Sunday Assembly – distinctly different God-bothering

Sunday Service with a difference Title Sussex Magazine

Louise Stevenson finds an all-singing, all-dancing Sunday service that’s a heartfelt celebration, and all in a good cause…

It’s been a good few years since I was inside a church on a Sunday morning, but Sunday Assembly at St Michael’s in Brighton is no normal service. There are no religious affiliations with this particular congregation; instead, it’s a secular celebration of life that focuses on living better and helping more often.

Free to attend, the not-for-profit, volunteer-run gathering is funded purely through donations to cover costs and support the church’s community work. When I hear how said funds are rounded up on traditional church collection plates, I’m instantly spirited away to my childhood, when I would manage to sneak out enough for 10 menthol cigarettes! I’m hanging my head in shame now.

But the funds raised here are used much more wisely than it would have been in my rebellious youth; as an example, raising £268 for Sussex Nightstop, the Brighton-based charity that provides emergency accommodation for young people at risk of homelessness.

The choir kicks off with the familiar, instantly hummable notes of Taylor Swift’s millennial anthem, Shake It Off

And these gatherings aren’t exclusive to the Brighton area; on the contrary, they can be experienced in towns and villages all over England, with a few even popping up in further-flung locations in the likes of Paris and Brussels.

As I arrive, I’m greeted by a warm welcome, and enter a packed church with a sizeable turnout. The service soon gets underway, and I’m somewhat taken aback when the choir kicks off proceedings with the familiar, instantly hummable notes of Taylor Swift’s millennial anthem, Shake It Off.

It’s like a civilised karaoke with smatterings of Sister Act thrown in

To say it’s not exactly what I was expecting would be an understatement, especially when I witness the entire assembly get to their feet and begin singing along with the words onscreen. It’s like a civilised karaoke with smatterings of Sister Act thrown in for good measure – there’s even some dancing too, as the parishioners really start to get into the swing of things.

The atmosphere is lively, happy and upbeat as the music ends and the main speaker takes to the pulpit to welcome his guests. He shares the flock’s motto, ‘Live better, help often, wonder more’, before informing parents that children aged seven and above are free to ‘go to the pub!’ for supervised fun.

This gets a laugh, but not as sizeable as when he introduces us to the Sunday Assembly as ‘family, but not in a culty way’. He’s immediately likeable, and I can see why so many embrace his refreshingly modern take on worship and faith.

There are three speakers in attendance – one from a charity, one a scientist, and a shared experience from author Ebonie Allard, the self-proclaimed ‘go-to coach for misfits and mavens’, who talks about being an outsider, the theme of today’s meeting. Before long, it’s time for another song – this time, we’re treated to a rendition of Wheatus’ Teenage Dirtbag, reminding me of just how good this tune is.

Sunday Service singalong Title Sussex Magazine

As the service wraps up, I’m regrettably unable to indulge in the tea and cake on offer due to a Pilates engagement, but feel affirmed, positive and resolute in my intention to definitely attend again next time.

Walking away, the Sunday Assembly’s uplifting mission statement continues to resound clearly and loudly in my ears – that it’s here to stay, and hopes that, with the involvement of the local community, it will make the world a better place.

Amen to that.

Sunday Assembly across 70 venues worldwide