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Non-Religious Community 1: Austin Edwards on Sunday Assembly Detroit














Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Publisher Founding: January 1, 2014

Web Domain: 

Location: Fort Langley, Township of Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Journal: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Journal Founding: August 2, 2012

Frequency: Three (3) Times Per Year

Review Status: Non-Peer-Reviewed

Access: Electronic/Digital & Open Access

Fees: None (Free)

Volume Numbering: 11

Issue Numbering: 2

Section: E

Theme Type: Idea

Theme Premise: “Outliers and Outsiders”

Theme Part: 27

Formal Sub-Theme: “Non-Religious Community”

Individual Publication Date: January 22, 2023

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2023

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Interviewer(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Interviewee(s): Austin Edwards

Word Count: 1,728

Image Credits: Austin Edwards

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN): 2369-6885

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citations, after the interview.*


Austin Edwards is an engineer with an interest in physics, inventing, and crafting. He is an avid reader of politics, classics, and YA books. His personal motto is “stay curious”. Edwards discusses: Humanism; Sunday Assembly Detroit; find out about, and become a part of, Sunday Assembly Detroit; Star Trek and similar sci-fi genre; Covid; Sunday Assembly weekly program; the speakers; Sunday Assembly spread; and Sunday Assembly evolved.

Keywords: Chicago, Christianity, Ethical Societies, Humanism, Humanism of Rush, Humanist values, Neil Peart, Oasis Network, SA Detroit, secular world, Star Trek, Sunday Assembly.

Non-Religious Community 1: Austin Edwards on Sunday Assembly Detroit

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you find Humanism?

Austin Edwards: I first became atheist, and by becoming a part of the secular world I heard about Humanism. At first, I was in my “angry atheist” phase and was keener on questioning, confronting, and exposing religion and the people who believed in it (mainly Christianity as that’s what I’m more surrounded by) and so I didn’t give much thought to Humanism though I knew that on the surface level I agreed with what little I had read of it. Only after a few years of arguing did I get bored/tired of fighting, and I wanted to know what came after. I wanted to know how I could build and not just fight. I wanted to stop trying to change people’s minds and just start living the way I wanted to in order to build the world I wanted to live in. So, I sought out organizations that better aligned with those values. Sunday Assembly (SA) and the local Detroit chapter specifically were exactly what I was looking for. SA is not explicitly Humanist to my knowledge, but we certainly embody Humanist values, and SA Detroit has now explicitly added Humanism to our chapter’s Charter. There wasn’t ever a ‘coming to Humanism’ moment (like I hear there are ‘coming to Jesus’ moments) for me, rather it has been a very gradual discovery. I’m still learning more about Humanism, it’s history and what it means to embody it daily. But I guess to answer your question a little more directly, I heard most about it during my years in college (17-21 y.o.) when I really got involved in secular activism.

Jacobsen: When was Sunday Assembly Detroit founded?

Edwards: I was still in college when SA Detroit was founded, and the leadership handoff has been less than spectacular so unfortunately some of our history has been lost. I do know that that we were founded in 2014 and I was able to attend the first meeting ever held. Beyond that I cannot elaborate much.

Jacobsen: When did you find out about, and become a part of, Sunday Assembly Detroit?

Edwards: I had found out about the SA movement a year or two prior to going to the SA Detroit Chapter (so about 2012 – 2013). It seemed like an awesome organization (when I was little, I dreamed of making an atheist church that would have science Sundays instead of Sunday school, for example) so I was immediately drawn to it. A friend of mine lived in Chicago at the time and he and I went to visit the Chicago chapter. There was a first wave of SA chapters that start in the US earlier than 2012 and Chicago was one of the cities chosen for a chapter. Then there was a second big wave in 2014 which is when Detroit got their chapter. I heard about this somehow (probably I had signed up for email notifications or something) and so I went to visit the very first assembly that SA Detroit put on.

It was only after I graduated college (in 2017) that I sought out and had the time to become a part of SA Detroit. It only took me <1 year to become a part of leadership and soon enough the president of the org.

Jacobsen: Star Trek and similar sci-fi genre are seen as humanistic in presentation because of the diversity of representation, the scientific outlook, and the exploratory nature of culture and life. How are these and other educational items built into the Sunday Assembly presentations?

Edwards: We’ve actually had a whole presentation on the Humanism of Star Trek. Unfortunately, we didn’t end up recording that one, but it was spectacular. We’ve also incorporated Humanistic lessons from other places such as local non-profits, local professors’ research topics, and lessons from bands (we had an assembly on the Humanism of Rush when Neil Peart died, for example). You can find about 25 recorded assemblies on our YouTube channel here.

Jacobsen: How did Covid impact gatherings for Sunday Assembly Detroit?

Edwards: It was a huge upset to the way that we worked. As an organization, meeting together in person is our lifeblood and not being able to do that was nearly a death knell for us. We managed to cope by meeting online for the majority of the pandemic or by meeting only in outdoor venues like parks and maintaining strict social distancing, masking, and vaccination requirements. Thankfully for secular people this was not a difficult ask as everyone here believes and well understands the science and importance of all of those restrictions / actions. As the pandemic abated, we have loosened / removed most of the restrictions and we’re back to meeting in person and indoors. We’re also slowly getting people to come back who we didn’t see for the last couple years while the chaos of the pandemic ensued.

Jacobsen: How does the Sunday Assembly weekly program seem to differ from traditional religious weekly services?

