Don’t call it atheist church; secular communities are growing

Religion News Service video by Sally Morrow KANSAS CITY, Mo. (RNS) A group of nonbelievers held its first secular Sunday service here earlier this month. These meetings fill a need that area atheists say wasn’t being met: Weekly get-togethers for like-minded people in a family-friendly environment.
Participants listen to speakers during Kansas City's first Oasis gathering on Sunday, April 6, 2014 in downtown Kansas City, Mo. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow

Participants listen to speakers during Kansas City’s first Oasis gathering on April 6, 2014 in downtown Kansas City, Mo. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The group is called Kansas City Oasis, and it’s modeled after Houston Oasis in Texas. But don’t call it an “atheist church” — they prefer “secular community,” or “humanist community.” These Oasis communities aren’t the only Sunday meetup. Another secular Sunday meeting model, Sunday Assembly, has spread throughout England, the U.S. and Australia. Kansas City has several active groups and organizations targeted toward the nonreligious. The Kansas City Atheist Coalition has well over 100 members — and those are just the dues-paying members.
Organizer Helen Stringer shares her story with the crowd during Kansas City's first Oasis gathering on Sunday, April 6, 2014 in downtown Kansas City, Mo. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow

Organizer Helen Stringer shares her story with the crowd during Kansas City’s first Oasis gathering on April 6, 2014 in downtown Kansas City, Mo. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

But most of the groups only meet once a month, or for special events — and most of them aren’t geared toward those with young children. “Things tend to be for the under-30 and childless, and that’s hard,” said Helen Stringer, executive director of Kansas City Oasis. She and her husband, both atheists, have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old. One group that is family-oriented — Freethinking Family Fellowship — meets monthly, which can make it hard to build community. Stringer said she wanted to connect with parents who share the same values on a regular basis. Houston Oasis offers special programming for the kids, and Stringer said Kansas City Oasis is following Houston’s model.
A group talks about why they chose to attend Oasis during Kansas City's first Oasis gathering on Sunday, April 6, 2014 in downtown Kansas City, Mo. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow

A group talks about why they chose to attend Oasis during Kansas City’s first Oasis gathering on April 6, 2014 in downtown Kansas City, Mo. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

That model doesn’t include “teaching atheism,” said Lynae Vingle, who oversees the children’s activities at Houston Oasis. “There’s no indoctrination into anything,” she said. Instead, it’s about building community. At Houston Oasis, a typical Sunday morning for the kids usually includes playing with Legos, doing puzzles, coloring and some other fun activities. One week, they did an architecture craft project with toothpicks and orange peels. Last summer, the Houston Oasis held a one-day camp, Camp Oasis.
Dwight Solis holds his son, Bayne, while listening to speakers during Kansas City's first Oasis gathering on Sunday, April 6, 2014 in downtown Kansas City, Mo. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow

Dwight Solis holds his son, Bayne, while listening to speakers during Kansas City’s first Oasis gathering on April 6, 2014 in downtown Kansas City, Mo. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“If you’re a family that has a secular perspective and you have children, you’re probably not going to want to send them to the local vacation Bible school during the summer,” said Mike Aus, a former Lutheran pastor who is now the head of Houston Oasis. He also mentioned how teens sometimes feel pressured to go to church youth groups; Houston Oasis has been working on its youth programs. Aside from the specific children’s activities, the overall culture of both Oasis groups is meant to be family-focused. At Kansas City Oasis, every Sunday is set to include live music from local artists. Josh Stewart, the assistant director and music director of Kansas City Oasis, said he looks for bands that are upbeat, positive and family friendly. He said the music is all performance-based, so people don’t feel pressured to sing along — but if sing-alongs happen naturally, that’s fine. The point, he said, is to provide entertainment and community.
Sean Hogge and Katie Gilchrist perfom popular songs during Kansas City's first Oasis gathering on Sunday, April 6, 2014 in downtown Kansas City, Mo. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow

Sean Hogge and Katie Gilchrist perfom popular songs during Kansas City’s first Oasis gathering on April 6, 2014 in downtown Kansas City, Mo. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Each gathering also features a speaker — sometimes, Stringer said, she might speak, while other times it will be a guest. Darrel Ray, the founder of Recovering from Religion, is scheduled to speak at the group’s second gathering on Sunday (April 13). Stringer hopes that eventually, Kansas City Oasis will provide more layers of connectivity through mom’s groups, other niche get-togethers and service opportunities. “I want us to be a community that really gives back,” she said. “I don’t want it to be just a big Sunday party, but I also want it to be something outside of that.” YS/AMB END MOORE The post Don’t call it atheist church; secular communities are growing appeared first on Religion News Service.

5 Responses to “Don’t call it atheist church; secular communities are growing”

  1. Denis Eble

    Why would any group, any individual ‘object’ to a clustering of folks meeting to share their values? What about the Right of Assembly?

    On another note I am surprised that the talk at Lourdes this weekend by Fr. Gregory Boyle was not critiqued here on Toledo FAVS. He is the author of Tattoos on the Heart, a book on gangs, compassion and hope.

  2. Patrick

    “Why would any group, any individual ‘object’ to a clustering of folks meeting to share their values? What about the Right of Assembly? “

    Well, it might be because the shared values of the “clustering of folks” in question are detestable, Denis – such as insisting that we all go and buy lettuce-free salads and yellow-dyed soup at “Chick-fil-A”, every day – or that we kill all the Blacks, Arabs and Jews in the world – or that going to see Mel Gibson movies is hitherto made mandatory.

    (Otherwise, I absolutely agree.)

  3. Patrick

    Oh, for an editing function.

    (David?)

  4. Denis Eble

    I think Patrick wants to be able to edit mistakes he makes in his comments. For example, I believe he only wanted my name in bold (above).

Comments are closed.