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Sunday Assembly pastor claims UK’s first atheist congregation evicted from church by moralistic Christians

09:56 25 April 2013

Sanderson Jones outside the Atheist Church

Sanderson Jones outside the Atheist Church

Dieter Perry

The pastor of Britain’s first atheist church, the Sunday Assembly, has claimed his congregation has been kicked out of the church they were using to worship by “moralistic” Christians.

The Sunday Assembly has garnered worldwide attention since comedians Sanderson Jones, from Upper Clapton and Pippa Evans from Stockwell launched it in January to celebrate the wonder of life.

With a tag line “live better, help often, wonder more”, tracks like Bill Withers’ Lean on Me have replaced hymns, and the concept has proved so popular a morning and afternoon service had to be held in St Paul’s Church deconsecrated Nave, which has a capacity of 200.

Although the Sunday Assembly was searching for larger premises, Mr Jones arranged to use the Steiner School building in Balls Pond Road, which trustees lease from the Church of England, one last time for their monthly meeting in May.

But last Friday Mr Jones received an email from Gary Bridgewood, one of the Steiner School trustees, apologising for “messing up” the booking.

He said he had “failed” to make clear the results of a meeting with Mr Jones, and had “upset a considerable number” of his community.

“This is not your fault and I wish it could be different,” he told him.

Mr Jones, who lives in Upper Clapton, said: “The Steiner School has kicked us out of the Nave, I’ve heard they’ve taken a moralistic stance against us.

“We’ve always heard there’s a small but vocal minority within the school who think we are up to no good.

“I think it was probably us singing Run Rabbit Run which put them over the edge.”

He continued: “I just don’t think it’s very nice behaviour no matter what you do, whether you are Christian or not, to tell someone they can do something and at the last minute go back on your word.

The Sunday Assembly had been paying to use the building which is in need of renovation.

“It’s really sad actually, we love that building,” continued Mr Jones.

“It’s beautiful, the fact it’s run down is lovely and makes everything feel homemade and we were doing our own little thing.

“It just felt perfect it was built for the community to meet in and think about the things that are important and to take solace, and it was being used as it was intended.”

But Mr Bridgewood said Mr Jones had got the “wrong end of the stick” and that health and safety reasons were behind the decision.

“The Sunday Assembly is regularly drawing crowds of up to 500 people, if we go beyond capacity we could be held in breach of health and safety law and we would be in very serious trouble,” he said.

“We do wish Sanderson well, he’s tapped into something worldwide with people who want a sense of community, we are living in an age of technology and speed and image and it shows people just want to talk and get together and have a sing song.”

Mr Jones wants to spread the word the Sunday Assembly service on May 5 will be in the British Humanist Society’s Conway Hall in Holborn.

“This exile is temporary, we are going to come back to the community, we just need to find a new home,” he said.

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