'Celebrating life with no need for church'

By Joanne Macaulay
BBC Scotland news

media captionThe Sunday Assembly - "a church with no religion"

It is a Sunday morning and a group of volunteers are setting out chairs in a hall while another gives out leaflets at the front door to welcome people in.

It may sound a bit like church, but this is a gathering with no mention of any God.

The Sunday Assembly is a growing secular community, where people get many of the elements you would expect from church, but with no doctrine or religion.

"Our motto is 'live better, help often and wonder more' and we get together to celebrate life," explained Mark McKergow, who is the chairman of the Sunday Assembly in Edinburgh, which meets once a month in Stockbridge.

"It's a secular gathering but we do things that look a bit like church. We sing, we have speakers, we have reflection, we have cake and coffee. It's for all these people who like to do that but don't want to do it in church for whatever reason."

image captionMany in the group say they come along to listen to other people's stories

The Sunday Assembly movement began in London in 2013. The people who founded it liked the elements of traditional worship and the community around it, but did not believe in God. So they created a movement which put together the parts they enjoyed without it being affiliated to any doctrine or religion.

Sebastian Meller was one of the first members of the Edinburgh Sunday Assembly.

image captionOrganisers say the Sunday Assembly allows time for contemplation as well as celebration

He said: "There is a need for community in people. In modern society, people are more and more just looking at their screens and it's really important for people to get that connection.

"Some people in the Sunday Assembly community think critically of the word spiritual, but for me it very much makes sense.

"The connection with other people can be spiritual, the admiration of nature can be spiritual and all of this is included here."

image captionMusic plays a major part at the meetings

The Stockbridge gathering is the first Sunday Assembly in Scotland, but there are now 45 different groups around the world in eight countries - Scotland, England, USA, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany and Canada.

It is estimated that about 3,000 people are now regular attendees of the Sunday Assembly movement around the world.

Each gathering in Stockbridge follows a set format of three songs, poems, talks and a quiet time for reflection. At today's Stockbridge gathering, there's a talk called "Dinner with Darwin" about the evolution of food, and the songs include "If I knew you were coming I'd have baked a cake".

Marie Hernandez is a fairly new member of the Sunday Assembly in Edinburgh. She comes along with her husband and their two young sons. For her, it fulfils a role which church once had.

image captionMarie Hernandez was raised as a Catholic but says she has been inspired by the Assembly meetings

She said: "Both my husband and I were raised Catholic but we're atheists and we're really not interested in going along to any churches. But we come here to sing together, listen to poems and other people's stories and just to be inspired really.

"It's a secular community so actually everybody's welcome. It's not about being one religion or having one belief and it gives people an opportunity who might not be sure where they fit just to come and not be judged and to celebrate life."

Scott Miller was brought up as a Christian but later stopped going to church. Now he is a regular attendee at the Sunday Assembly. "When I found this, it ticked a lot of my boxes," he said.

"It had all the fun things without the emotional baggage which comes with believing something you don't really."

His wife Rachel added: "It was just like a relief that it was a similar atmosphere but less rigid, less predictable.

"And the invitation to help out is important because not only do we come, but we also feel that we're doing something."

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