Brighton Sunday Assembly – 22 January 2017 – ‘Forgiveness’

Volunteers began arriving at St Andrew’s Church on Waterloo Street from 9am. Using instruction sheets and checklists, the two hours spent setting up were busy and good humoured.
First came sweeping up and putting up signs, then setting up the projector and screen, sound desk and mics, then putting toys out in the children’s corner and setting up the food bank. Brighton Sunday Assembly services are organised by a committee – a core group of volunteers, and roles are shared amongst them. Lynn is floor manager this month. When new volunteers start they are often given specific jobs. Those who started today arranged the tea things and put up the bunting.
Catie and Paul worked on the sound desk. Paul, who usually sets up the sound desk, first came along when the Brighton Sunday Assembly began. This was around three years ago. He has been involved ever since. Paul described the meetings as ‘inclusive – everyone is welcome’.
Lynn handed out name stickers. Amy set out the cakes. Gareth made safe the cabling running across the stage area. He described how the Brighton Sunday Assembly has evolved over three years – finding a way that works so the services can run smoothly.
Rob, the choirmaster, lead the choir rehearsal from around 10.30am. They sang ‘Shake It Off’, ‘Want You Back’ and ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ – and accompanied it with lots of shaking, shimmying, air guitar and a fair amount of laughter.
Simon hosted this month. In what seemed a particularly moving meeting, three speakers addressed the theme of forgiveness. Marina Cantacuzino spoke about The Forgiveness Project. Amy used a story and audience participation to discuss the importance of perspective, leading us to the conclusion that being able to see things from a different point of view might help us be more able to forgive. Gareth read a beautiful piece by the Reverend Martin Luther King on the nature of forgiveness, chosen as the service fell a week after what would have been his 88th birthday.
Among notices at the end, a call was made for ‘new blood’ – volunteers that might be musicians, speakers or those willing to give readings, serve tea and bring cakes, or bring quiet toys for the children’s area.

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happy-people-jpg-galleryTHE HAPPY LIST

Happy Lists were born out of a need to provide an antidote to all those rich lists and celebrity lists which worship at the shrine of the wealthy, the bonus-getters, and the tax avoiders. This list honours a different set of values –naming the people who have, without any thought of personal gain or recognition, done so much to make their communities better adjusted places leading to their cities and thus countries becoming a better and happier place.

David Randall at the Independent on Sunday created the first national Happy List in 2008, teaming up with Happy City in 2013 to produce the first local version in Bristol. The Action for Happiness group in Brighton joined our intrepid band in 2015, and both cities aim to repeat their successes with a new list for 2016.

This initiative is far more significant than it at first appears. Here’s how the benefits stack up:

  • Nominators feel good about nominating and can take credit for the chain of events which follow
  • Nominees get a boost from the appreciation, becoming part of a fellowship where there’s mutual support
  • The ideas, activities, people and places which nominees work with get some free PR
  • From the unsolicited profile, there often comes an injection of energy as new people begin to engage
  • A ripple effect can emerge as people inspired by what they see decide make a difference where they are

So HappyLists aren’t just a one-off ‘nice’ little story.

HappyLists are a power tool, helping change-makers in their work.

We’re currently looking for nominations for Bristol and Brighton’s 2016 lists – click on the link to land on the page with the nomination forms.

We’re also looking for people in other cities who would like to coordinate this fantastically uplifting initiative.  City Lists are limited to 50 people per year, selected from a mix of public nominations, people recognised for public spirited efforts in other lists, and research by the coordinating team.  If you would like to know more, write to

Sunday 28th February: ‘Journeys’

Unfortunately, our programmed main speaker, Steve Parker, was not able to attend our assembly on Sunday, but another Mr Parker, Michael, stood in at the last minute: we’re extremely grateful to him for stepping in!

First-time host, Gareth was our front-man for this month’s assembly on the theme of ‘Journeys’.  While the runners of the Brighton Half Marathon pounded the pavements outside, our fabulous house-band and choir set the pace with our first journey-themed song, the Proclaimers’ 500 Miles.

Rosa, Sunday Assembly Brighton regular contributor, read a beautiful poem written especially for the service.  She described the journey she had been on by writing a poem, and then scrapping it, conscious of the wide remit of the theme, pushing herself to explore an unfamiliar style.  She observed that journeys prompt us to push our boundaries wide, to explore new places and ideas, but they often return us home to a place of familiarity and comfort.  She told of her personal journey through life, reliving a particular memory of visiting Carsten Holler’s giant slides in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern, that created a playground for her and her partner to enjoy, and reflected on her happiness in choosing to share her journey with a man who makes her laugh.

