joy.
I spent 4 years at all-boys Catholic high school, at times attending daily service. I was a Eucharistic minister, a prayer group leader, VP of a Catholic League chapter, I even considered joining the Marianist Brotherhood for a brief period of time (kudos to Mom for debunking that). Point being, I've spent a lot of time in Sunday services, but it wasn't until attending Sunday Assembly LA that I've experienced that level of joy in, well, church.
It came as no surprise but with great delight to learn that the group's founders, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, are comedians. The unique opportunity the comic has to discuss any myriad of "difficult" topics through the palette-pleasing vehicle of comedy is something I've appreciated since first discovering George Carlin.
It was weeks before my Confirmation (for the non-catholics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation) when I first saw this. I was floored. It took me about several years before I was comfortable enough in my skin to own what I truly believed to be true, but it all started with an intellect using humor to spread messages (foreshadowing: Stop The Bleeding!).
No different was the heart of the gathering last Sunday. The songs and sharings were wonderful, but it was Sanderson weaving comedy in and out of sharing his belief in the power of humanity and his love for celebrating the gift of life that grounded the experience for me. It was the why we are here that is typically a role played by God.
At it's heart, the gathering was of humanists - bonding and celebrating over the incredible experience of being alive. It was not an angry gathering filled with vitriolic slams at God and religion. In fact, Jones even took a moment to clarify that believers were more than welcome, as the gathering was not anti-God, but rather, without God.
Of course, not everyone left the experience feeling the same, but for me, there is something that Jones said that articulates why I find value in Sunday Assembly.
“There was so much about it that I loved [about church], but it's a shame because at the heart of it, it's something I don't believe in. If you think about church, there's very little that's bad. It's singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”
I appreciate that there is now a global movement focused on creating congregations of thoughtful, community-oriented humanists who can unite in celebration of being alive and being available for one another without the crippling burden of carrying religion and God along for the ride.
To learn more about Sunday Assembly, check out their entertaining and informative crowd-source plea video.