Packing the Pews

Irony may not be the right word to describe the scene at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Robinson Street in Orlando on November 14, 2010. It may have appeared like any other church does on Sunday, but this congregation was a quite different sort. At first glance the packed pews showed some of the goers in their Sunday best, but one could not ignore the oddity of seeing, plastered on the backs of many in the front row, “Atheists of Florida.”

The low rumbling of conversations that echoed throughout the sanctuary gave way to a well dressed preacher of sorts, Ellen-Beth Wachs, Director of the Lakeland Chapter of the Atheist of Florida, as she took to the pulpit to announce the reason for this peculiar gathering. The Secular Coalition of America’s Executive Director, Sean Faircloth, had come to spread the gospel of secularism. Of course, Mr. Faircloth’s sermon was unconventional to say the least, given the holy altar from which he stood.

He began by telling the story of a small girl, trapped inside a van in the sweltering heat, left to die alone just outside of her church-sponsored day care. How could this happen, he asked? Simply put, he explained, church day care centers are not subject to the stringent regulations their secular counterparts endure. He also told the story of a young girl, forced to endure the pain and suffering of an extreme shoulder tumor because her parents, Christian Scientists, refused to have it removed surgically. As a result of this horrific growth, the young girl’s prayers were not answered and she eventually succumbed to the malignance of her parent’s ignorance.

After tugging at the heartstrings of the sympathetic crowd, Mr. Faircloth then turned the discussion on the crowd, telling them that it was their turn to become active. He outlined the goals and aspirations of the Secular Coalition for America, namely pushing its policy goals and making this next decade, “Our Secular Decade”. He further urged each and every member of the audience to get involved in their local organizations, and to become active participates in a campaign that is looked at by many of the religious, as the devil incarnate.

After the speech, which was often interrupted by laughter and applause, (Mr. Faircloth’s uncanny sarcastic ability made his sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes aggravating, stories all the more tolerable) he asked the crowd for questions. It was at this point that the group showed itself to be as diverse as the numerous sects of any religion. Some overtly Marxist member took issue with the use of “secular” preferring “humanist” to avoid any unnecessary unpleasantry, and others who urged the crowd to be less aggressive or pushy with their positions.

After the questions had been answered, the crowd was shooed out quickly by the church staff, apparently preparing for yet another meeting. This, however, was not all bad as it prompted an organic “breakout session” with different people from different groups getting together and discussing the wide range of issues that plague the ever growing “None” community. (None referring to a recent poll where Americans were asked what their religious views were and the biggest growth was the “None” category) After a while the noisy discussions were ushered off the campus of the UU church and it once again regained its quite splendor as a place for the spiritual to contemplate and ultimately pray for the forgiveness of those lost souls who came before them.


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