Comedians of the Antichrist give first atheist church their blessing

Liam O’Brien attends the maiden ‘service’ for non-believers

It is surely the only church in Britain where use of the F-word is positively encouraged, the reverend jokes about using the collections for a personal holiday and the hymn “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” is swapped for a rendition of “Don’t Look Back in Anger”.

Yet at its first ‘service’ this morning, the Sunday Assembly – self-styled as ‘the UK’s first atheist church’ – secured a congregation that many decidedly more traditional operations would kill (metaphorically, being Christians) for.

The 200 worshippers crammed into The Nave, a performance venue housed in a beautiful north London church building, had dressed in their Sunday best to hear what would turn out to be a mixture of good comedy and dreadful motivational claptrap.

So who attends an atheist church? For many, this was not just about the laughs. Prior to the service, one man raised as a Jew and a woman raised as a Catholic spoke of their dislike of organised religion.

It was unclear by the end of the hour whether that had indeed been the case. Comedian Sanderson Jones, who acted the compere and professed to coming up with the idea for the Assembly in a car on the way to Brighton one day, gave a bravura performance at the altar. He told of how American evangelist pastors had a lot in common with police officers patrolling Hackney’s De Beauvoir estate (“Can I get a witness?” they yell. “Will somebody testify?”). He assured the congregation that despite the fact his substantial beard suggested he “has multiple wives”, they had not in fact joined a cult. He insisted there would be no crystal healing, and no “auras massaged”.

But there was a dangerously spiritual part in which people were asked to close their eyes “and think”, and a speech about not fearing failure that would have had a rapturous response at a corporate function or pep rally. The theme of the service was “beginnings”, and one individual spoke out to say her New Year’s resolution was to “disseminate knowledge for the greater good”. There were chants of “life is good, life is great”.

Such passages were leavened by nice bits of observational comedy. Pippa Evans told a story about a policeman in Moscow checking to see if a drunk man had a pulse – then tasering him for good measure.

Not everyone left the Sunday Assembly a true believer, but with monthly services planned and more comedians including Josie Long scheduled to appear, they might soon need a bigger venue.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

360 Resourcing Solutions: Export Sales Coordinator

£18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue