Criticism hurts when it is from someone close, whose opinion you respect, and who knows you well. We’ve received potshots from folk who’ve never been to a Sunday Assembly, and those who never would, and that is water off a duck’s posterior, but there was a letter into the Freethinker which did sting.
One of the original organisers of Sunday Assembly Melbourne, Lev Lafayette, wrote in to say we have “the worst possible organisational design for a body that wants to be a non-theistic church” (but what do you really think, Lev?). We must say we disagree strongly with him, and this is my response to the Freethinker:
“Hi the Freethinker,
In April I wrote a blogpost called ‘Notes on Transparency and Structure‘ where I explained that that The Sunday Assembly was initially setting up as a limited liability company, because it was the easiest structure. This would then lead to a Community Interest Company, and then, probably, to a charity.
The Sunday Assembly is a godless congregation that celebrates life. Our aim is to live better, help often and wonder more. Our mission is to help everyone first discover and then achieve their full potential. We meet because we know we are stronger together than on our own.”
This roadmap came from advice we received from the excellent Trudy Thompson, who runs Bricks and Bread, and specialises in consulting to start up social enterprises. Her reasoning was that we should go for the easiest structure now, as the tax and governance benefits would not effect a nigh-on zero revenue organisation like our’s. This would enable us to concentrate on our good work, and not on paperwork.
Pippa and I are comedians, so we followed her advice.
The worldwide response to the launch of the Sunday Assembly just six months ago has been one of the most whizzy aspects of this whole caboodle so far. Hundreds have been in touch, and it’s time for an update about progress.
Taking inspiration from other worldwide movements such as Transition, we’re starting to build a network-based organisation. To start with, we’re keen to make as much progress as possible in the shortest time. This means involving a minimum of bureaucracy, with the lightest weight corporate structures possible which nonetheless offer accountability, probity and quality standards.
There are five groups in the UK (Exeter, Bristol, Southend, Brighton and Birmingham) who are acting as pilots and setting up their own Sunday Assembly Everywhere. They are setting up as ‘unincorporated associations’, the format used by many community groups, sports clubs etc. The hub of the network will be Better Often More, based in London. This was set up as a limited company as the quickest route, and will move towards a Community Interest Company or charity as soon as practicable.
I am co-ordinating the network, which also includes organisers from Melbourne, as we start to grow together and learn from the experience. We have a Google Group for communications, a growing collection of online resources and telecalls from time to time to applaud progress and discuss how everything is evolving.
We passed a milestone in mid-June 2013 with the first Sunday Assembly Everywhere in Exeter – huge round of applause to Matt Pocock and the team down there for getting it together. Bristol are looking to start on July 14, with the others coming in the autumn. This is all a huge learning curve – we’re finding out how important it is to develop a local team prior to actually moving to running events, where to find great speakers, and looking for ways to make sure that the whizziness of the Sunday Assembly comes across every time.
At the moment this is all running on enthusiasm and commitment, and everyone involved is working hard to make it happen in a sustainable way. The learning from this first phase will be invaluable in developing what happens next – whatever that turns out to be. In the meantime, here are some ideas for those of you keen on starting a Sunday Assembly Everywhere in your town:
• Start to gather a core team
• Begin to meet regularly (not necessarily very frequently) to share ideas. These might include:
o Personal thoughts on living better, helping often and wondering more
o How SAE could be useful in your area
o Who might want to get involved – local humanist/skeptic groups and others
• Get along to a Sunday Assembly – in London or wherever you can – to experience it for yourselves.”
It’s sad that we weren’t able to convince Lev that we were on the right track. We tried, even suggesting a phone call, but it wasn’t to be. Oh well, I hope that when I meet him, and all the paperwork is done, we are able to get on and have a good chat over a pint (or do they have schooners in Melbourne? I can never remember).
If you have any further questions about this please ask us. We are doing a blog series on The Rationalist at the moment where we plan on writing answers to a lot of these questions, and I think it would be good to have some sort of monthly town hall meeting where these issues can be answered, before they become letters to magazines.
Thanks a lot for reading this intensely long post. In other news: Pippa and I are in Edinburgh at the moment where our new show Joy and Wonder was described as a cross between an orgasm, a Nuremberg Rally and a drug or adrenaline-fuelled disco rave by John Fleming.
We’re using the show as an experiment for new bits that might work at a Sunday Assembly because we want to make it better than better than better than ever.