“Fun, hard, rewarding, infuriating, and worth it”—Nicole Steeves, Sunday Assembly



Nicole Steeves was born and raised Pentecostal outside of Flint, Michigan. She stopped believing around 4th grade after what she calls “a lame week at church camp” (when she learned of her church’s anti-abortion position), then relapsed just in time for her 9th grade baptism in the cross-shaped pool at her family’s megachurch.

It didn’t last. She stopped believing again in high school and began calling herself an atheist in college. But there was something missing, something she had lost when she left the church—something that had nothing to do with God.

“I actually thought about joining InterVarsity Christian Fellowship,” she says, “not because I believed, but because the people were so, so nice and exuded such goodness. I realized I didn’t fit in there due to my pesky atheism, but their niceness made me much more appreciative of how good Christians can be.”

It was also a reminder for her of the profound benefits of community, a need she began to feel strongly again when she became a parent. She first heard of the Sunday Assembly movement, a weekly congregational experience for the nonreligious, just a few weeks after the first SA met in London. “It really caught my attention when Stephen Fry talked about it on Craig Ferguson’s show in spring 2013. This prompted me to contact SA about the possibility of having something in Chicago.” She met Sunday Assembly founder Sanderson Jones during a tour of potential US sites and quickly became the Chicago producer.

Chicago joined over 30 other weekly Sunday Assembly sites, bringing the nonreligious together for a lively celebration of life, an opportunity to reflect, and a chance to focus energies around giving and volunteering.

Like anything that tests new waters, especially in the icy straits of the “culture wars,” SA has met with both enthusiasm and criticism. Some atheist critics feel it is too similar to church, while some religious critics say it is not similar enough to be meaningful.

“It has been fun and hard and rewarding and infuriating and silly and expensive and worth it,” says Nicole. “I think it CAN continue and succeed, but I don’t know if it will. I am hopeful.”

Nicole says her single greatest reward has been the reaction of her daughter. “She told me how much she loves it. I was gobsmacked and overjoyed, and every minute and dollar was justified.”

See Nicole Steeves on the secular community panel at Humanism at Work, July 18-20 in Chicago.