It was such a privilege to be invited back by Brighton Fringe and particularly to return to the grandest tent you’ll find that doesn’t come with its own ringmaster. Not least because it means it’s very likely that filing in alongside our lovely regulars were people who’d never heard of Sunday Assembly before.
After a rousing welcome by our daffodil-yellow-clad and ever-chipper host Rob, we got things going with ‘We Go Together’ from Grease. The choir, newly led by congregant Jinny, were in fabulous voice and more than made up for a few of us (ahem, me) stumbling just a little over the scatting: ‘We go together like somethingsomethingsomething sha-bippety-bip-de bop…’. Tongue-tying, but lots of fun.
I felt pretty spoilt by our four amazing speakers for this one. I say speakers, though our reading this month was actually a singing. Wonderfully, we’d been approached by Norwegian singer Kine Kvalstad (via Sarah, one of our congregants: thank you, Sarah!). Kine is part of Singing Cities, an inclusive initiative that works to spread the magic and benefits of singing. She began by reminding us all of the best way to breathe in (into your belly), then how to breathe out on a note. After which, of course, the congregation could sing back up for Kine’s beautiful performance of her own song ‘Breathe’. As well as do the latter much more effectively too.
Next came our main speaker, and we were so happy to welcome David Bramwell, a bit of a Brighton legend: founder and host of the Catalyst Club, author, speaker and occasional Radio 4 presenter, we were lucky he had time to pop by! The tale David had to tell was of the year he spent searching for utopia, or something like it. After living among many communities, from Scotland to California, he not only found himself back where he started, he realised that might have been where he could find some kind of utopia all along. It may matter less where you are and more who you’re with, and how you connect with them. He left us with a quote from Julia, a friend he made during his quest: ‘There is hope in people. Not systems. Or governments. Simply in people.’
We had a brief Taylor Swift interlude where we were all invited to ‘Shake if off’ and to marvel at Ella and Sophia in the choir rapping. (They were fantastic. Word.)
Then it was time for everyone’s favourite wish-he’d-been-my-teacher, Russell. His take on the theme was in exploring the way that radio waves allow us to connect over long distances. This led to a show-and-tell tour through the electromagnetic spectrum using an old TV, a microwave oven, an Infrared heat lamp, a UV tanning lamp, and a Geiger counter. We learned many things along the way, including that white noise is partly cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang; after cataract surgery Monet could see some UV wavelengths of light; and if you put a crisp packet in the microwave it will shrink to a tiny version of itself. (And our apologies to the parents of all the kids who probably went home wanting to do just that.) He may also have briefly microwaved fire. (Again, parents, really sorry.)
We also had the great pleasure of welcoming back previous speaker Bernadette Russell for our This Much I Know segment. Bernadette gave us a very brief but inspiring ‘Ted talk’, which is to say a talk about a man named Ted. After being invited as an artist to be part of an outreach programme, Bernadette went from expecting to talk and perform to realising how important it can be to just listen. In doing so she learned Ted’s story of overcoming his stage fright to become a singer at 84, and that we all have stories to tell, if someone is just willing to take the time to hear them.
After our moment of silent reflection and a chance to say hello to temporary neighbours and possible new friends, we joined voices one more time with the song everyone clearly knew best: the Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’.
The theme of ‘connection’ (thought up by Jo, who has a serious talent for themes) really did feel perfect. And not only because it was the thread that ran in various guises throughout our speakers’ topics, but because it feels so fitting for Sunday Assembly generally. From my position at the back of the tent I could look out over people who’d been brought together, however briefly, for this event. Who might build on a connection they made that day, or after a later event. And I could see the members of our lovely team who come together to create these events. People who’ve come into my life (or maybe I came into theirs) because of this flipping lovely organisation. We really must work on an assembly with the theme ‘Lucky’.
Can’t wait to welcome you back to St Andrew’s on 28 June, friends.
PS Don’t forget: there’s no assembly on 24 May!
PPS If you want to experience David Bramwell’s adventures in full, you can read about them in his book. And check out Zocalo, the simple annual festival of neighbour meeting neighbour by means of a chair outside their house and time spent together. You could even have a look at Bernadette Russell’s happiness-spreading Happy Monday project while you’re at it.