“The sad part of leaving [church] is you don’t have that weekly connection, you lose the community environment,” says [executive director Helen] Stringer, who has a professional organizing business.
“There are a lot of people in church pews who don’t believe any of it, but they want to belong,” she says. “It’s their community. And in our culture, church has a monopoly on community.”
Not to be ironic, but Stringer came to an epiphany: “It just dawned on me. ‘Why are we not doing what church does, minus the dogma and exclusion?’”
It’s the same mentality that led to the rise of the Sunday Assembly (and similar groups worldwide) and it has undoubtedly attracted a large group of people, many of whom had never gathered with other atheists before this.
I’ve heard criticisms leveled at these groups, by atheists, that it’s too church-like. But Stringer alludes to why that makes no sense. Churchgoers don’t have a monopoly over gathering as a community, hearing inspirational speeches, singing, or volunteering.
At the Sunday gatherings, the “community moment” is one of the most popular elements. It’s a short, personal reflection, sometimes used to share a member’s path away from religion. But members share various experiences and challenges they have faced.
If we call that sort of thing “church-like,” we’re giving churches waaaaaay too much credit.
All the good you get with religion, you can have without the supernatural nonsense. This is just one way to achieve it. It may not be your way — it’s really not mine — but there’s definitely a move in this direction and it’s bringing together people who couldn’t care less about atheist billboard campaigns or distant national organizations.