Edwards: Well, first, we don’t meet weekly. That would take a level of resources and coordination that we simply don’t have yet. Perhaps one day we’ll grow to a point where such a task is feasible though. It’s harder for us to do our assemblies weekly for the simple fact that we don’t have clergy, let alone someone who is solely dedicated to making a lecture each week. We don’t have any paid staff and our organization runs on a relatively skeleton crew – though I gather we have more people helping out than some other assembly chapters. Even if we did designate one person to design a weekly lecture, it would be somewhat against our very being to entrust just one person to have all the knowledge we could want to know. We don’t believe in divine revelation or in someone who is in contact with a God. We are free-thinking people and so we want our sources to be qualified and varied. This is why in the past we’ve stuck to bringing in professors, non-profit professionals, and accredited people to talk on topics. Finding those people takes a lot of work and so the most frequently we can manage to hold an assembly is monthly. During the pandemic we stopped having assemblies in the form we were used to and just dropped to having the lecture, essentially. Now that we’re coming back out of the pandemic, we’re looking to reinvent the assembly entirely to move it even further away from the Anglican model upon which it was based. Over the next year we’re going to explore ways that secularists and Humanists can more comfortably relate to one another, and we’re excited to see what kinds of new rituals and activities we come up with!

To answer your question more directly, the typical historical assembly (and one practiced by virtually every other chapter) is nearly copy/paste from the Anglican church (SA was started in the UK). So, the model is: song, welcome, song, life happens (people share something that’s happened in the last month), song, lecture & Questions, song, announcements and emcee address, closing song. The biggest difference is that God is never mentioned – not even to be derogatory. We simply have other/better things to think about and do.

As far as how it’s different, well that depends on the “traditional religious weekly service” you’re referring to. Which Christian sect? Which Muslim or Hindu Sect? Which any other religion and it’s sect? The further you get from the Anglican Church model, the more different our ‘services’ are.

Jacobsen: What is encouraged, discouraged, allowed, and disallowed, for the speakers?

Edwards: The obvious stuff is that it must be more or less family friendly (we generally avoid swearing and sexually explicit content). We don’t allow soliciting. We also try to stay away from political parties and candidates since we’re a non-profit org. We also aren’t interested in talking about God/gods/religion except for Humanism.

Outside of that, which isn’t an exhaustive list, anything goes. We try to talk about stuff that’s interesting to our membership. The goal is that the message should be uplifting and encouraging. It should make people want to be better or feel better. Our new assemblies will also try to impart some knowledge about Humanism, seeing the world and its happenings though a Humanist lens, and how to better embody and live out Humanism.

Jacobsen: How far has Sunday Assembly spread now?

Edwards: We’re in many of the major cities, and in a few of the western European countries. We have seen a substantial decline in SA chapters only a few years after they all sprung up (we’re at about 40 chapters or less now which is about half the chapters we had at our peak). It turns out that starting something is a very different exercise than maintaining and growing something. A lot of chapters were started only for the leadership to not change out and so get burnt out. As an example, I’ve been running SA Detroit for 5 years now and only this year (2023) was I able to successfully transfer leadership (presidency) on to someone else. As we go forward, we’re looking to find best practices for leadership succession and keeping a focus on our membership and developing the members to be able to step into a leadership role when one becomes vacant. We’re also looking for ways to reduce the workload overall (which is one reason we’re going away from the traditional model) and on any one person. All of the chapters are in constant contact and we’re always sharing ways that we can improve and do better. We’re also developing people at the national level to help struggling chapters and help found new ones. We’re also joining forces with Oasis Network and the Ethical Societies (two orgs that are very similar to SA) to share resources and build a stronger network. With all of these things in the works, I think we’ll see a comeback for SA over the next few years.

Jacobsen: How has Sunday Assembly evolved over the last few years?

Edwards: I think you’ve gotten a sense for the answer to this question by reading the others. We’re constantly evolving, and the confederated chapter-style approach allows each chapter to be agile while still holding to a central theme, way of being, and marketing strategy.






American Medical Association (AMA 11th Edition): Jacobsen S. Non-Religious Community 1: Austin Edwards on Sunday Assembly Detroit. January 2023; 11(2).

American Psychological Association (APA 7th Edition): Jacobsen, S. (2023, January 22). Non-Religious Community 1: Austin Edwards on Sunday Assembly Detroit. In-Sight Publishing. 11(2).

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. D. Non-Religious Community 1: Austin Edwards on Sunday Assembly Detroit. In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, Fort Langley, v. 11, n. 2, 2023.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (17th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2023. “Non-Religious Community 1: Austin Edwards on Sunday Assembly Detroit.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 11, no. 2 (Spring).

Chicago/Turabian, Notes & Bibliography (17th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott Non-Religious Community 1: Austin Edwards on Sunday Assembly Detroit.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 11, no. 2 (January 2023).

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. (2023) ‘Non-Religious Community 1: Austin Edwards on Sunday Assembly DetroitIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, 11(2). <>.

Harvard (Australian): Jacobsen, S 2023, ‘Non-Religious Community 1: Austin Edwards on Sunday Assembly DetroitIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 11, no. 2, <>.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 9th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. “Non-Religious Community 1: Austin Edwards on Sunday Assembly Detroit.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vo.11, no. 2, 2023,

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Non-Religious Community 1: Austin Edwards on Sunday Assembly Detroit [Internet]. 2023 Jan; 11(2). Available from:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Based on work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, or the author(s), and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors copyright their material, as well, and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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