The entire global Sunday Assembly movement started with two people having a conversation in a car.
Pippa Evans and I were on the way to our comedy gig in Bath, England, when we discovered we both wanted to do something that was like church but totally secular and inclusive of all—no matter what they believed.
We started with 180 people in London in January 2013. By the end of the year, we were up to 350 people meeting twice a month. Our motto then and now—“Live Better, Help Often, and Wonder More”—has stayed right at the heart of things.
Soon after our first go in London, people all over the world were asking to start their own Sunday Assembly chapters. Now there are over 70 chapters in eight countries where people sing songs, hear inspiring talks, and create community together.
Everything we have ever done in Sunday Assembly is down to one thing: We are incredibly grateful to be alive humans. Life is short, it is brilliant, it is sometimes tough, so we build communities that help everyone live life as fully as possible.
We are obsessed with trying to help you—yes, YOU!—live your life as fully as possible.
But not just you. Not even just everyone who is in the room at a Sunday Assembly gathering. We want to build that joyful world where everyone—young and old, families and singles, poor and rich, north and south, up and down—lives life as fully as possible. In addition to celebrating life at our meetings, we’re volunteering in our communities and supporting each other in times of need. We’re even designing life courses modeled on the evidence-based work of positive psychology.
Why are we doing this? Because the problems we are facing are very bloody real.
This is where I get serious.
One in ten people in the United Kingdom have no friends or family, meaning we have ten percent of the population with zero social support. The numbers are not much different throughout the developed world. Helping these people would be transformative—not only personally for them, but in our increasingly atomized, individualistic, isolated culture, it would be transformative at a societal level. That’s why:
We want to work with ex-offenders and in schools.
We want to let the socially isolated know there is a space for them.
We want to visit those who are too ill to leave their houses.
We want to tell an alternative story about the world that might make extremist radicalization just that bit harder.
We want to be the best in the world at creating joyful, meaningful lives.
We want to provide hundreds of activities and small groups.
We want our community to vibrate with excitement.
We want to give everyone their right to community.
Why are we confident that we can make a difference? Not just because we’ve done so well so far. It’s also because we are basing our work on an excellent model. The congregational community—pioneered by mosques, synagogues, churches, temples, and so many more—is one of the most effective ways of building communities that change people, transform towns, and spawn movement.
Learning from religions has been effective in the past: In 1976, a guy called Jon Kabat-Zinn thought that using vipassana meditation could help patients who were suffering from pain in his hospital. He was a doctor and an excellent Buddhist practitioner. He knew he couldn’t make them become Buddhists, so he found another way to teach them. He:
Made it secular—so it is not tied to a religion
Made it inclusive—so anyone of any belief could do it
Measured its social impact—creating an evidence base for it
Thus, he created mindfulness, which you can now find in the National Health Service, boardrooms, your smartphones, and a ton of other places.
We are now looking at congregations and want to do the same thing:
Make it secular—so it is not tied to a religion.
Make it inclusive—so anyone of any belief could do it.
Add pop songs (because singing “Livin’ on a Prayer” is good for the soul).
Do you and your friends and family want to be part of this adventure? Do you want to live in this vision? Does this sound like the joyful, secular community celebration of life you’ve wanted your kids to be part of?
We hope the answer is yes, because we need you.
The congregational community model is built around creating connections that unleash the human being’s inner desire to help. Taking people out of the fight-or-flight mode helps to promote kindness, altruism, and compassion. All of these systems are built around human commitment to that ideal.
And going for it has been the most glorious experiment that we could possibly have done.
SANDERSON JONES is a British stand-up comedian and cofounder of Sunday Assembly. Learn more about Sunday Assembly and find a meeting near you at https://www.sundayassembly.com/.
Zuckerman, Phil. Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions. Penguin, 2015. In the past decade, Dr. Phil Zuckerman has done more than anyone to illuminate the secular life as it is lived today. The insights from his fieldwork and research are captured with brilliant clarity in Living the Secular Life. Highly recommended for teens and adults.
Ozment, Katherine. Grace Without God. HarperWave, 2016. There’s nothing like putting yourself in the hands of a writer who rewards that decision on every page. Katherine Ozment is such a writer, and Grace Without God is just that good. An engagingly personal exploration of parenting without religion that’s clear and honest, thoughtful and deeply felt, and a brilliant addition to the growing chorus of voices in nonreligious parenting.
Grayling, A. C. The Good Book: A Humanist Bible. Walker Books, 2011. British atheist philosopher A. C. Grayling had an arresting thought: How would world history have been different if the writers of the Bible used Greek and Roman philosophy instead of local religions as their sources? But they didn’t, so Grayling did. The result is The Good Book: A Humanist Bible. Grayling didn’t mean for his humanist bible to shove the Bible bible aside. He wanted to create a secular contribution to the age-old conversation humanity has with itself about the good. So he did what the creators of the Bible did: selected texts from a number of different sources, then edited them, wove them together, and added a bit of his own thoughts to make it flow.
But here’s the twist: It’s not just a collection of excerpts, an approach that’s been done a thousand times before. Instead, Grayling put everything into a kind of biblical structure, with chapters and verses, allowing the reader to really imagine that the original may have turned out very differently with different sources. If you know Plato and Aristotle, you’ll see their ideas pop up in this or that verse, but without citation. It’s a completely different way of experiencing their work, and you get the same kind of narrative flow you get from scriptures. Adults and advanced teens.
Seid, Judith. God-Optional Judaism: Alternatives for Cultural Jews Who Love Their History, Heritage, and Community. Citadel, 2001. An excellent introduction to secular Judaism for those who wish to remain connected to traditions and history of Judaism but do not believe in God.
Dant, Jennifer. Unitarian Universalism Is a Really Long Name. Skinner House, 2006. Introduction to the UU denomination for ages five through nine, including answers to questions like, “Do We Pray?” and “What Do We Believe?”
Boulton, David, ed. Godless for God’s Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism. Dale’s Historical Monographs, 2006. An anthology of writings by twenty-seven nontheistic Quakers in four countries.
Sunday Assembly. The world’s greatest experiment in joyful human community without religion. https://www.sundayassembly.com/.
• Greater Good www.greatergood.berkeley.edu/family_couples. An inexhaustibly brilliant multicontributor blog of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. Focus is on moral and intellectual development, meaning, and purpose, all in the context of science.
• Grounded Parents www.groundedparents.com/. Not just a great blog—a whole busy and smart network of 30 great bloggers writing about nonreligious parenting and everything remotely related to it.
• Godless Mom www.godlessmom.com/. An intelligent, fun take on nonreligious parenting from a mom who’s been there and knows how to tell the story.
• Natural Wonderers www.patheos.com/blogs/naturalwonderers/. A smart and irreverent blog by Wendy Thomas Russell, one of the great rising voices in nonreligious parenting.
• Relax, It’s Just God by Wendy Thomas Russell (Los Angeles: Brown Paper Press, 2015). The smart, irreverent companion book to Wendy’s blog.
• Growing Up Godless: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids Without Religion by Deborah Mitchell (New York: Sterling Ethos, 2014). One of the best of the newer voices in nonreligious parenting.
• Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan, Molleen Matsumura, Amanda Metskas, and Jan Devor (AMACOM, 2009). The practical companion to the book you’re holding, built around 100 questions and answers, along with resources and activities.