New atheist church meets in bingo club

Members of the Sunday Assembly congregation. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Members of the Sunday Assembly congregation. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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IT may seem like a pointless exercise – but a newly-opened church for atheists is proving even non-believers like to have somewhere to congregate.

The Sunday Assembly, which prefers to describe itself as “a godless congregation that celebrate life”, expects to have around 40 members by the end of the year.

Instead of the reverence-inspiring surrounds of a church, however, it meets in the New Empire Bingo Club in Nicolson Street.

Hymns have been replaced with pop songs – with the first service including Don’t Stop by Fleetwood Mac – and sermons with interesting talks, such as an expert from Our Dynamic Earth talking about the 
universe.

As one member puts it: “It’s like a normal church, but without the boring bits.”

The Edinburgh branch is part of a wider nationwide movement kicked off by comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans nine months ago.

Mr Jones got the idea after realising there were lots of things he enjoyed while attending church for weddings and seasonal carol services, such as the sense of togetherness and ritual, but that he “just couldn’t get past the God bit”.

Now roughly 35 congregations have sprung up across the world, with the London Sunday Assembly having already attracted more than 300 
members.

Edinburgh organiser Rob Concannon, 26, who was raised a Catholic but became disillusioned with the faith as a teenager, said he hopes the Capital congregation will become a force for good in the area.

The Gorgie resident, who has just acquired a PhD in theoretical physics from Edinburgh University, said: “There are things that you do miss when you drop religion, such as the sense of being part of a community and a feeling of cohesion.

“We want to provide this and, in keeping with the motto of the Sunday Assembly – Live better, help often, wonder more – do some good for society at the same time.

“We’ve already gotten in touch with local food banks to see how we can help and we’re open to suggestions about what more we can do.”

“There is no doctrine and each local Assembly can theme their meetings around whatever they want as long as what they are doing is in keeping with the motto and our mission to help everyone find and fulfil their full potential. But most meetings involve some singing, though we don’t sing hymns.”

In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI sparked an unholy row when he associated the values of atheism with the Nazis of the Third Reich during a speech at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

One Church of Scotland minister – who did not wish to be named – praised the Sunday Assembly. He said: “Atheists are entitled to their point of view and to celebrate that how they see best.”

jen.lavery@edinburghnews.com