‘Atheist Church’ set to come to Scotland

Comedian Sanderson Jones plans to bring the Sunday Assembly 'church' to Edinburgh at Easter
Comedian Sanderson Jones plans to bring the Sunday Assembly 'church' to Edinburgh at Easter
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IT IS the church which tells its congregation that they are all going to die and there is no afterlife. The Sunday Assembly, founded by comedians, has proved popular in London and the “Atheist Church” is set to make its debut in Scotland next month.

The organisation was founded last month and has tapped into a market of families and individuals who want the experience of attending a place of worship – without the God factor.

Having hoped for 50 attendees at its first performance in Islington in January, founders Pippa Evans, 30, and Sanderson Jones, 32, attracted 200 “worshippers” and nearly 300 for the second.

They now run a double service with capacity for 250 at each.

Ms Evans and Mr Jones, both comedians, believe they have tapped into a feeling of yearning to belong to a community without the religious element.

The assembly is heading to Edinburgh at Easter weekend, and returning for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Requests have also come in from Glasgow and Stornoway for appearances.

Ms Evans, who won the Spirit of the Fringe Award 2009 as part of the musical Showstopper!, said the founders have been surprised by the response.

“People say to us they have been looking for something like this for a long time,” she said. “The response has been incredible. Rather than preaching, we have speakers who focus on the wonder of being alive, how big the universe is and what our part is in it.

“We had Andy Stanton, the children’s author, who told the audience about the beginning of stories, and how to find an end.”

The founders say the assembly is intended to explore and challenge views and beliefs.

“It is intended to tap into a feeling of wonder, that atheists have like believers, to challenge beliefs and give you something to think about for the week ahead,” said Mr Jones.

“People also love to feel part of something and in a sense you lose that when you lose God. Our view is you don’t need to believe to get that back.”

While originating in London, the show can trace its origins back to Edinburgh.

Mr Jones said: “I sell my own tickets on the streets at the Fringe, the idea being I can meet up with people beforehand, have a connection with them, and form small communities. Then when everyone attends the show you see people you’ve met before.

“The idea was to build little communities so in that sense that’s what we’re doing with the assembly. We’re really keen on the community side as well, and have tea and cake afterwards, which is the best part of going to church anyway.”

Venues for the show on 31 March and the final three Sundays of the Festival in August are still to be selected, but comedians Arthur Smith and Josie Long are expected to speak, as are scientists from Dynamic Earth.

Richard Holloway, the former Bishop of Edinburgh, is also among those expected to attend. “A lot of people who have left organised religion miss the community aspect, the opportunity to come together to think about life, its meaning and values,” said Mr Holloway.