Sunday Service... for people who don't believe in a God

thisisoxfordshire: The inaugural meeting at St Aldate’s Tavern in Oxford, from left, Gina Liverton, Jane Chen, Rhys Jones, Hash Patel, David Paterson, David Shorthouse, Annie Webster, David Howatson, Rob Bailey and Ishbel Begg. OX62869 Buy this photo » The inaugural meeting at St Aldate’s Tavern in Oxford, from left, Gina Liverton, Jane Chen, Rhys Jones, Hash Patel, David Paterson, David Shorthouse, Annie Webster, David Howatson, Rob Bailey and Ishbel Begg. OX62869

CHURCH attendances may be dwindling, but these non-believers think they have found a solution.

They are the founders of Oxfordshire’s first athiest church, set to hold its inaugural service on Saturday.

Dubbed The Sunday Assembly, it is part of a worldwide movement to establish “godless congregations”.

Its “assemblies” will be held once a month and feature pop songs like Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now and non-religious texts.

The aim is to bring people together and foster positive values without involving The Man Upstairs.

Co-organiser Rob Bailey, 42, of East Oxford, said the church is for “like-minded people who want to enjoy life and have fun”.

He said: “People can get together without needing a set text or any sort of deity.

“People are also more confident of defining themselves as atheists now. I used to admit being an atheist in a slightly embarrassed kind of way but that’s not necessary now.”

The assemblies will take place on the first Sunday of the month at the Oxford Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre, in Littlegate Street.

He added: “We say ‘atheist church’ because that is easy to put across but people of any faith can come along.”

The 2011 Census showed Oxford is the agnostic capital of the UK, with one third of residents having no religion at all, some 50,274 people.

Meanwhile Church of England Sunday attendances in the Oxford diocese fell from 54,600 in 2001 to 48,500 in 2011.

Over the whole week, however, the trend has increased from 55,400 in 2010 to 57,100 in 2011.

The Rt Rev John Pritchard, the Bishop of Oxford, said: “I’m always pleased to hear of people getting together and creating community. It’s interesting that the best way of doing so is what the Church has been doing for 2,000 years in hundreds of thousands of gatherings all over the world.

“The church worldwide is growing at an astonishing rate but if others want to gather under a different banner to create friendships and, I hope, to serve the wider community, then good luck to them.”

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