Jesus and I have been separated a few years now. Well, we're divorced actually. Now, I know that whenever a marriage fails it's always the other person's fault and I'm not saying I'm perfect, but I had really, really tried to make it work. In the end, it was his moody silence that finished it off for me; all those years of absence. He never talked, never wrote, never called. I made all the running in the relationship but he, well, he just never seemed interested. It wouldn't have taken much: some answered prayers; a feeling that he'd noticed me; I didn't even need anything miraculous, although something unequivocally Heavenly would have been nice. He'd promised me the Earth of course. They always do, these Divinities...
Twenty-five years is a long time to be in a relationship, especially a one-sided one. In that time we had had some good times, of course. There had been plenty of Jesus-family get-togethers: at least once every Sunday, sometimes twice, and often during the week too. Funnily enough, I can't recall Jesus himself ever actually showing up, but that didn't stop us all from talking fondly about him. The singing was fun too; we all enjoyed that.
I like his family, on the whole. Some of them are a bit weird, but mostly we get along. In fact, that's one thing I do miss since we split: those family gatherings; the singing; the regular opportunity to reflect on my life and on how it might be lived better, for myself and for others. I couldn't keep going back to church to join them though; I wouldn't have enjoyed it and they wouldn't have wanted an 'ex' hanging around the place either. It would have been awkward, to say the least.
Fortunately, I have found a church-equivalent: a community of like-minded people who gather, on a Sunday as it happens, to be inspired, to think about life, to help one another, and to sing their hearts out! It's called the Sunday Assembly. It's a godless congregation that seeks to help people to live their lives to their full potential. Their motto is, "Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More." The first time I attended an Assembly meeting at London's Conway Hall I walked in to hear a brass band playing loud enough to lift the roof off and then I sat down to listen to a talk on the Universe by a physicist from CERN. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven!
There's a lot to like about the Sunday Assembly, as much for what it doesn't do as for what it does! It's not hostile to religion, for a start; it's much more focused on celebrating life rather than bleating on about God being rubbish. In fact, I'm sure that even Jesus would be welcome if he ever turned up. He hasn't, of course; some things never change! It doesn't do dogma either, or exclusivity. It does get involved in trying to improve lives through plenty of social programmes ("Help Often"), but it does that, somewhat anonymously, by helping existing efforts rather than by trying to create its own flagship programmes. I like that. During the 'services' (there's no better word) there is always some time for reflection and there's always an inspiring talk which challenges and engages. Oh, and the singing... did I mention the singing? I love it!
On 28th September 2014 another 35 Sunday Assemblies launched across the world, doubling the total number of congregations in one go. OK, so it's not quite the size of the Roman Catholic church yet, but it is clearly meeting a need in an honest, life-affirming way. Part of its mission is to have an Assembly in every town that wants one (unlike the Catholic church, which is determined to have a presence whether it's wanted or not!).
An oft-quoted Christian saying is, "There's a God-shaped hole in everybody's life." Well, there isn't, but there is a need for community, for rejoicing in life, and for helping one another when there's not so much to rejoice about. Humanity has invented many ways for meeting those needs. The Sunday Assembly is, in my experience, a welcome new addition.
Paul Beaumont's debut novel A Brief Eternity was nominated for the Dundee International Book Prize and is available on Amazon and other retailers.