The Mother of all Weddings was held at Wilderness festival last summer. It was a very special gathering and today we have an interview with organiser Stephanie Pollard from Sunday Assembly.
Q. Can you tell us about Sunday Assembly?
A. Sunday Assembly is a global network of secular communities that celebrate life following the motto “Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More”. There’s a basic format to our assemblies, which includes meaningful themes, sing-alongs to pop and rock tunes (we put the lyrics up on a screen like karaoke), a main speaker giving a TED-style talk, poetry, and members of the community getting up to share some of their personal struggles or triumphs.
Q. Where did the idea come from and who organised it?
A. The idea of Sunday Assembly came from two comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, who began to talk about their upbringing during a car ride to Bath for a gig. They both realised they loved all the community aspects of religion, but not the religious bits. So they held their first assembly in January 2013, nearly a decade ago, and it was a huge success! The news of their ‘atheist church’ went viral and soon assemblies began popping up all over the world. We don’t actually refer to it as an ‘atheist church’ though, because that label doesn’t entirely fit what we’re about. So it doesn’t matter what your beliefs are, because the topic rarely comes up at an assembly.
We are radically inclusive and ‘welcome all who welcome all’
Pippa stepped down as co-director in 2018 to pursue her comedy career and Sanderson followed soon after to launch his Lifefulness Project, which asks deep questions about why we create communities, what purpose they serve, and helps people to build better ones. Sanderson still occasionally hosts Sunday Assembly’s London events.
Q. How did you gather the couples?
A. Sanderson created a webform for people attending Wilderness 2021 to complete if they wanted to participate in the wedding ceremony. We were looking for couples whose wedding plans had been scuppered by the pandemic. Wilderness was a perfect place for people to celebrate their union. The form was put up on the Wilderness website and we got responses from over 40 couples! I think we had about 25 couples at the event.
Q. What was the order of the day?
- We started off in our usual way of getting everyone up and dancing and singing to an absolute banger, “White Wedding”.
- Then we played processional music for the couples as they made their way to the edge of the stage (“Here Comes the Bride” seamlessly sliding into an instrumental version of “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd).
- Sanderson explained to the rest of the audience what the purpose of our event was – to help these couples celebrate their unions in front of a massive, energetic, party-ready crowd because they couldn’t have the weddings they had planned.
- He then asked everyone to slowly clap their hands while chanting the word “Love”. It was a sea of love that we could feel from the stage – absolutely magical.
- Sanderson invited friends of the couples to have a mock hen/stag do for them, which included a gang of Spartans dancing lewdly. I was a big fan of the one who decided to breakdance wearing little more than gold hot pants!
- We performed a couple more songs (“I Believe in a Thing Called Love”, and “The Best”).
- Sanderson conducted the mock ceremony, which felt more genuine than most actual weddings I’ve been to. Seriously, the whole thing was so emotional! Instead of exchanging rings they did a handfasting with zip-ties!
- The couples all kissed and hugged.
- We ended the show with two more songs (“Blinding Lights” and “I’ve Had The Time of My Life”).
Q. What were your favourite memories/stand out moments of the day?
A. I was one of the lead singers, so my personal favourite moment was singing “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” onstage in front of a couple of thousand very enthusiastic and beautiful people! There was so much love in the air.