During a 3-month sabbatical earlier this year, Revd Canon Dr Tim Bull visited a couple of different places of worship.
One was the Sunday Assembly, a secular gathering established in 2013 by comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. The other was Holy Trinity Brompton.
Tim Bull was struck by the similarities between the two:-
- Both were attended by a crowd of ‘fashionable-looking young adults’
- Both included notices and announcements
- Both included the taking up of a collection
- Both offered tea and coffee at the conclusion
- Both offered information for newcomers
And there were more significant parallels:-
- Both had music led by a rock-style band, with words projected onto a screen and swaying and armwaving among the congregation
- Both included a reading and a talk
- Both included ‘prayer’ (in the Sunday Assembly it was called a ‘moment of reflection’)
- Both included short videos, encouraging people to sign up for a motivational course (Alpha at HTB and something called ‘Retreat to the Future’ at the Sunday Assembly)
Curiously, only the Sunday Assembly included personal testimony (when someone told about the time she ‘had tried her best’)
In terms of the underlying message, the Sunday Assembly’s Sanderson Jones declared that ‘we are obsessed with helping you live your life as fully as possible’, which sounds like a distinct echo of Jesus’ words recorded in John 10:10.
Tim Bull reflects that in an age of increasing secularism, many people still show signs of spiritual hunger:-
But, despite all the similarities between the two gatherings, there is one vital thing that the secular meeting cannot replicate:-