As our main speaker, Michael Parker talked about his personal journey, that led him to join Band of Brothers, a charitable group who act as role models and provide mentorship for young men experiencing difficult life situations. He described how the group are able to explore and recount their own journeys, allowing them to recognise and overcome the obstacles that can act as deterrents in achieving personal goals.

The second song was REM’s ‘Man on the Moon’….but a bit quicker!  This led us neatly onto a talk by our favourite moustached science enthusiast, Russell Arnott, who spoke about the ‘Best Journey Ever!’, and the requirements of travelling to the moon.  He cleared up any confusion over the first men on the moon (‘Neil‘ Armstrong, not ‘Lance’, and Buzz ‘Aldrin‘, as opposed to ‘Lightyear’). and shared with us some interesting facts about journeying to the moon: the escape velocity to leave planet earth requires a speed of 40,270 km/h; radiation exposure is arguably the most dangerous aspect of living in space; and the Saturn V rocket has perhaps the worst fuel consumption ever: a shocking 18cm to the gallon!

We finished with our final song, Don’t Stop Believing by Journey (you see what we did there?!).

Join us next time for Sunday Assembly Brighton on Sunday 27th March at 11am at [map id=”1″]St Andrew’s, Waterloo Street, Hove[/map] .  If you would like to help us set up on the day, or plan the events in advance, or if you have any feedback for us, then please contact us at

For upcoming events & details of the next planning meeting, please refer to our Facebook page:

Or do you fancy writing this blog as a guest blogger?  Drop us an email to the address above.

Safe travels everybody!

Jo xx

Sunday 20th December: ‘Feasts’

Our December service had a festive flavour as we learnt about ‘Feasts’.

Incredible local freestyle lyricist, ‘Gramski’, got the service off to an up-tempo start with his improvised poem about a feast involving the audience-suggested Gandhi and Marilyn Monroe, on the West Pier discussing Star Wars: pretty impressive stuff (perhaps you had to be there!).

Louise Peskett, guide and teacher at the Royal Pavilion, introduced us to the nineteenth century ‘celebrity chef’, Antoine Careme.  She explained that Careme was responsible for creating the vol-au-vent and creme caramel, and was quite possibly the first person to introduce soup as a starter.  Antoine Careme was abandoned by his parents at a young age and worked his way up ‘from the gutter’, making his mark on the culinary world, and leaving a legacy of over two thousand recipes.  What a great role model: he found something he was good at and stuck to it.

Louise told us of the history of the mince pie, explaining that the recipe for minced-meat pies, spiced with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, was brought back to the UK by European crusaders from the Middle East. She dispelled the myth that it is illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas Day, the ruling being a remnant of the English civil war when mince pies were considered symbols of Catholic idolatry by the puritan authorities.

Russell ‘the science guy’ Arnott then delighted (or disgusted?) us with a practical demonstration of the digestive process of your festive fayre, involving an inner tube, some mashed cereal and a pair of tights.

Our four (yes, FOUR!) songs for the season of festive feasts were ‘Food, Glorious Food’ (of course!), ‘Winter Wonderland’, and ‘Let it Snow’, but we added a drop of cheerful optimism with ‘Walking on Sunshine’.

We also had many generous donations for our food drive for the Brighton Food Bank. Thank you to all those who contributed.

We look forward to seeing you on 24th January.

Happy new year everyone!

Jo x


Sunday 22nd November: ‘Differences’

Sunday 22nd November: Differences

We had two different hosts for November’s assembly, Rob and Mikey, who led us through an inspiring itinerary on the theme of ‘Differences’.

To start things off, Louise Taylor read her poem, ‘The Lightbulb’, which she described as ‘a poem about a journey to make a difference’.  In the poem, when insecurity surfaced, her confidence was bolstered by ‘Nick’ who spiritedly advised ‘when the light goes on, start dancing’ and declared that ‘we are the creators of all that we see’.  My favourite was the heart-warming line, ‘I’ve learnt much from my mistakes; so I think I’ll make some more’. Great advice!  (Louise’s book, ‘You can’t cook a poem like an egg’ is available here).

For our Science Slot, Richard Robinson gave us a fascinating insight into the behaviour of bees…as well as that of human beings.  He opined that ‘we are individuals, we are ourselves, we are different, but we like to gather as a crowd and share things together: sadness; joy; wonder‘.  He made the comparison that bees, like us, are individuals but like to group together in order to share information and experiences: it’s just a matter of balancing the two!  He stressed the importance of different voices and opinions in discussions, and heralded the benefits of parliamentary democracy.  He concluded:  ‘Vive la difference: difference gives you traction, but it is more than that….La Vie is only possible if there is la difference’.

