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Assemble! Conference Recap By Teodora Petranova

By Teodora Petranova, Sunday Assembly Oxford.

London’s done it again! Not only has it given the world the newest form of positive group therapy, but now it has summoned the First Ever Sunday Assembly Conference of Wonder! And Oxford supported the buzz by sending an utterly international delegation: Jane is Chinese, Aska is Polish, and I am Bulgarian, but we give the local chap Sam the chance to represent our group – and he not only leads a sterling workshop on Pastoral care in the Sunday assembly, but also casts the vote on behalf of the Oxford congregation during the Annual General meeting which elected the Board and dealt with the other serious bits of running the movement.

The brightest sparks though are to be found in the talks and conversations flowing one after the other on this Saturday, 5th May: a guy searching for Utopia in various quirky communes around the world, just to find out that the ’real’ stuff is at home in Brighton: take a chair outside your front door, find some people to chat with from the neighborhood, and you’re living the dream, man! Later on the same day: an amazing woman sharing the story of her 366 days of kindness, which might not have changed the whole wide world (yet!), but have definitely brought some sunshine to random people’s lives. I’m not even waiting to get one of her balloons with a cute message – I’ve started my own chain of tiny positive gestures: works even on a grumpy husband, proven!

And in between: a workshop on Atheism and the Sunday Assembly (honestly, wouldn’t theism stop following us at least here? tired even of the term at this point!), lovely lunch graciously hosted by Pippa’s  team of over-educated volunteers, heartily appreciated by apprentices from several European countries, hoping to start their assemblies soon, and giggling Americans – most of them with several assemblies under their towns’ belts  (Landry from Nashville gets the top prize for hair with his Rasta locks, while Sanderson dominates in the height department). Sanderson, of course, has a Magic Formula – but can’t wait to share it with everybody during his talk on the Social Impact of the Sunday Assembly, together with some amazing stats about its history and its future. “2015 in 2015” – honestly, people, this is the best of plans! Or at least – the shortest, although to have 2015 assemblies that soon seems a tall order! (Did I just come up with another pun – or what?!)

In the evening we add a new category:  the smallest – that is, stage, in the stand-up-comedy world.  It’s magic indeed that people with endless limbs like Pippa and Sanderson can not only fit on it, but even perform to a room packed triple its capacity. But you can see how comedy was always going to be too small for these two – and why they needed a larger platform for their best gig yet:  SA, everybody!

Then suddenly – Death. That’s already on the Sunday, 6th May. Packed in the Sunday Assembly wrapping, though, even Death is just a life-affirming ‘thing’, and talking about it is just a bit of therapy – with songs, poems, reflections, and of course few tears, real but somehow fitting in the smiley framework.  The choir and the orchestra are out of this world, and the congregation is following gratefully in the same direction. Finally I get my revelation: the lyrics of Monty Python’s song “Always look on the bright side of life” are alternating between “bright” and ”right”! I find that seriously meaningful – but hey, that’s what it means to take part in a Conference of Wonder, I suppose, and the fact that I’m singing those lyrics at the top of my voice, surrounded by people I haven’t met before, is in equal measure cleansing and nurturing, hilarious and beautiful.

by stuart stevenson
by stuart stevenson

Can’t wait to go home now, and to share with my Oxford congregation the amazing story of this Sunday Assembly gathering. Because if there is something better that a nice story – this can only be sharing it with the people you want to bring some sunshine to. The nearest and dearest – friends, family, community… I’m beginning to wonder: is Sunday related to sunshine?