Last week was the first service of The Sunday Assembly. This ‘church’ started by two comedians opened its doors to some 250 people. They sang songs, heard readings and reflected on how to live better lives. This new community is open to anyone who ‘anyone who wants to live better, help often and wonder more’. All this sounds very similar to what we do when we gather each weekend when we come together as a community to worship except for one fundamental difference; this is a service for atheists.
Earlier this year I wrote a newsletter article based on a book by Alain de Botton who, although he didn’t believe in God, wondered why he couldn’t access some of the good things about faith such as the sense of community, of helping others, of reflection. This service is very much the obvious next step on from there. They sang, had readings, a pause for reflection and even a collection!
I have no problem at all with what they’re doing. How can I object to something that builds relationships and encourages living better? This is all laudable stuff; these aims and objectives mirror much of what we’re about at Wormley Free Church. I would happily promote anyone seeking after these things. That said, there’s something about this that leaves me feeling uneasy.
I’m going to run the risk of upsetting any reading this on a post-Christmas celebration diet. A while back we bought some Weight-Watchers Blueberry Muffins. Can’t remember why we did this now, perhaps they were on offer or maybe simply because they looked absolutely gorgeous! There was no doubt that they looked like normal blueberry muffins (i.e. the weight accumulating variety) and shared many of the same ingredients. We all commented afterwards that something was missing. They were a tad dry and not as satisfying as they ought to be.
Why am I unsettled about The Sunday Assembly? Not because of what they include or are trying to promote, but because so much of what they’re doing we tend to promote and seek after in church. At the heart of our life as a church community should be a seeking after and an encounter with God. That’s what it’s all about. The social side is nice, yes, important, certainly, but it isn’t the main thing. Worshipping God because he is god is the main thing, and this should be the most obvious thing about our services and life together, and the first thing we talk about when people ask us about church and what we believe and do. In our desire to make our life accessible and attractive to modern culture, perhaps we focus on the social side to the extent that sometimes God is left out, although surely his presence is the most attractive thing we have to offer!
Weight-Watchers Blueberry Muffins are all very well and good, but if they taste the same as normal blueberry muffins, that suggests that something is missing from the normal ones that ought to be there! And so it should be with church. Our meetings should of course have a lot in common with The Sunday Service, but surely they ought to be significantly different because of the Significantly Different.
Church Newsletter Article, 13.01.13