I first heard of the SundayAssembly earlier this year when Alom Shaha wrote in New Humanist about his experiences of going to a Godless Congregation. My initial response wasn’t particularly positive but as outlined in my blog at the time…it did make me think. It also made me promise that if I were ever in London on a Sunday I would attend an Assembly.
However the Assembly got popular, went international with branches across the world - including Nottingham. The first Nottingham meeting took place last Thursday night, it was only 10 mins walk from where I live, so considering this and my promise to go.. and despite my continuing reservations…I kind of had to go…
My reservations were based on what I remember of church and my fears of a godless version keeping the tedium while adding a toe-curling “fun” element. I had the distinct feeling that it just wasn’t for me. I didn’t possess either the yearning for community or the twee earnestness that seems to have washed over the Guardian reading end of hipster-dom.
A couple of days after attending the service and I could easily reflect where my reservations were correct. Ironic Retro Glasses with headband? Check. Ukulele Band? Check. Grinning Enthusiasm of a Butlins Yellow coat? Check! That Elbow song that everyone mysteriously loses their shit over? Check!
I could even mention that there is nothing funnier than a middle aged Dutch Maths Lecturer sarcastically begging for the “fun” to stop during an interactive clapping game.(Yes, I said interactive clapping game). Please adopt a comedy Sean Connery/Martin Jol accent while you imagine this. “Schtopp itsch too mutch funsz Pleezch! Schtopp!”.
But to do only that would be unfair. It would only describe how my negative expectations were met, which would be dull. The best aspects of the assembly were those that were most relaxed, natural and about the people there. I’d never considered reading AC Grayling’s Secular Bible but the reading from its version of Genesis was simple and beautiful.
Through making what was a simple decision for me, they had lost their friends and so had come to the assembly to meet new ones.
As a confident, outgoing middle class white man; socialising, meeting new people and having a generally positive experience in life is pretty easy. Meeting in the slightly contrived circumstances of a (bit too happy-clappy if I’m honest) service was always going to get in the way of how I already enjoy meeting new people. However, many people are a little introverted or have moved to a new town and don’t know where to start or have made a monumental decision to leave an entire culture and certainty behind them. And I think it is for these people that the assembly can be really positive and useful and dare I say it…Fun.