Our main speaker was Ali Lapper, MBE, a disabled British artist who was famously featured on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth from 2005-2007 as the subject of the sculpture ‘Alison Lapper Pregnant’.   Born without arms and with shortened legs and institutionalised from birth, Ali spoke of the term used to describe her at a young age, ‘a strange little creature’.  In her childhood, Ali was not initially aware of her differences as she grew up amongst 250 children like her.  As she got older, she strived to look like everybody else in the broader population, and was fitted with prosthetic limbs, though these were so artificial that she related more to the Daleks on TV than to the people around her.  She felt different, ugly, and people surmised that because of her disability she would not be able to have children.  When she learnt to drive, she felt as though she’d been given wings and her independence allowed her confidence to grow.  She moved to London and, determined to avoid returning to care, she embarked on the pursuit of a ‘normal’ life.  But she still felt different.  During her fine art degree, she began to question (as so many of us do at some point in our life) ‘what do I look like?  How do I feel about myself?  How do I feel about the way I look?’.  She became aware that as a human being, she experiences compassion, love, anger, frustration and empathy just as everyone else does, and learnt to accept herself as she is, no longer striving to fit an image influenced by the perceptions of other people.  Gradually, though, she began to realise that perhaps she wasn’t so different to everybody else…..and was disappointed!  She realised that she’d liked being different!  She has subsequently spent her life embracing being different.  She enjoys being who she is.  She advocates: ‘embrace the difference and be proud of it!’

Our final reading was an interpretation of our anecdotal ‘This Much I Know’ slot, and one of our regular congregants, Sam, read an incredibly personal poem, titled ‘Different’, which summed up the theme beautifully.

As always, we were accompanied by our wonderful choir and band, with guitarists Paul and Chris choosing to interpret the theme by playing their unconventional ‘Flying-V’ guitars.

Do come and join us for our next assembly on the THIRD Sunday in December (20th) when we will explore the tradition of ‘Feasts’.  We will also be having a food collection for the Brighton Food Bank so please bring along un-opened, in-date non-perishables.

And if you would like to join us for our festive social, come along to the function room at the Northern Lights on Saturday 12th December from 7pm (see our events page or Facebook for details).

Look forward to seeing you in December!

Jo x

Sunday 25th October: ‘Boring’

‘Boring’ was a surprisingly interesting theme for this month’s service.  ‘Parklife’ was a lively opening song, the narrative being wonderfully delivered by Rob, our host for the day, supported by our choir and the Sunday Assembly Brighton house band.

Sunday Assembly Brighton first-timer Michael Parker read his uplifting poem and proposed that ‘being bored isn’t boring’ and revealed that he loves to get bored and wait for inspiration to find him.  He amused us with his observations and his repeated Iggy Pop-esque proclamation, ‘I’m the chairman of the bored!!’, an expression that amused us all.

Our main talk was by James Ward who, inspired by a print by Andy Warhol ‘I like boring things’, started a blog of the same name. Disappointed by the cancellation of the 2010 ‘Interesting Conference’, James launched the ‘Boring Conference‘ which was billed as “a one-day celebration of the mundane, the ordinary, the obvious and the overlooked” and proved astonishingly popular, with tickets selling out.  Topics such as car park roofs and milk matching to cereals were covered, and there was a presentation of a sneeze journal by a man who recorded a snapshot of his life by noting down the force of every sneeze he suffered, as well as what he was looking at at the time.  James surmised that even the most mundane things become interesting when a person has taken the time to observe and present them.  The process of giving something time, attention and focus can be inspiring, no matter what the subject: they can turn a sneeze into a diary, or a packet of Munchies into a museum.

Our second song was ‘The Importance of being Idle’ by Oasis swiftly followed by Russell ‘the science guy’ Arnott who presented some interesting facts about the other sort of ‘boring’ in his potted history of drilling. We learnt that the deepest hole ever bored is the Kola Superdeep Borehole, reaching 12,261 km, barely scratching the surface of the earth’s 6500 km radius.

After a moment of reflection and this month’s notices, the choir and band led us through the third and final song, ‘Lazy Sunday’.

Who knew boring could be so uplifting?

We look forward to our next assembly on Sunday 22nd November when our main speaker will be the inspirational Ali Lapper, who will be giving her perspective on how we can celebrate our ‘Differences’.

Look forward to seeing you there.

Jo x