7 April 2013 14:11
- Hi Darling. Just been to church. Was a wonderful service. Wished you were there.
- Hi Mum. Funnily enough, just been to church too. Was amazing. You'd have loved it.
- Really? A Catholic church?
- Erm, not exactly...
I couldn't bear to confess to my devout Catholic mother that I had just been to Sunday Assembly's mass, Easter for Atheists. The thought of me attending a non-Catholic service is baffling enough without having to explain that few in the 'church' congregation actually believe in God. Easter was also a week ago.
The Sunday Assembly is the brainchild of comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans who decided it was time to start 'a friendly community gathering for like-minded people'. The monthly event is in it's fourth incarnation and seems to be gathering disciples at a monumental pace. Arriving characteristically late and with every pew filled, I was forced to head to the front and sit on a very small bench in front of the lectern. My friend George, arriving characteristically later than me, seemed baffled that I had chosen to sit at the very front. "What if we desperately want to leave? We're stuck now". I had a strong feeling this wasn't going to be a problem and happily, I was right.
Beginning with Journey's Don't Stop Believin', service kicked off to a rip-roaring start. The entire congregation belted out the words written on the projector screen and many, myself included, wiggled their hips and waved their arms in a Glee style fashion. Our cups overflowed with the power of pop (and potentially that last rum and coke from the night before). I realise to many this may sound grossly twee but let us not judge that which we do not know, i.e. come to a service before deciding it's not for you. Having spent my first eighteen years attending Catholic mass I mused that I had never sung hymns with such gusto. It occurred to me this could be because most are written in a key far higher than I could ever have chance of reaching and thus a faint elevated wheeze is all I can muster. Certainly The Lord is Thy Shepherd has never made me want to swing my hips either. Perhaps I should email the Pope and advise him on this matter?
Following this musical introduction we were treated to a sermon by Dave Tomlinson, a fabulously forward thinking vicar who spoke of the power of stories, myths and metaphors and why humans enjoy the Easter Tale. Following Dave, comedian Aisling Bea gave a fantastic homily on being generous and caring to those around us. This was insightful, genuine and hysterical in equal measure - I could listen to that girl all day! More top hits followed, including an old school favourite Run Rabbit Run. Sanderson then completed mass with a charming and amusing talk on the power of experience in personal growth; how life's challenges provide a platform for a brighter future. George and I looked at each other and smiled knowingly. I imagine most of the congregation did the same.
But the day wasn't simply about reflection and song. After tea and cake in the church, around 50% of the attendees trooped to the Hops and Glory pub to carry on the community spirit. It was here I realised what a beautiful congregation it had attracted. Not only was everyone there kind and generous, there were a shed load of hotties! I don't recall my local church attracting such fine specimens yet at the same time, did notice their numbers were dwindling. Perhaps I should let the Pope know about this insight too?
What was really wonderful was how the backdrop of the earlier service affected everyone's relationship to the strangers around them for the remainder of the day. People chatted fervently without fear of being judged a weirdo for speaking to someone outside of their clique. And we played board games!
People visited their neighbour's tables, donated shots and shared their loaves and hummus. Many a number was swapped and a Good Samaritan even offered his house in Suffolk as a base for one of my six week sublet adventures. He assured me he didn't want to practice pro-creation with me, which I took to be declared in good faith, though I said I would confirm once the spirit of fermented apples had left my system. At midnight and finding myself heading to Brick Lane with a group of wonderful Portuguese revelers, I realised it was probably time to hang up my cassock and retire.
This morning I woke, somewhat hazy but full of the love of The Sunday Service. Regaling the story of the day to my housemate, I reflected on the truly wonderful people the event attracts. We sang, we shared and we received. It may not have had anything to do with a big man upstairs yet we practiced all the key values taught to me as a child and wonderfully I felt no guilt this morning.
As Reverend Dave reflected, we all like to choose what stories we believe in. Mother may have rather I had attended a Catholic mass but I'm sure she would be delighted, if when describing my future husband she could state, 'Yes, and they even met at church don't you know...'