The Sunday Assembly, co-founded by comedian Sanderson Jones, will make a stop in New York during its U.S. tour. The location for the sermon will be at Tobacco Road, a ‘bikini bar’ where the staff has vowed to cover up during the service.
The British atheists are coming to Hell’s Kitchen!
After six months of packed houses at monthly services in London, an atheist congregation called The Sunday Assembly is bringing its movement to the U.S.
The co-founders will soon embark on a cross-country tour to decide which cities might support their own permanent Sunday Assembly franchise, and the first test run will be held in a Manhattan dive bar.
“Lots of people are giving us warnings that it’s going to be different over there, but so far, we’ve just had a lot of support from the people in America,” co-founder and stand-up comic Sanderson Jones told the Daily News.
Independent tech consultant Michael Trollan, 33, is one New York atheist who definitely plans to attend the Assembly’s first New York gathering. Raised in Texas, where he attended Catholic school, Trollan has eschewed religion since he was young.
“I remember that I started asking tough questions when I was about 10,” Trollan said. “By the time I was 12, I had lost my faith.”
But going godless also had its downsides.
“I missed the easy access to doing good work and helping others,” Trollan said. “And maybe the best thing about churches is the sense that when you show up, you’re immediately welcomed.”
The Sunday Assembly aims to fill just such a void. A platform for lectures from authors, scientists and humorists, as well as a place to sing along with a live band and socialize with others, the group’s guiding ethos is to “live better, help often and wonder more.”
“Not believing in God is the most boring part of what we do,” Jones said.
Since its first service at the Nave, a deconsecrated church in north London, The Sunday Assembly has built up a regular following of about 600 people and moved to roomier digs at Bethnal Green’s York Hall.
“It has been amazing,” Jones said. “Totally over and beyond any kind of expectation that we had.”
By and large, the godless church has received a warm welcome from people of faith in the U.K.
“We’ve had discussions with the Church of England as to how we can work together, and one fellow said, ‘we’ll have to get you in touch with some vicars who don’t believe in God.'”
In part, those good relations may stem from the fact that Sanderson and co-founder Pippa Evans used the Christian church as a model for what they wanted to achieve, albeit without the deity worship.
“We’re big fans of religion. We think churches do great things,” Jones said.
In fact, Jones says, that affinity with organized religion has sometimes rankled fellow nonbelievers.
“I didn’t realize how many militant, fundamentalist atheists there are,” Jones said. “People who say the way you don’t believe in God isn’t the right way.”
Bronx native Michael Dorian, who is making a documentary film titled “Refusing My Religion” about members of the clergy who have become atheists, believes that many New Yorkers will embrace the Sunday Assembly.
“One thing I hear a lot is that people miss the sense of community that religion gave them,” Dorian said.
Dorian was inspired to become a secular activist after the 9/11 attacks: “I couldn’t stand that people were doing these evil things in the name of religion,” he said.
Along with a group of other New York nonbelievers, Dorian has helped secure Tobacco Road in Manhattan for the Sunday Assembly’s first U.S. gathering on June 30. Normally a “bikini bar” and music venue that features scantily clad female bartenders, the otherwise uninvolved proprietors of Tobacco Road have agreed accommodate a family friendly crowd by asking employees to cover up.
Dorian, 49, is also working on lining up a band to belt out familiar songs by the holy trinity of British rock — David Bowie, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones — and he hopes people will feel comfortable singing along.
“Music is a big part of this,” Dorian said.
The Sunday Assembly pays its bills thanks to passing the hat at services, website donations, and out of Evans’ and Sanderson’s own earnings on the comedy and advertising circuit. They may also resort to Kickstarter campaigns to help defray U.S. costs.
With stops in Los Angeles, the Silicon Valley area, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York, Jones hopes find fertile, atheist-friendly territory. And though boasting isn’t his nature, he also knows to be careful not to ruffle feathers of the American faithful with off-the-cuff quips like the Beatles’ old inflammatory boast about being “bigger than Jesus.”
“We think we’ve got a great thing going,” Jones said. “I’ll be careful to keep my John Lennon comments to a minimum.”
The Sunday Assembly is scheduled to marks its U.S. debut at 12:30 p.m. June 30 at Tobacco Road, 354 41st St., New York, NY