Atheist “Sunday Assembly” Face Challenges Amidst Pandemic

In 2013, two British comedians "wanted to do something that was like church but totally secular." Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans were on their way to a gig when they discussed the idea. On January 6, 2013, the first-ever meeting of the Sunday Assembly took place in The Nave, a pub in the boroughs of London. The Sunday Assembly has since spread all over, mainly in the UK and in the US.

There were about 70 independent congregations. Ever since the pandemic hit, more than half have gone dormant or completely closed.

During an interview with Religion News, Steve Phelps asked, "can you build a sustainable community that offers all the social benefits of a church but without God?" Phelps, a former Baptist music director, and his wife abandoned religion and the belief in a god, but they still both believe in helping and tithing.

Phelps is a board member of the Nashville Sunday Assembly; they gather every month to do familiar church activities, singing, sharing testimonies; they even have a secularized version of a sermon.

But the answer to Phelp's question is not clear and made more obscure because of the pandemic.

Ross Llewellyn, president of Atlanta's Sunday Assembly, recognizes that many things need to be done. They needed to raise money, set up events, look for a venue for the events, organize groups, and do other administrative tasks. All of these tasks became more difficult when the pandemic came. Llewellyn believes that it's worth his effort.

Llewellyn is also a board member of Sunday Assembly America, which branched out from Sunday Assembly International in 2019. They are currently working on their mission statement and establishing a governance structure. Llewellyn is also helping out Las Vegas' Sunday Assembly helping the group organize themselves and their activities.

Ben Zeller, a professor of religion at Lake Forest College in Chicago, said that new religious groups face the same challenge as the Sunday Assembly. Zeller further explained that it is easier for religious people to start because of the sense of urgency built into their group. "It's easier to organize if you think your founder is the messiah," Zeller said.

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