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A ‘random group of misfits’ or being ‘part of something bigger’? Exploring experiences of attending a non-religious congregation.

Blackburn, Rowena, Jim, Carly ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9524-2904 and Paltoglou, Aspasia Eleni (2022) A ‘random group of misfits’ or being ‘part of something bigger’? Exploring experiences of attending a non-religious congregation. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health & Well-Being, 17 (1). ISSN 1748-2623

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Abstract

Purpose Religion is an important part of many people’s lives and there is some evidence that attending church or other religious congregations is positively associated with psychological well-being. However, religious participation is declining in Western Europe and North America. Sunday Assembly is a non-religious gathering that intends to provide a similar communal experience and a sense of spirituality to the church, but without the religious element. In the current study, we aimed to explore the experiences of and motivations for attending a non-religious congregation in relation to well-being. Methods A qualitative approach was taken, gathering data through semi-structured interviews with participants from Sunday Assembly congregations across England. Results Thematic analysis was used and three key themes were found: (1) searching for meaning and community, (2) Sunday Assembly as protective of mental health, and (3) loneliness in a crowd. Conclusions Sunday Assembly can provide a sense of belonging and improvement in mental health through shared experience and spirituality, and it can act as a coping mechanism during difficult times. Further research could explore the benefits of Sunday Assembly upon attendee’s mental health, test the effectiveness of Sunday Assembly as a coping mechanism, and whether continued attendance improves mood over time.

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