Our evening was led by Simon McGregor, Research fellow (Informatics) at the University of Sussex. He is very much involved in The Sunday Assembly locally and committed to inclusivity.
The Sunday Assembly is an organisation providing non-religious Sunday services, building community around the three-fold motto “Live better, Help often, Wonder more”. It describes itself as “Radically Inclusive”. The Brighton Assembly has been going for three years, there are 60 Assemblies, worldwide in cities around Europe, N America & Australia. Brighton is the second largest in the UK.
It was brought about in an attempt to reintroduce the social gifts lost as traditional religion eroded without having to insincerely belong to a religious group.
Simon is drawn by the concept of Radical Inclusivity to the Sunday Assembly which was described as a secular church for atheists but was subsequently considered a poor description as it was not inclusive. Now it’s more of a church for everyone where they say “We don’t do God but we won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do.” Simon’s background, being brought up in South Africa and the struggle against apartheid where he was raised to be inclusive, with a vision of people working together, no one excluded has, in part, fuelled his commitment to Radical Inclusivity.
“What does Radical Inclusivity mean in a Sunday Assembly context?” Currently there is no specific definition, but people from widely differing backgrounds, ‘militant atheists’ to members of ‘traditional churches’ attend, but don’t bring their particular views to the Sunday Assembly. No one is labelled or categorised. The discussion to create a definition continues …
Taking the example of a traditional Anglican service – a public ceremony, some may say ritual, for a wedding or funeral where a significant proportion in attendance might be non-Christian and wish to participate but the way the service is conducted – the liturgy and hymns profoundly profess the Christian faith thus causing them not to be authentic or honest to their own values, almost profaning a place of worship in professing a faith not held.
How could services conducted by religious institutions be radically inclusive, including and involving non-faith people, allowing them to feel authentic and participate or celebrate conscientiously (also in regular worship)?
The Sunday Assembly’s ethos and style is not very different from the Unitarians, although the style is a bit more charismatic, more of a show! But the Sunday Assembly may not be the answer: How can we all find ways to participate in a community of conscience and celebration? The Christian Church has a great deal to offer.
But not everyone wants the same, we don’t all have universal values. There’s a great deal of neurodiversity, eg clinical psychopaths, they don’t have a conscience but in a burning building they will put out the fire to save someone; there are things almost everyone has in common.
These common goals could be used to create community but are not consciously weighed against those areas where we have genuine conflict. The conflict eclipses everything and it’s hard for us to identify common goals and work together.
This underpins the notion of Radical Inclusivity.
But it doesn’t have to be a moral value we strive for, we all benefit if we use opportunities to collaborate on the things we share.
Having given us much to consider we then discussed the following question:
Q: Is there room in the Christian church for Muslims and Atheists to be useful members of the community, and if so is there room for them to be moral leaders of the church?
Many thanks to Simon for leading our thinking in this way.