Atheist group offers church-like gathering in Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A new Salt Lake City atheist group is offering non-believers a church-like service that offers music, readings and community for those who don’t belong to the state’s dominant religion, Mormonism, or other faith groups.

The Sunday Assembly hopes to use its weekly gatherings, started in 2016 in Salt Lake City, to build a community and change perceptions people have about atheists. It’s modeled after a similar secular assembly launched by two London comedians almost four years ago. There’s now more than 70 Sunday Assemblies in the U.S. and around the world.

The group promotes a three-pronged motto: Live better, help often, wonder more.

“We don’t do supernatural, but we also won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do,” Salt Lake City organizer Nichelle Reed said. “It’s a place where you can find community that is not based on your religious beliefs, where you’re from, your race, your orientation or your identity.”

About 70 people attended the December gathering in a light-filled events center in Trolley Square, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The 1 ½ hour program opened with a band playing the 1980s hit song, “Walking on Sunshine” while attendees sang along and batted beach balls around the room.

After children were invited to move to a different room for a Lego challenge, the adults played a paper plate art game as an icebreaker and then sang along to the song, “I Will Survive.” Reed’s husband, the group’s co-founder Brian Worley, then used slides and six volunteers to act out and explain the science of snowflakes and stages of water.

Assembly board member Laura Beck announced during the “Life Happens” segment that one group member had bought a house and another learned to play the ukulele. The gathering ended with everyone singing the group’s theme song, “It’s My Life” before they went to the foyer to eat snacks.

The growing Salt Lake City community of the Sunday Assembly pleases Reed, who says it not only gives a home to those who don’t practice Mormonism or the other major religions.

“We share the same ideals; just take a different approach,” Reed said. “Basically, we are here to celebrate and have fun.”

They fall into a growing category in the U.S. of the so-called “nones,” people who don’t affiliate with any religion. A fifth of the U.S. public — and one-third of adults under 30 — claim no religion, showed a 2012 Pew Research Center survey. That was the highest percentage Pew had ever documented.

Well-known Utah atheist Gregory Arthur Clark said the Sunday Assembly offers social and emotional connections for people without religions to help them through life’s trial and tragedies. Abandoning a religion can be “psychologically wrenching,” Clark said.

People still want to feel connected to others, “without the magic, and in some cases, without bigotry,” Clark said.

“We are a social species,” Clark said. “The worst thing you can do is put someone in social solitary confinement.”

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