The congregants came in two by two. Hurrah!
Well, OK: there were probably a few groups of three, and some people came solo. There may have been the odd four. Basically, there was no particular pattern to how everyone turned up. But turn up they did: nearly 160 lovely folk got out of bed on a chilly but golden January morning and ventured out to contemplate, celebrate and sing about animals for an hour.
So, what did we learn this month? Many things. To name a few:
- The octopus is a hot contender for the title of Best Animal Ever.
- Very few people know the second verse to ‘Karma Chameleon’, while the best bit of ‘Crocodile Rock’ is undoubtedly the la-la-la-la-las.
- The collective noun for a group of crows is a ‘murder’, though it may be an undeservedly harsh word to associate with these rather clever creatures.
- We could all stand to take a life lesson or two from dogs.
There were lots of treats too, including not one but two poetry readings. Regular congregant and staple on the choir Lynn read Ted Hughes’ magnificent poem The Horses. And SA Brighton committee member Simon read his own creation, based in a penguin-themed shop in Simon’s Town, South Africa (it needs to be anthologised).
Our sermon was delivered by returning main speaker and director of February’s Brighton Science Festival Richard Robinson, who took us on a journey of our interpretations of animals through the ages by way of bestiaries (illustrated guides to animals both real and imaginary). It would seem that, where we may always have projected our human characteristics onto creatures, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we must also then acknowledge animal traits reflected in ourselves – and, inevitably, in our offices, as Richard himself has illustrated.
There was much rejoicing as SA Brighton favourite Russell Arnott returned with his semi-regular science slot. This month he revealed his nomination for the best animal in the world ever … Spoiler alert: it’s the octopus. And by the end of his talk, it seemed most people were convinced he was right. (C’mon: these creatures can open jars, fit through any space their beak does, are masters of disguise and are so smart that if kept singly in captivity, a person must be employed to provide regular stimulus or the octopus will die.) Plus, almost as many people were considering a career change to Octopus Entertainer.
This month’s This Much I Know came from Helen, who – after responding to a Facebook call-out for speakers – led us through a day as seen through the eyes of her dog, Bennie. A rescue Rottweiler-Labrador cross she chose when she went looking for something completely different, Bennie and Helen are approaching their ten-year anniversary. During that decade, Helen explained, she’s learned a lot from her canine companion, including how to enjoy every last little bit of what life brings you, even – or especially – when it doesn’t look exactly like you may have planned.
Our first-time host was committee member Maggie, and her enthusiasm and energy came in very handy in the face of (bane of every event organiser’s life) faulty equipment – in this case, a malfunctioning mic. Another lesson we might learn from dogs, as well as a general excitement about life, is that of persevering no matter the setback (heck, they’ll always keep bringing your present back to you, no matter how many times you hurl it away). Happily, Maggie and our speakers were full of this quality, and all did an admirable job of filling their lungs and PROJECTING THEIR VOICES while even our contingent of babies and littl’uns showed a lot of respectful quiet.
In the notices, Rob – resplendent in a flamingo-shaped hat – announced our new partnership with a local food bank: we’ll be having a drive at our assembly on 22 February. This is an initiative led by one of our congregants, and you can find a list of the food items they need on their Facebook page. Rob also announced that a troupe of us were due to be heading up to a training day the following Saturday to gather in London with other UK-based Sunday Assembly organisers. The idea is to find ways to make Sunday Assembly even better, so watch this space for more on that…
At the very start of the year, when the weather, post-Christmas lull and lack of light all generally whisper ‘stay at home’ and it’s not only the bears who are leaning towards hibernation, it was easy to imagine that we could have been looking at a lot of empty pews this assembly. It was particularly cheering, then, to see St Andrew’s gradually fill up. Even better to see it fill up with a collection of lovely people – both familiar faces and first-timers (36 of the latter) – all set to sing along, chat over tea, and readily forgive the odd technical difficulty. What wonderful animals you all are. You may even have pipped the octopus to the post.
See you next time!