Keep proper journalism alive. It's time to Back the Cable
The Bristol Cable

Let there be cake: Sunday service at Bristol’s godless church

It’s been a few years since I went to church, so one Sunday I did – sort of. The monthly Sunday Assembly at the Trinity Centre, like most churches, offers singing and readings, inspiring sermons and quiet reflection.


It’s been a few years since I went to church, so one Sunday I did – sort of.

Words: Koel Mukherjee

Sunday Assembly 4 September 2016

Theme: Sorry, Nature

Order of service:


Oops… I Did It Again Britney Spears

Mad World Tears For Fears


Extract from David Attenborough BBC documentary
How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?


Climate Change’s Effect on Society
Professor Richard Pancost, University of Bristol

Moment of silent reflection

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word Elton John


Poem for the Anthropocene


What A Wonderful World Louis Armstrong


Tea and cake (followed by Sunday lunch at the pub)

The monthly Sunday Assembly at the Trinity Centre, like most churches, offers singing and readings, inspiring sermons and quiet reflection. The Trinity Centre is a former church and still has its stained glass windows. God, however, has long since left the building.

Comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans started the Sunday Assembly in 2013. They both wanted church without the need for belief, and 200 people in London agreed. Three years later, Bristol’s lively congregation is one of more than 70 across the world, with the motto “Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More”.

The Assemblies don’t reject God so much as create a secular version of church built around familiar themes of community, inspiration and doing good, along with a hefty helping of fun.

This means a theme for each service exploring different aspects of the human experience (this month it’s ‘the human cost to nature’), talks from scientists, philosophers, activists, artists and thinkers from different fields, and the singing of songs suggested by members of the congregation. If Britney and Elton weren’t to everyone’s taste there were opportunities to suggest some Cannibal Corpse for next time. It’s less Christ, more cake, though organisers say he would be welcomed in if he turned up at the door.

Who were September’s parishioners?

First-timers Peter and Ria had brought their curious young children along on an educational family outing to explore new ideas.

Agnostic Ria told me, “I’ve been taking the kids for a while to various things, on a quest for something spiritual, such as Quakers… Peter won’t come if it’s got any religious overtones, so this as a family is something we could all go to.”

Twenty-seven-year-old engineer James had come from Wiltshire to socialise, while sixty-somethings Paul and Den were looking to find community beyond their religious backgrounds.

“I had a very strict Presbyterian upbringing,” said Den. “It has stood me in good stead for lots of things, like socialism and charity work, but I’m quite opposed to organised religion.


“I think people need to feel they do belong somewhere. For me church wouldn’t do that because of all the dogma… but this meets those needs, building little communities.”

Almost everyone I spoke to had been raised Christian, but was now agnostic, atheist or exploring alternative ideas of spirituality. I didn’t meet anyone strongly religious, though the organisers say a few practising Christians join them from time to time.

With little diversity beyond age, it did feel like another of the mostly white middle-class, quirky events one often finds in Bristol.

That said, it was hard not to get caught up in the atmosphere of warmth, community and tongue-in-cheek fun. I must admit, dear reader, my heart could not help but be warmed watching a lively crèche of children caught up in colouring books while their parents sang Elton John together in an exercise of sweet, communal silliness.

09-sundayThe silent moment of reflection also took me by surprise. I had to attend chapel every morning at school, and, even as a bolshie teenage non-believer I valued the experience of sitting quietly in a beautiful building surrounded by my peers, giving my brain a moment to breathe and reflect. The interior of the Trinity Centre isn’t anything to write home about, but I’d say the experience of safe silence in a supportive crowd of fellow humans is.

For earlier generations of British communities, it would have often been religious gatherings and institutions that fulfilled the need to socialise, learn and bind communities together. With today’s broader church (!) of cultures, traditions and beliefs, it’s not surprising that secular groups are now sharing this mantle.

I guess there’s peace and community to be found wherever people choose to come together, whether it’s a church, a mosque, or the Trinity Centre.

Join 2,500 Cable members redefining local media

Your support will help the Cable grow, deepening our connections in the city and investigating the issues that matter most in our communities.

Join now

What makes us different?


Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

Post a comment

Mark if this comment is from the author of the article

By posting a comment you agree to our Comment Policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related content

Community standoff with council over eviction threat of beloved Kuumba Centre in St Pauls

The space next to Stokes Croft has served the local community for decades but activists are now fighting to secure its long-term future.

Urban growers are quietly laying the ground for a food revolution. Can it become a reality?

Growing fruit and veg close to home is better for our health – and could help keep us fed when climate change disrupts supply chains. Could doing more of it provide a secure, affordable, and sustainable way of meeting Bristol's needs?

Listen: Bristol Unpacked with Babbasa CEO Poku Osei on changing the system from the inside

In the wake of the recent murder of St Pauls teenager Eddie King Muthemba Kinuthia, Neil talks to Poku Osei from Babbasa who aim to empower young people from local income and ethnic minority households.

Turbo Island got tarmacked, was there a better alternative?

An outpouring of posts eulogising the wonders of Turbo Island poured forth on social media, bemoaning the loss of a “cultural icon”. But what does it mean for Stokes Croft?

Listen: Skate or Cry by Jazlyn Pinckney

In this audio documentary, five women taking space in Bristol’s skateboarding scene speak to Jazlyn Pinckney. Some have just picked up a board for the first time, others have been skating for decades.

Campaigners face uphill battle to save two BS5 pubs from redevelopment

From the Redfield residents trying to preserve a historic cinema to the Barton Hill activists just wanting to keep their last local, there are common frustrations for communities trying to hang on to the places that matter to them.

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday

Join our newsletter

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter

Get our latest stories & essential Bristol news
sent to your inbox every Saturday morning