Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans are comedians, but their new project, Sunday Assembly, isn't a joke. It's also not a joke when Evans describes it as "all the best bits of church, but with no religion and awesome pop songs," or when Jones says its goal is to to "bring human potential to dizzying new heights."
It is, for lack of a better phrase, an atheist church, a regular gathering of like-minded people seeking fellowship and fulfillment, and nonbelievers worldwide are taking it quite seriously. Since starting the first one in London this past January, Jones and Evans have embarked upon a world tour, planting churches in Europe, Australia, and North America.
At noon on Sunday, Jones will launch the movement in Dallas. Zachary Moore, the recent head of the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, says organizers are trying to find a venue, since their initial spot, the Free Man pub in Deep Ellum, is too small to accommodate the 150 people who have signed up to attend.
Hardly the makings of an "athiest megachurch," as the Sunday assembly has been described, but proof that there's a decent-sized market out there.
That probably shouldn't be surprising, given a long-term rise in nonbelievers. A recent Pew survey found that a fifth of the U.S. population, and a third of those under 30, claim no religious affiliation.
Part of what will be determined on Sunday, Moore says, is where the Sunday Assembly can fit into the local atheist scene. Dallas already has two main atheist groups, the Fellowship of Freethought and the North Texas Church of Freethought, but the Sunday Assembly isn't quite like either of them.
It has "all the trappings of church," like meaningful human interaction and music, but "without the talking animals and the guys in robes telling you what to do," Moore says.
Sunday's event will just be a starting point. The idea is that Jones will come and recruit volunteers to lead the local Sunday Assembly. If Jones is successful, and if there are enough people comfortable with the paradoxical nature of an atheist church, it will become a regular thing.
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Event details can be found here. Jones and Evans' fundraising video is below. It may or may not answer your questions.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.