You’ve heard about Sunday Assembly and think it sounds kind of interesting. But of course you have some questions. We all have questions. Like what to call a group of pugs? Answer: a grumble!

About Sunday Assembly

What is Sunday Assembly?

Sunday Assembly is a secular community that meet regularly to celebrate life. Our motto is “Live Better, Help Often and Wonder More” and our mission is to help everyone live life as fully as possible.

How did Sunday Assembly start?

Two comedians, Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones were on their way to a gig in a car (VW Polo, if you like detail) when they started talking about the idea of a church without God. Pippa had been a Christian and found, when she stopped believing, she missed church (community, volunteering, music) rather than God and Sanderson had noticed the joy at Christmas created by carol concerts and wondered if it was possible to harness all those good bits to celebrate the awesome fact that we are alive.

And so they decided if they had both thought of it, probably more people had thought of it, so they should just get on and do it. In Jan 2013 they did just that. Over 200 people turned up to the first event and since then more turn up every fortnight in London. They haven’t looked back, with 70 Assemblies across the globe to date.

What happens at a Sunday Assembly?

A Sunday Assembly service consists of songs (pop songs mainly) sung by the congregation, a reading (usually a poet), an interesting talk (that fits into live better, help often or wonder more), a moment of reflection and an address, which sums up the day and hopefully gives a take home message. Afterwards we have tea and cake (well, in Britain anyway!) to encourage people to stay and mingle with one another. Outside of the event we organise small groups (Smoups), and other social activities such as book clubs and choir, peer-to-peer support and local volunteering.

Who are Sanderson and Pippa?

Sanderson and Pippa are the two founders of Sunday Assembly. They are comedians (although Sanderson now works on Sunday Assembly full time. Pippa still needs her regular dose of applause from strangers) who discussed the idea on the way to a gig.

Why do you use the phrase Atheist Church?

The phrase “atheist church” was something we used when starting out. It seemed like a good shorthand phrase to explain what it is (and definitely helped us get press attention which has been vital in getting Sunday Assembly off the ground). However, we focus not on Atheism but on celebrating life. We actively discourage the use of ‘atheist church’ as a way to describe the Sunday Assembly.

Is Sunday Assembly exclusively for atheists?

Absolutely not. We say in the Charter that we don’t do supernatural but we won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do. One of the unique things about Sunday Assembly is that it is radically inclusive—allowing us to celebrate life together, regardless of what we believe in. We have people from all walks of life as part of our community- whatever your background, race, faith or age you are welcome.

Is Sunday Assembly right for me?

Only you can answer this question. Are you keen to celebrate life? Do you enjoy meeting new people? Do you wish there was a community of like-minded people meeting simply to share the pleasure of being alive? Then yes!

Are you keen to find a way to spread your theory on why religion is evil? Want to tell the world why you are right about everything and everyone else is wrong? Then probably, Sunday Assembly is not for you.

Would we be allowed to be anti-theist?

There are so many exciting things about life. Stars, chocolate cake, love, dreams, tunnels, Greek mythology etc. Sunday Assembly is about finding these things that we can all share. Basically, we prefer to talk about the things that we do believe in, rather than the things we don’t, and by being anti-theist you exclude a lot of potential attendees who don’t identify as atheists. Lots of explicitly atheist events exist. This is the event that your religious grandma should come to and see that atheism isn’t just about not believing in God (and they certainly don’t eat babies!).

Can we use Sunday Assembly as a vehicle for discussing or presenting atheist/humanist/godless philosophy?

Ask yourself why you want to do that. Is it something you could do somewhere else? Will it alienate people? Is the speaker simply presenting some different philosophies or are they trying to explain why they are right and other people are wrong? Again, we really feel there is so much to celebrate in life and a ten minute talk about mindfulness or how you can use a potato to power your house is far more in the keeping of Sunday Assembly than ten minutes of atheist theory.

Can it be a campaigning group?

Absolutely not. Sunday Assembly is not political.

What happened in New York?

New York was a real learning experience for us! Within their team they had a difference of opinion about what they wanted Sunday Assembly to be. Some people wanted a celebration of atheism and the others wanted a celebration of life. The latter is what Sunday Assembly is and so the group divided. The remaining team still run SA NYC and those that wanted to celebrate Atheism now run the Godless Revival, which is more in tune with what they wanted to do (they describe themselves as a ‘monthly atheist variety show’ – which is not us at all).

So despite it being a sticky and slightly ugly process, now everyone has what they wanted. And that is super great! This can only happen to you if you are not clear on what a Sunday Assembly is. We recommend you go through the Charter as a group and talk about what each point means.

Organising a Sunday Assembly

I’m interested in starting up a new Sunday Assembly Chapter. How can I do that?

