21st-century church hospitality at its best

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The atheist bus advertisement, which rolled out in Canada in 2009, was based on a similar campaign in the U.K. Photo: Jon Worth
The atheist bus advertisement, which rolled out in Canada in 2009, was based on a similar campaign in the U.K. Photo: Jon Worth

I have recently been introduced to the Sunday Assembly, or as their members like to call themselves, “the godless church.” One of their more quotable quotes is: “We need the benefits that church provides without the god element.”

The brainchild of two British comedians, the Sunday Assembly began in England in 2013, aiming to provide atheists with all the good things church offers—all the good things, that is, except God. Since its London beginnings, attendance is upwards of 300 and offshoots are popping up around the world. Participants sing together, listen to a speaker and have coffee after their gathering. Funnily enough, they even pass an offering plate to pay for their costs.

Some may remember the atheist bus campaign, which drove through Canada a few years ago; the slogan on every bus read: “There’s probably no God…now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Apparently central to both the Sunday Assembly and this atheist bus campaign is the idea that faith reflects an earnest and humourless existence. Church might be fun; God clearly isn’t.

When our daughter was 12, our church started a Sunday morning program for young teens. Rebekah wanted to remain in worship rather than participate in that program. Surprised she hadn’t asked if she could stay home, and risky as it was, I questioned why she wanted to go to church at all. “Oh,” she said, “I would hate not seeing the people every week.”

In that one moment, I felt that the church had performed well for our children. Not only had Rebekah bonded with this extended family, she also recognized how much life and sustenance these people—the Body of Christ—gave her from week to week. I was relieved and overjoyed that having two parents as priests had not suffocated our daughter’s relationship with the church! While no longer a regular attender, I’m certain that the impact of growing up with both church and God has left a positive imprint.

Humour and acceptance often go a longer way toward conveying the message of Jesus and teaching the tenets of faith than doctrine and exclusion. Hospitality is central to a worldview that includes God and therefore is central to the church. It would be a shame if God is left behind because we are unable to communicate this hospitality in a way that 21st-century listeners can receive.

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Nissa Basbaum
The Very Rev. Nissa Basbaum is dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Michael and All Angels, diocese of Kootenay.

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