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"I had a feeling people [would be] reluctant to close their eyes in a room full of strangers, and as soon as it happened all I could think was, ‘Oh god, it’s going on forever, they’ll think I’m a hippy.’ But people said they’d have loved it to go on for longer.”

There is something of the hippy about Jones, and of the Assembly’s humanity-supporting intent, the together-as-one identity at the core of their ‘ideology’.

But he insists his ‘church’ isn’t serving a “supernatural, hippy spirit, but a spirit in the sense of your internal life, and people do want to think about that”.

He is also keen to support the community through local projects, but doesn’t see community as something that is necessarily missing, but rather something that could do with a bit of attention and care. 

“You might think there are communities in London, like the stand-up community,” Jones explains.

“But a real community is about finding connections with people you don’t know, who don’t do the same things as you, and finding something underneath that binds you together.”

 

 

There have been those who have been quick to find fault with an atheist church – those on the religious side of the atheism debate chastising it for being held in a church first of all and for making atheism a ‘new religion’, and then atheists who’ve found grievances with the Assembly for exactly the same reason.

Jones, whose mother taught at Sunday school and who himself confesses to being a regular scripture prize winner in his formative years (the myths intrigued him), has even been asked to contribute to a debate on this subject for The New York Times. 

While atheism, for some, is as much an identifying belief as Catholicism is for others, this is in no way the Assembly’s purpose. It takes some of the positive aspects of religious meetings and filters out the deity-duty.

It is defined by what it is about – community and wonder – rather than what it is not about and does not believe in. Jones’s passion for it is clear and his delight at its success only matched by enthusiasm for where it could go.

“We are doing our best to make them as good as possible, because you are only as good as your last Assembly,” he jokes, mimicking footballers’ post-match monotonies.

“And I have a clear idea about where I would like to go with it,” he adds, before revealing just how passionate he feels. 

“The Sunday Assembly is a long-term thing that I could see myself doing for the rest of my life.” Now that is something to wonder at. 

The Sunday Assembly. 
Feb 3, Mar 3, Apr 7. 11am. Free to attend. 
The Nave, N1 2QH  
sundayassembly.com  
Tube | Highbury & Islington


Photos: Tom Bell with Nimrod Kamer


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Sunday service without god: Meet the people behind London's first atheist church, The Sunday Assembly
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