As of 2016, new Sunday Assembly Chapters are started in one of two ways. Firstly, we’re working with Housing Associations, local councils and other funders to seed the launch of Sunday Assembly in local towns. These chapters are part-time staffed in order to engage more volunteer leaders and offer professional training to give the volunteers the best start possible. We have been able to demonstrate Sunday Assembly’s awesome potential to create resilient communities and so funders are investing in us as a wellbeing solution. Which is ace!

The second way is through a volunteer team, which we explain next up!

How do I start up as part of a volunteer team?

The second way of starting up is through gathering together a group of committed folks on the ground in your town, and working together to launch a new Sunday Assembly chapter. Once you have a group of at least 10 organisers, you then sign up for the Sunday Assembly Start-Up Training. This is an 8 session online training programme which every new chapter has to attend ahead of launching a new chapter. At least 5 members from your chapter must attend. Once you have completed the training, there’s a bit of paperwork before you’re ready to launch!

What happens on the training?

The Sunday Assembly start up training is a kickstart of everything you need to know to launch a Sunday Assembly chapter! It covers the Sunday Assembly history, how to create excellent leaders, how to run the event and community and how to use the brand. We also help you answer some of the tricky questions that you could face, and introduce you to some of the more mature Assembly chapters who will share their experiences too. Alongside the webinars, we’ll also provide you with a full start up pack of materials and resources to get you going.

When can I launch?

There are two times of year that it’s best to start a Sunday Assembly Chapter- September and January. Once you sign up for the training, you’ll be in a cohort of chapters all launching at the same time. We run training in June ready for September launches, and in September ready for January launches.

Why do we have to pay for training now? Didn’t it used to be free?

We’ve learned a lot in the past three years, and in supporting 70 chapters to launch across the world. We’ve seen a lot of successes, and a lot of challenges have been faced too. We want new chapters which start up to have the best chance possible of success- by providing the tools, knowledge and resources, we think we will be able to build stronger teams, with more support from us, and better connected to our global network. It’s amazing to think so many started without any training! We think we can do better, and we are!

How much does it cost?

Start-up training is £500 per team, with a minimum of 5 people attending, and a maximum of 15. Yep, we’re incentivising having more people board! If you get 15 people, it’s £33 per person, for 8 webinars and a smorgasbord of tools, resources, branding and access to the Sunday Assembly Network. Bargain!

This could be paid by the leaders, or you could start a GoFundMe to get support from the community to launch, just as Sunday Assembly Salt Lake City have.

What is the Sunday Assembly Charter?

The Sunday Assembly Charter is our statement of what we do and don’t do. It’s really important that you take a close look, and also make discussing it a key priority when you are starting up as a new team. When you apply, you will have to agree to operate within the Charter. If you operate outside the Charter, for example by charging an admission fee (as opposed to asking for donations), not being inclusive, sacrificing babies in demonic rituals etc, then you risk being excluded from the organisation. This is all made clear in our Start-up agreement.

How do we fund our Sunday Assembly Chapter?

The Sunday Assembly runs entirely on donations. No one should be making a profit from this venture. We recommend that you set up a regular giving scheme as soon as you launch, to embed the idea that Sunday Assembly chapters are run and resourced for and by the communities they exist within. What monies your Sunday Assembly make from donations is yours to keep and reinvest in your Sunday Assembly. As Chapters grow and become financially sustainable, we ask them to give 5% back to Sunday Assembly International to help sustain the movement worldwide. We recommend highly that you have a treasurer and have your accounts ready to be shown at any time, should someone question what happens with your donations. Transparency is always the key with such things.

I’m interested building community as part of job, can you help me?

Yes! Recently we’ve started working with partners such as Housing Associations to launch new Sunday Assemblies in their areas. We offer a range of packages—from taster Sunday Assemblies all the way through to a fully planned community organising programme. Just get in touch via info@sundayassembly.com and we can work together to create a tailored plan to suit the needs of your community.

About the Sunday Assembly Service

I am not a comedian, will it be any good?

There are actually very few comedians running Sunday Assemblies. Comedy is but an element that we draw on. As long as your host is warm and welcoming, you need not worry.

How long is a Sunday Assembly?

We recommend your service is between 60–70 minutes.

Where are there Sunday Assemblies?

There are currently 70 across the world. Check out all our locations.

How closely do we have to follow your Assembly format/style?

We ask that you stick to the original format for the first three (simply because we know it works!) and until you have found your feet. Then you can start adding your own bits and playing around to find your style of Sunday Assembly. For example, Sunday Assembly Brighton now have a Science section instead of “This Much I Know” where someone does a 5 minute explanation of something science-y. The only thing we ask is that you stay within the Charter.

The important thing is to try to get good at it, before making wholesale changes. Master the form, before changing the form!

What tools are there for helping us stay in touch/organise meetings/bring new joiners on board?

We recommend using Facebook, Google and Meet up groups! Engaging with local groups, and putting up posters in cafes and community centres. Emails will usually also work! Have fun organizing!

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