â€˜Can I Get an Amen?”: Atheist Churches Bring Hymns and Sermons Together in Curious Celebration of Non-Belief
Jun. 24, 2013 2:01pm
The growth of atheist churches continues across the globe. With the London-based Sunday Assembly, a non-theistic congregation, coming to New York City later this month, it”s only one of the non-believing congregations operating — or planning to, anyway — on U.S. soil.
Take, for instance, Jerry DeWitt — a former Pentecostal minister — and his newest endeavor. This weekend, he took his atheism to new levels with the launch of the Community Mission Chapel of Lake Charles Louisiana (an atheist congregation). While the house of worship sounds like a traditional Christian church, it”s quite the opposite.
On Sunday, the “secular” church service unfolded at a hotel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as Religion News Service reports. DeWitt, who faced challenges after leaving his faith behind, is looking to create a sense of community with the announcement of his chapel and its accompanying services.
“After 25 years of attending and officiating church services, I know what a force for good they can be,” he told RNS. “But when an atheist leaves “religion” this becomes a void in their lives. I am founding this church and hosting this service to change that.”
The first service, entitled, “Joie de Vivre: To Delight in Being Alive,” didn”t mention, but it had all of the staples of a typical Christian service.
“Oh, it”s going to be so hard to not say, “Can I get an amen?,” The New York Times quotes DeWitt as saying during the service. “I want you to feel comfortable singing. And I want you to feel comfortable clapping your hands. I”m going to ask you to silence your cellphones, but I”m not going to ask you to turn them off. Because I want you to post.”
In describing the project, DeWitt said that it is intended to be a full-scale church — one where people who are not religious can find community with others like them. Rather than contradicting the work of faith-based houses of worship, he told RNS that he wants to do “the same job as traditional religious institutions, only without dogma or supernaturalism.”
And, as stated, this isn”t the only atheist “church” in the news. Over the weekend, CNN also reported about another service — this time in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Greg Epstein, a Humanist chaplain at Harvard University, participates in and organizes hour-long services that also include music, sermons about community, and other related themes. Here”s how the outlet describes these Humanist “church” services“:
Outsiders could be forgiven for believing this service, with its homilies, its passing of the plate, its uplifting songs, belongs in a church.
If so, it”s a church without one big player: God.
Sunday”s congregation in Cambridge is a meeting of the Humanist Community at Harvard University and the brainchild of Greg Epstein, the school”s Humanist chaplain.
A longtime advocate for community building, Epstein and his group of atheists have begun to build their Cambridge community and solemnize its Sunday meetings to resemble a traditional religious service.
With plans to build-out and host events at a large-scale community center, Epstein and other non-believers are borrowing a blueprint from the religious. As CNN notes, this pattern may extend beyond simply holding services. The outlet reports that the chaplain would enjoy a future in which this community center serves as the hub for other events, like baby-naming ceremonies, weddings and funerals.
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