Sanderson Jones is a comedian, presenter, motivational speaker and world record holder, but most famous for co-founding – along with fellow comedian Pippa Evans – the Sunday Assembly. They hold non-religious assemblies across the world where attendees can sing, watch talks, learn a little, and generally commune with their fellow man.
One of their most renowned congregations is in Brighton, though Sunday Assembly now has gatherings all over the world, including Germany, Australia and multiple venues across the United States. At the heart of Sunday Assembly is community, so we’re delighted to have the fantastically hirsute Sanderson come to PLATF9RM to perform his new show “That’s The Spirit!”. We caught up with him to chat about why we all need a little more community in our lives.
Hey Sanderson. You have an extremely diverse resume! How would you describe yourself?
Well, it sounds so pretentious but I now think of myself as field-builder. I’m not just trying to build an organisation, but all the things that are needed in an ecosystem for an idea to have an impact.
So what is it that you’re trying to build? An extension of the Sunday Assembly?
I’ve got this idea called Lifefulness. It’s this concept of congregations that behave in a secular and inclusive way. Creating experiences which match the spiritual impulse but without the spiritual language, because lots of that language is no longer relevant to people’s lives. I want to build my life towards building more secular congregational communities. My aim is changing the culture and that’s a big thing.
It’s similar to how Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the concept of Mindfulness by taking 95% of Buddhism meditation, but left out the Buddhism part. So he built the field of Mindfulness and I’m trying to build the field of Lifefulness.
Do you think this kind of communal experience is lacking in people’s lives?
I think, at the moment, we don’t have a language for shared communal peak experiences. If we do it’s supporting England, or going to Glastonbury, or being at a wedding at 2am and something magical happens. Unless we can isolate that – the core of it – then it means these experiences happen by accident. But there’s a rich tradition of spiritual practices that allows these things to come up in a designed way.
Brighton was one of your first Sunday Assembly congregations, wasn’t it?
It was! I love the Brighton Sunday Assembly community. Brighton is just the perfect place for Sunday Assembly. Everyone gets it. It’s a bit different. A bit weird. It’s looking at the more important things in life. It’s activist. Brighton is bang up for it!
Surely the big problem in modern society is that that people are having their communal moments behind a computer screen.
Yes. I think a lot of companies are delivering the feeling of friendships, connection and contribution. But it has been shown that it doesn’t create the change that happens if people meet in person.
Aren’t people starting to realize they can’t get that experience from a screen?
I really hope so but it still feels like we’ve got a long way to go. I think people are waking up to it but it’s going to be a while before we reach proper solutions.
I read some articles in Christian newspapers about Sunday Assembly, expecting them to be negative. They were mostly positive!
We are really respectful of religious traditions. We’ve always been very vocal about how they do great things and help people. I would love to work with religious people. I know many vicars for whom the important thing is getting people together, building a community, giving them a spiritual life. You can do a lot of that with a different set of language that allows you to connect with people and do the things the church was designed for.
So what can people expect from ‘That’s The Sprit!’ at PLATF9RM. Is it a show?
I feel slightly like a tw*t saying this but It’s an experience. You’re not just watching. People will be getting involved. It’s participatory. It’s a mix of words, movement, meditation, speaking to others and listening to me. It’ll be funny, I think, but it’s not a comedy per se.
Last but not least. You broke the record for the world’s longest hug…twice.
Yes. I hugged Mike Lear from Brighton Sunday Assembly for 24 hours. Then did it again for 25.
How was it?
Mikey got a bit grumpy. Most people would. I’d like to break it again!
“That’s The Spirit!” takes place on 27th July on Floor 5 PLATF9RM Tower Point. Tickets are available to members and non-members. Click here for more info.